Dr. Rolf D. BaldusDr. Rolf D. Baldus has worked in the Selous Game Reserve, the Selous-Niassa-Wildlife-Corridor and with the Wildlife Management Areas around the Selous for 13 years. He is regarded as one of the major authorities on the Selous. To read more about Rolf's work in the Selous, click here.
He authored or edited around sixty publications on the Selous Game Reserve, the major one being the "Wild Heart of Africa" (published by Rowland Ward in 2009; German edition August 2011), which is the authoritative work on the reserve. To read more about Wild Heart of Africa, click here. (Please note, our readers can acquire signed copies of the book; for more details about this, click here.)
For a complete overview of Rolf's work, please visit his website here - www.wildlife-baldus.com.
“Tanzania will mine uranium in the Selous Game Reserve” was a BBC headline a few days ago. With approximately 50.000 km2 the reserve is Africa’s largest protected area and at the same time it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tanzanian newspapers reported that UNESCO has agreed to these plans. Is that true?
Well, not quite. These are the facts: In February 2011, the Tanzanian Government submitted a request to UNESCO for a so-called "minor modification" to the boundaries of the Selous Game Reserve. The Selous Game Reserve is one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in Africa, is a major hotspot of bio-diversity, holds a wealth of wildlife, in particular elephants, and has been inscribed on the World Heritage List since 1982. There is general agreement that no mining activities may be conducted in a World Heritage Site.
Selous Map showing location of uranium mine. (Courtesy Mike Shand)The World Heritage Committee noted therefore that this request should have been submitted as a "major boundary change", in spite of the small size, given the potential impact on the site. It is not size that counts, but impact. The request was referred back till next year in order for an Environmental Impact Analysis to be completed and for an IUCN mission to visit the site.
If I understand you correctly: The Selous cannot remain a World Heritage Site, if the Tanzanian Government gives the go ahead for mining to start within the property. Therefore the Government wants to degazette the mining area.
Village in the mining area.(Courtesy Rudolf Hahn)How large an area will the proposed mining area consist of?
The Mkuju River Project, as it is called, lies in the south-western edge of the Selous Game Reserve and on village land in the Namtumbo District, Ruvuma-Region. I have visited the area in 2009. The project was well advanced at that time, but mining as such had not started. The Site Engineer told me that they would use an area of altogether 70 km2 for the mining activities. The actual request is, however, for 198 km2.
What will be the impact of the mining for the reserve?
I cannot answer this question, as Tanzania has not provided an Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA). It is a good Tanzanian tradition that public investments and projects with major ecological consequences are either not subjected to EIAs at all or the EIAs provided are sub-standard and of unacceptable quality. Mostly they seem to have been written just in order to justify the Government decision. The recently planned Serengeti highway was such an example.
We know from uranium mining around the world that it potentially can have catastrophic consequences for the environment and the people living in the area. Germany had to spend approximately six billion Euros to rehabilitate the uranium mines in the former German Democratic Republic. Kyrgyzstan, previously a Soviet Republic, still has large deposits of radioactive waste from former mining. This creates a catastrophic situation, which endangers the health and even the lives of the people living there. It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to rehabilitate this, and nobody is ready to provide this.
The more the mining company in the Selous is ready to invest and spend on security, the less risk will there be. Ownership in the company has been changing according to the financial press, and so nobody really knows much about company policies. We should not forget that people live right on the boundary of the Selous and that means in the direct neighbourhood of the mine. What worries me is that these people so far have not been informed of the future risks. They are being kept in the dark, due to lack of information, although some mining will take place even on village land.
After the protective upper soils are removed, there are risks of radioactive dusts, water pollution, and we do not know how the tailings will ultimately be stored. Waste is a major problem, as it is radioactive. The Minister has said that Tanzania will earn 5 million US$ in concession fees per year. This seems to be a rather small amount taking into account the risks and the potential rehabilitation costs of the area.
A mission of German parliamentarians visited Tanzania in August 2010 and looked into these issues. They also expressed serious concerns in their report. In particular they feared uncontrolled radioactive pollution of the environment and they criticized the lack of transparency and available information for the citizens.
What will happen, if the EIA, which the World Heritage Committee has demanded, casts a negative light on the mining operation?
I fear that the mining will go ahead anyway. Too much money has been spent already. The exploration started in the nineties. We often saw the chartered helicopter flying above us, when we were on patrol in the reserve. All the planning was done without any involvement of the Game Reserve authorities. The EIA is being done now at a time when it is actually too late. This confirms my suspicion that the EIA will just support the Government’s decision.
If UNESCO and the Tanzanian Government cannot agree, then the final and only sanction, which UNESCO has, is to declare the reserve as a “World Heritage Site in Danger” or waive the title altogether. Tanzania can certainly live without the World Heritage title for the Selous. Since independence Tanzania has always been one of the champions of nature conservation in Africa, even if the effectiveness on the ground left often much to be desired. Recently the country came under international criticism for a number of ecologically problematic projects, including a highway through the Serengeti. President Kikwete seems to be fed up by all this criticism and by the pressures and threats of some NGOs and apparently views them as unwarranted interventions. On March 28th, the President reportedly stormed into the Tourism and Environment Ministry’s offices and apparently enraged, announced that Tanzania would not be dictated from abroad with respect to the country’s environmental policies. This was ostensibly also the cause for the immediate withdrawal of Tanzania’s application for recognition of the "Eastern Arc" as a World Heritage Site. The "Eastern Arc" is a particularly species-rich mountain range in south-eastern Tanzania. What the President overlooked was that it was his own country and Government which had for the past 15 years been trying to achieve inclusion into the UNESCO list and even commissioned a number of research studies to this end. UNESCO is by no means trying to dictate anything to Tanzania. As a matter of fact UNESCO has no say in these issues. It is only the "depository" of the Convention and runs the secretariate. Instead it is the World Heritage Committee, consisting of representatives of the member states. The members, including Tanzania, set the rules.
To conclude: I am sure that uranium mining will start. I fear that it will have a major negative ecological impact on the Selous and the people in the neighbouring communities, and I suppose that the Government will not care much, whether the Selous remains as a World Heritage Site or not.
The World Heritage Committee has not been satisfied with the management and the financing of this reserve during recent years and has asked the Government a number of very critical questions. Several reports can be found on my website. The questions were mostly not answered, and the Government has taken no action. In particular the deplorable financial situation of the reserve has not changed!
Tanzania should read the recent decision of the Committee well. They have declared nothing else but a moratorium when they ruled "that any decision to go forward with oil exploration, mining or dam construction inside the property would constitute a clear case for inscribing the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger".
Muzzle loaders and snares impounded by village game scouts in Namtumbo District. (Courtesy of Rudolf Hahn)The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism has announced that the 5 million US$, which the Government will earn annually from the mine would “help with the costly business of managing the (Selous) park”. Does that sound realistic to you?
Definitely not! To get the facts right: In 1987 the Tanzanian Government spent just over 100,000 US$ on the Selous, and there were around 5,000 poached elephants per year. The German Government assisted in the rehabilitation of the reserve. In order to provide sustainable finance the two Governments negotiated a written agreement that the reserve would retain 50% of all its income for management. Ten years ago the reserve earned nearly six million US$, mainly from sustainable tourist hunting, but also from photographic tourism. Out of this the reserve retained 2,8 million US$. Management was of good standard and at that time aerial surveys and monitoring on the ground revealed that we did have less than 100 poached elephants annually.
In 2005 the German-Tanzanian “Selous Conservation Programme“ came to an end. The next thing the Tanzanian Government did was to break the agreement and reduce the retention of the reserve significantly. Presently the annual budget is estimated at probably not much more than half a million. Management is down again and elephant poaching is markedly up.
It is just not credible that the Government needs uranium mining in order to finance the Selous. The Tanzanian Government should fulfil its contractual obligation and allow the Selous to continue with its retention scheme! It is their reserve and they should be interested to keep it alive.
Village game scouts remove snares near the uranium area. (Courtesy of Rudolf Hahn)There are also fears that uranium mining may endanger the nearby Undendeule Forest Reserve. The Minister rejected these concerns in the BBC interview. And he also said that "it currently costs the government about $490,000 a year to manage it and the income from mining would help pay for guards to stop poaching."
I regret to say that this cannot be true. The Udendeule Forest Reserve is under the central Government and has a size of 3055 km2. Like in the case of most forest reserves there is only a minimal financial input by the Government, if any. In this case, it was the Selous Game Reserve, which sent occasionally anti-poaching patrols into that area. I have been there several times, as we studied the migration patterns of elephants for the planning of the Selous-Niassa-Wildlife-Corridor and also conducted an environmental baseline study. I guess that the local situation has not changed much.
It is most unlikely that the Government spends half a million US for that forest reserve. I fear that the Minister mixed that up with the present Government budget for the Selous. This would mean that the Selous budget has shrunk to about 20 % of what it used to be a few years ago. You cannot manage 50,000 km2 with this kind of money. This is again only 10 US$ per km2. The Government wants to continue milking the cow without feeding it. Tourism and hunting in the Selous earns Tanzania much more than the uranium mine ever will; and it is sustainable, environmentally positive and does not create unpredictable rehabilitation costs like in the case of the mine.
What is the function of the Selous-Niassa-Wildlife-Corridor?
This is a link between the Selous and the Niassa National Game Reserve in Tanzania. It consists of Wildlife Management Areas of the villages. Its function is to allow the sustainable use of wildlife for the villages in order to give them an incentive to conserve wildlife and thereby allowing elephants and other wildlife to migrate and biodiversity to recover. This is not an initiative from above but from below. Unfortunately the Tanzanian Government has never backed this much, as it fears too much citizens involvement. We prepared a German support project of 5 million €, which is now being implemented by the German Development Bank KfW. However, I am sorry to say that this project in my opinion has so far not achieved much.
Is it true that the Selous suffers from other developments and from projects, which also have the potential to cause significant negative environmental consequences?
I mentioned already that rampant poaching again raised its ugly head due to inadequate funding and management. In addition, two projects might soon change the face of the northern Selous forever. A dam and an hydroelectric plant at the "Stiegler’s Gorge" rapids of the Rufiji River, contemplated and rejected already in 1982, is on the cards again. Reportedly, Brazil is interested in cooperating with Tanzania here. This dam would destroy the eco-systems of the entire northern Selous. A smaller dam, which is presently being built about 100 kilometres to the northwest at Ruvu is already causing significant environmental damage. The future reservoir will destroy the summer pastures of immense buffalo and antelope herds in a village Wildlife management Area north of the Selous with a foreseeable drastic reduction of herd size in the tourism sector of the reserve.
You have been deeply involved with the Selous for 25 years now. In your opinion what are the next steps?
I fully support the World Heritage Committee’s recent decision. The following is necessary in my opinion:
1) Revive the Retention Scheme and improve management and anti-poaching;
2) Stop all development projects which contradict the World Heritage status of the Selous;
3) Minimize the negative effects of the Kidunda dam north of the reserve;
4) Stop prospecting and mining within the Selous;
5) Prepare a proper EIA for the proposed Mukuju River uranium mine and stop all exploitation until this is available; thereafter decide about degazetting the mine.
6) Implement and strengthen the Selous-Niassa-Wildlife-Corridor.
I am generally an optimist, but presently I see very dark clouds approaching the reserve. The positive side: With a few decisions the Tanzanian Government could easily bring back sunny weather to the Selous.
Annex UNESCO Document.
World Heritage 35 COM
Paris, 7 July 2011
DECISIONS ADOPTED BY THE WORLD HERITAGE COMMITTEE AT ITS 35th SESSION (UNESCO, 2011)
1. Selous Game Reserve (United Republic of Tanzania) (N 199)
Decision : 35 COM 7B.6
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Document WHC-11/35.COM/7B,
2. Recalling Decision 34 COM 7B.3, adopted at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010),
3. Reiterates its utmost concern about the weakening of the legal protection status of the property, the different development projects (Stiegler’s Gorge dam, Kidunda dam and Mukuju River uranium mine and oil exploration) which are being considered, ongoing wildlife poaching and the evident deterioration in the management of the property;
4. Urges the State Party to implement the following actions in order to protect the property’s Outstanding Universal Value:
a ) Finalize the creation of the autonomous Wildlife Authority and reinstate the Revenue Retention Scheme,
b ) Abandon plans for the different development projects which are incompatible with the World Heritage Status of the property, in particular the Stiegler’s Gorge dam, uranium mining and oil exploration inside the property, in line with its commitments under the Convention,
c ) Ensure that the design of the Kidunda dam will not affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and avoid flooding part of the property or key wildlife areas on its boundaries,
d ) Enact specific legislation to prohibit prospecting and mining within Selous Game Reserve on the basis of its World Heritage status,
e ) Develop and implement an emergency plan to strengthen anti-poaching activities in the property in order to cope with the alarming increase in poaching,
f ) Revise and resubmit the Environmental Impact Assessment for the proposed Mukuju River uranium mine in line with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommendations prior to granting exploitation permits;
5. Reiterates that any decision to go forward with oil exploration, mining or dam construction inside the property would constitute a clear case for inscribing the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger;
6. Strongly encourages the State Party to provide an appropriate protection status to the Selous-Niassa corridor as its inclusion within the property is vital to the long-term integrity of the property and the corridor is progressively fragmented;
7. Recommends that the State Party undertakes a Management Effectiveness Evaluation for Selous Game Reserve, with the assistance of IUCN, and to convene a workshop to address the implementation of the 2007/2008 mission recommendations to develop a plan to implement a full and effective set of conservation actions, and also encourages the State Party to request International Assistance from the World Heritage Fund for these activities;
8. Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2012, a report on the state of conservation of the property and on the steps taken to implement the requests set out in Paragraph 4 above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session in 2012.
Draft Decision: 35 COM 8B.46
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Documents WHC-11/35.COM/8B.Add and WHC-11/35.COM/INF.8B2,
2. Acknowledges the State Party’s legitimate need to ensure the well-being of its population, fight against poverty and diversify its economy while continuing to protect its natural environment under the framework of and in compliance with domestic provisions in this regard;
3. Refers the minor modification to the boundaries of the Selous Game Reserve, United Republic of Tanzania, to allow the State Party to complete the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process and to also allow for adequate time for IUCN to complete its evaluation of the proposed boundary modification, including a mission to the property;
4. Requests IUCN to urgently undertake an advisory mission to ensure that the EIA process can be completed expediently and in accordance with the standards of the World Heritage Convention;
5. Welcomes the commitment of the State Party to secure and enhance the continued effectiveness of the Selous-Niassa corridor as a key feature to maintaining the long-term integrity of the property;
6. Also welcomes the commitment of the State Party to make proposals for the inclusion into the property of additional land to the effect of further maintaining and enhancing the Outstanding Universal Value of the property;
7. Considers that modifications to boundaries of World Heritage properties that are related to mining activities should be considered through the procedure for significant modifications of boundaries, in accordance with paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines, given the potential impact of such projects on Outstanding Universal Value.
The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.