Malawi risks being blacklisted for failing to adhere to the World Heritage convention.
This may happen because Malawi government has failed to submit a report on the state of conservation of Lake Malawi National Park as requested by the World Heritage Centre in July last year.
Malawi needed to explain whether the country will proceed with oil exploration or not on the said property.
Communication from Unesco’s World Heritage Centre (which we have seen) indicates that Malawi missed the February 1, 2017 deadline.
But Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Bright Msaka, says he has never seen the communication for Malawi to submit a report on the issue and only heard it from the media.
Environmentalists have since condemned government for negligence saying this is an indication that government is failing to listen to technical advice.
They have also indicated that Malawi is a signatory to the 1972 World Heritage Convention which seeks to, among others, ensure an appropriate and equitable balance between conservation, sustainability and development.
In a letter dated July 29, 2016 the director of World Heritage Centre and secretary to the World Heritage Committee, Machtild Rossler, wrote Malawi Diplomat Change de affairs, Mr. Joseph Chiteyeye in Belgium telling him that the 40th Session of World Heritage Committee held in Istanbul in 2016 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.
Malawi was 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.
Lake Malawi National Park is United Nations Education Scientific Commission (Unesco) world heritage site.
Executive Director for Institute of Sustainable Development, Godfrey Mfiti, said it is unfortunate that Malawi government has failed to submit the said report saying the reluctance is a negligence of responsibility.
“We should be expecting a disaster in Lake Malawi in the near future. This disaster may be loss of fisheries, fresh water and indeed translating into loss of livelihoods among those in the lakeshore,” he said.
He added that the technocrats in government have limited powers to execute their job since policy is overridden with politics.
“It’s important that Lake Malawi, as a world heritage, site remains protected. Malawi ratified the World Heritage Convention of 1972. In refusing to comply with reporting period, the state party is breaching Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention,” Mfiti said.
Executive Director for Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa), William Chadza, said there are no benefits unless a detailed cost-benefit analysis of oil and gas exploration is done.
“Some of the benefits are directly enjoyed by communities living close to the lake. Its fish diversity is of local and global importance for biodiversity conservation due to its outstanding biological evolution,” he said.
Chadza said, however, this puts at risk the lake and community livelihoods. Some of the long-term consequences of oil exploration and exploitation in the lake are of significant concern to many as the risks might outweigh the benefits if not well managed.
Msaka said government is taking care of the lake not because it has a world heritage site but because Malawians treasure it.
“I have never seen this communication. But I would like to assure Malawians that nothing bad will happen. World Heritage will not love the lake more than us,” he said.
Msaka also said oil exploration will not affect the safety of the lake, because there are technologies that are used during such operations to protect the environment.