The Tilenga Project is a threat to Environment, peoples, land, and culture

The Albertine region is an important biodiversity hotspot known for being a habitat for 39% of Africa’s mammal species, 35% of Africa’s insect species, 51% of Africa’s bird species, 19% of Africa’s amphibian species, 14% of Africa’s plant and reptile species plus 79 threatened terrestrial vertebrates according to the IUCN Red Data Book . The Rift also harbors approximately 70% of Uganda’s major protected areas including seven out of ten National parks, eight out of 15 forests, 12 wildlife reserves, 13 wildlife sanctuaries, and five wildlife community areas according to the 2010 Uganda Environmental Sensitivity Atlas, 2nd Edition. It extends in a north-east direction from the districts of Kanungu and Rukungiri at the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo to the districts of Moyo and Adjumani at the border with South Sudan.

Other districts in the region include Buliisa, Nebbi, Pakwach, Hoima, Masindi, Nwoya, Zombo, Kibale among many others. The Albertine region is also home to diverse groups of indigenous and minority tribes, including some of the most underprivileged tribes like the Batwaa, Bagungu, Alur, Batyaba, Batonya among others who have continued to live and maintain their traditional lifestyles.

Oil exploration has been ongoing in the Albertine Graben since the 1920s. Currently, there is confirmation of commercially viable oil deposits in this area with early production scheduled to begin 2022. Oil spills can have severe and long term ecological and socio-economic adverse impacts if not properly planned for and addressed.

Oil is a non-renewable resource meaning that at one time it will be exhausted. Therefore, care has to be taken to ensure that the exploitation of oil resources is done without compromising the quality and quantity of environmental resources. Currently, approximately 10% of the Graben is licensed to three oil companies: TUOP, TEP Uganda and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) Uganda Limited. Each of the three companies holds 33.3% equity in four licenses. CNOOC as the operator was issued a production license for the Kingfisher field. TUOP has submitted applications for production licenses for over nine discoveries in Buliisa and Kaiso- Tonya areas. TEP Uganda has submitted five applications for production licenses for discoveries of Gunya, Mpyo, Jobi-East, Jobi-Rii, and Ngiri.

The TILENGA project requires land for the development of Oil production facilities in Buliisa District. The first Resettlement Action Plan (RAP ) developed for the TILENGA project covers two facilities i.e. the proposed Industrial Area and N1 Access Road both situated within Kasenyi Village, in Ngwedo Sub-County.

The TILENGA project comprises of six oil fields – Jobi-Rii, Ngiri, Gunya, Kasamene-Warindi, Nsoga, and Kigogole, which will be developed together via a single Central Processing Facility (CPF) with a production capacity of 200,000 barrels per day of oil together with associated gas, produced water, injection water, and associated utilities and camps. A total of about 400 wells will be drilled from over 30 well pads. A network of inter-field pipelines will collect the oil production from each good pad and transport it to the CPF located within the Industrial Area planned in Ngwedo sub-county, Buliisa District. The CPF will also be connected to a water abstraction plant on the shores of Lake Albert.

A 24-inch feeder pipeline will transport the oil from the CPF to the manifold at Kabaale in Buseruka Sub-county, Hoima District. From Kabaale, the planned East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) will export the crude oil via a 24-inch pipeline over about 1,450 kilometers up to Tanga on the Tanzanian coast. The EACOP system will include; associated pumping stations, electrical heating systems and an oil export terminal located at the Chongeleani peninsula near Tanga port in Tanzania.

Apparently, the project has completed all the stages, where all necessary technical definition and cost and schedule estimates have been developed and project execution and construction phase for the upstream facilities required to produce Uganda’s Oil targeted for end 2020 have partially started.

The total land areas required for the Tilenga project is approximately 785.724 Acres (317.97 hectares) that will be used for the establishments of an Industrial Area comprising of the Central Processing Facility, Operational Camps and Yards and Contractor Camps and Yards), Access Road among others.

TILENGA is a strategic project because of the anticipated benefits for the country including; improved infrastructure such as roads, business opportunities, such as the supply of agricultural products and employment among others.

However, it should be noted that the TILENGA project is already causing major environmental and social impacts. Some of the direct visible impacts include deforestation for access roads, pipelines, and contamination from Oil spills and Lake water discharges in the future.

There are widespread abuse and violations of the affected communities rights to participate and get involved in the decision making regarding the TILENGA project.

The Lack of community involvement in the planning and execution of the Tilenga project, as well as lack of consultation with communities regarding the use of their lands and environment by the TOTAL, Atacama and the government, is contributing to the suffering of farmers and peasants communities mandate and legal rights of land ownership and property entitlement.

There is also increasing violence against land, environment and human rights defenders who are resisting the TILENGA project. There is a rise of criminalization being targeted at land rights activists and community leaders especially those in Ngwedo who are opposing the unfair dealings by the TOTAL and ATACAMA in Buliisa district.

The TILENGA project if not controlled, is likely to have a very negative impact that will likely to affect the rights of thousands of marginalized communities in and within the Albertine region.

The Ugandan National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has issued production license for the TILENGA project even when the Tilenga project Environmental Social Impact Assessments ESIA was done without consulting the affected communities and peoples whose views were supposed to be included in the ESIA reports of the Tilenga project. This action by the Uganda National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) is a clear indication that the government of Uganda and Total, as well as the Atacama, committed abuse and broad violation of communities and people’s rights to free, prior and informed consent as well as the right to consultation of communities regarding the exploitation of natural resources and management of their natural resources.

Both the governments and the Total were supposed to consult affected communities according to the law of Uganda and other legal tools. Company and the state were supposed to get the free, prior and informed consent of the communities affected by the TILENGA project activities. If this were considered, maybe the National Environmental Management Authority would have not issued production license to TOTAL until maybe TOTAL has fulfilled her corporate obligation to consult the community and the peoples affected by the TILENGA project.

It should be noted that the Land acquisition for the TILENGA project which is being executed by the Atacama and Total excludes most of the project affected persons. A lot of errors have been noted including for example; the majority of the houses were categorized as secondary rather than primary residences, despite the fact that the majority of the project affected persons lived there during the assessment process. The implication of this is that the project builds new houses for project affected persons whose residences are categorized as primary residences. For a secondary residence, it is cash compensation.

Regarding the assessment of crops, Atacama made a lot of errors in quantifying crops in the different gardens. In addition, Atacama has defined trees as seedlings. For example, a tree of two years in the garden was defined as a seedling. All these mistakes impact a lot the amount of compensation which is to be given to the project affected persons.

It should also be noted that the many complaints by communities and the project affected persons against some assessment errors and mistakes above-remained un addressed up-to-date. Instead, Atacama castigated the project affected persons for attempting to delay and sabotage government project.

In addition to the above, another issue is that of the cutoff date. It should be noted that despite the fact that the government and Total have published different official papers and signposts which explain the definition of the cut-off date, Total and Atacama staff told the communities and the project affected persons (mainly during individual discussion) not to use their land after the cut-off date. This contravenes Article 26 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda which guarantees the right to the property except upon payment of prompt fair and adequate compensation in cases of compulsory land acquisition. The consequences of denying farmers the right to use their land as they wish have resulted in famine, malnutrition, impoverishment of communities and the project affected persons. Children have dropped out of schools because their parents cannot afford tuitions anymore.

Compensation for crops was meager -in some cases, the rates were less than half the price of the local market. In other cases, a fruit tree was compensated for at a rate of fewer than one harvests in a single season.

Concerning land compensation, the compensation rate being used is less than that used during the land acquisition by Uganda National Roads Authority – which is also a government agency. The explanation that the land taken by the Uganda National Road Authority is more expensive because it is close to the road don’t make sense because even the project affected persons of TILENGA live close to some roads were compensated at the same amount like all the other project affected persons.

The community wants fair compensation in order to buy better land and have a better life after the disturbance that will be caused by the oil project (as it is required by the international guidelines like the free, prior and Informed consent, as well as the national resettlement framework (the LARF) of Uganda.

These frameworks are “adopted to further safeguard against the risks of impoverishment associated with involuntary resettlement”).

According to the international standard guidelines as well as the LARF, land to land should be the first option proposed to the project affected persons and in the desired model. Unfortunately, the TILENGA project imposed unrealistic conditions which are already making this option not relevant for the communities and the project affected persons.

For the Resettlement Action Plan 1, the communities were informed that they could only be relocated in four villages within Buliisa. One other condition, which is a problem, is the fact that the promoters consider not the size of the land to have to be replaced, but the value of the land defined by others actors than the communities and the project affected persons who lose their land.

The implications of these conditions are that communities would end up with smaller land after the compensation, despite the fact that most of them are farmers who badly need every piece of land they are likely to lose. In addition, it is a stark violation of the LARF and international guidelines which provide that involuntary resettlement should leave project affected persons better off, not worse off.

Communities and individuals were forced or coerced into signing consent agreements they did not understand the contents. More than 1500 peoples were forced to sign documents they did not know about the contents. They were also denied the rights to keep copies of the forms they were forced to sign. This is contrary to the internationally accepted concept of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as well as the UN guiding principle on business and human rights.

The Tilenga project plan in its current form will destroy several cultural sites. The Total and Atacama must reconsider the pipeline routes to avoid the destructions, which will impact the cultural heritage. These reconsiderations will not question the viability of the oil project, but without that, it’s the culture that will be partially destroyed and disappear if not preserved for the benefits of current and future generations.

National Environmental Management Authority of Uganda has approved an incomplete Environmental Social Impact Assessments for the Tilenga Project. This is going to have serious human rights and environmental consequences on communities and the project affected peoples in the Albertine region particularly those in Ngwedo and other communities in and within the proposed Tilenga sites.

The Ugandan government must stop issuing licenses or production permits for any projects which can affect the livelihoods of indigenous communities without obtaining free, prior and informed consent from the communities.

Total and the ATACAMA must also respect community rights land ownership.

Total and Atacama should also consult peoples first before they force peoples to sign agreements which they don’t understand its contents.

Total should refrain from complicity with human rights abuse in compliance with national and international human rights standards. Total must operate with due diligence, and refrain from beginning any operation linked to the Tilenga projects minus fulfilling the requirements of Uganda and international human rights laws and different other instruments for the same.

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