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Experts warn on oil exploration

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The World Heritage Centre has warned Malawi Government against oil exploration on Lake Malawi, especially the bloc that has the Lake Malawi National Park which is a world heritage site.

But Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Bright Msaka, has said even though he is not aware of this communication, he can assure the public that government cannot compromise the lake in pursuit of oil.

The lake qualifies to be a world heritage because of its deep, clear waters and mountain backdrop and the national park is home to hundreds of fish species.

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In a letter dated July 29, 2016 (which The Daily Times has seen), World Heritage Centre Director, Machtild Rossler, wrote Malawi’s Charge de Affairs, Joseph Chiteyeye, in Brussels telling him that the 40th session of world heritage committee held in Istanbul this year examined the state of conservation of Lake Malawi National Park which is the property of world heritage.

In the Annex of the letter, the committee reiterates its concern over oil exploration activities throughout the lake, noting that an accidental spill would pose a potentially severe risk to the entire lake ecosystem, including the aquatic zone and shoreline of the property and urges the state party to cancel the oil exploitation permit which overlaps with the property.

“World Heritage reiterates its position that oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status, which is supported by the commitments made by the industry leaders such as Shell and Total not to undertake such activities within world heritage properties.”

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“The committee reiterates its call on Surestream and RAKGAS that have been granted oil exploration concessions on the lake to make a commitment to not exploit or explore for oil or gas in world heritage properties,” reads part of the Annex which was attached to the letter.

It further requests Malawi to ensure that any oil exploration activities outside of the property as well as any other development that may impact on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, including tourism developments, are subject to environmental impact assessments in conformity with World Heritage advice note on environmental assessment.

“The Committee requests the state party to complete the revision of the 2007-2011 management plan for the property and provide it for review by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, together with the approved sustainable tourism management strategy in order to ensure that the revised management plan is aligned with the tourism plan and includes provisions for the implementation of the above mentioned mission recommendations,“ reads part of the information.

Reacting to this development, Director of Institute of Sustainable Development, a local non-governmental organisation advocating environmental rights, Godfrey Mfiti, said his organisation believes that the National Park has to be protected and the entire oil exploration activities in Lake Malawi should be withdrawn.

“The conservation efforts of Lake Malawi National Park can’t be compatible with oil exploration as it threatens the Outstanding Universal Values of Lake Malawi. It is very clear from the World Heritage Convention that Lake Malawi is bound to lose its source of cichlids. The lake boasts about over a thousand cichlids where 300 are unique to Malawi. Malawian ordinary citizens will be great losers should the oil exploration continue since this is a source of protein for many Malawians in rural and urban areas,” he said.

He noted that oil exploration will also affect the quality of drinking water from the lake at a time when the country is struggling to provide drinking water to its citizenry in major cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe.

However, Msaka downplayed the fears stressing that the public has to understand that it is possible to drill oil but taking measures that there should be no spilling.

“As we move forward with this issue, we will have the need to protect our lake on the agenda. We are happy that the public and the World Heritage are concerned as we share their worry. We indeed need to be careful in order to save our treasured lake,” he said.

Msaka disclosed that the assessments to see if there is oil or not are still in progress.

“We have not been able to receive data on the availability amount and we expect to get it soon,” he said.

Malawi has been requested to submit a progress report to the World Heritage Centre by February 1, 2017 and an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and implementation of the above for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 42nd session in 2018.

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