It’s hardly three months since pastoralists who had illegally settled in Queen Elizabeth National Park were evicted. Now the national treasure is faced with yet another real threat- limestone extraction.
Everyone should be worried that Queen Elizabeth once teaming with unique wildlife is increasingly being targeted for illegal activities.
Already, large swatches of pasture for animals are destroyed by bush fires set off by suspected arsonists and now you have a privately owned company poised to have the park as its mining ground. Environmentalists have vowed to sue government, Kasese district local authorities and management of Hima Cement Factory which has acquired a permit to extract limestone in the park. This is because mining will greatly affect wildlife population and jeopardise the tourism industry.
The managers and owners of Hima are adamant because to them extraction of limestone in the national park will sustain cement production at the Kasese-based factory. Hima management has projected that 25 years of limestone mining in the park will save the country a lot of money for cement imports.
But what is more annoying about this whole saga, is the fact that the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) whose primary objective is to protect the country’s environment, has also fallen prey to baits of industrialists and issued a certificate of approval albeit with funny conditions.
Funny, because according to Nema, Hima factory can go ahead and carry out mining activities in Queen Elizabeth as long as they ‘mitigate’ any undesirable environmental impacts.
It obvious that limestone extraction will greatly impact on the park’s wildlife. Dr Chris Bakuneta, an influential member of the Uganda Wildlife Society has already warned that the proposed mining activities will change the general animal behaviour. Some animals like the giant elephants could become agitated and violent while others will just go in flight- in search of safe a environment/sanctuary, say in the jungles of DR Congo.
Now, compare the money the country will gain on cement imports, which Hima claims will be saved by tampering with the ecosystem in Queen Elizabeth, to the estimated $80m that was generated by our tourism industry after 600,000 tourists visited the country last year.
For a poor economy like ours and given the facts highlighted above what’s the justification for the government’s decision to encroach on a tourism gem if it’s not for selfish interests, utter greed and the rampant corruption in public service?
The rate at which our natural resources are being destroyed is not something to be trifled with. The manner in which our leaders dole out national assets to private investors is disgusting. Already huge sums of money are being spent by the international community to encourage the sustainable use of our national resources. The World Bank, through its Protected Areas Management and Sustainable Use (PAMSU) project which began in 1999-2009 is one example.
Why then should the Ugandan taxpayer and our donor friends spend so much money on improving the country’s ability to attract tourists when the government is pulling down such noble efforts?
According to the provisions of the Uganda Wildlife Act, the purpose of a national wildlife area such as Queen Elizabeth National Park, is to preserve populations of rare, endemic and endangered species of wild plants and animals and to generate economic benefits from wildlife conservation for the people of Uganda.
No where in the law is commercial mining allowed in a national park unless when degazetted by parliament for such purposes. Therefore, Hima’s advances to ‘defile’ Queen Elizabeth park must be resisted.
The writer is a journalist and Advocate