Saturday , April 13 2024
Home / In The Magazine / Uganda oil projects under attack, again

Uganda oil projects under attack, again

A base camp for the Tilenga Oil Project undergoing construction in Buliisa District in this photo taken in July, 2022. Despite sustained pressure from both environmental and human rights groups, the government and its partners say Uganda will pump out its first barrel of crude oil some time in 2025. INDEPENDENT PHOTO/RONALD MUSOKE

Human Rights Watch issues ‘biased’ report on oil pipeline

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | The Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU), the government agency that regulates the oil and gas sector, has accused Human Rights Watch of ‘bias’ following a new report the New York-based non-profit published on July 10.

“The legal action taken by activists in France, and reports such as the one issued by Human Rights Watch, are a distraction and it will be shown to be frivolous once all the facts are known,” said Ali Ssekatawa, the Director Legal and Corporate Affairs at the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) in a written statement to The Independent.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report is entitled “Our Trust is Broken: Loss of Land and Livelihoods for Oil Development in Uganda.”

It says the planned oil projects in Uganda, particularly the oil pipeline popularly known as EACOP, “has devastated thousands of people’s livelihoods in Uganda and will contribute to the global climate crisis.”

Human Rights Watch says the oil project which is currently under development is poised to “displace more than 100,000 people, has caused food insecurity and household debt, caused children to leave school, and is likely to have devastating environmental effects.”

“EACOP has been a disaster for the tens of thousands who have lost the land that provided food for their families and an income to send their children to school, and who received too little compensation from TotalEnergies,” said Felix Horne, the senior environment researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“EACOP is also a disaster for the planet and the project should not be completed,” said Horne.

Human Rights Watch wants financial institutions to avoid supporting EACOP due to the devastating impacts of fossil fuels on climate change as well as future risks of serious human rights impacts.

“Financial institutions considering funding EACOP should steer clear of this project and instead help Uganda embrace its significant clean energy potential,” says Horne.

HRW says its report is based on 90 interviews that it says it conducted between March and April this year. The interviews included 75 displaced families in five districts of Uganda.

Among its findings is the impact of the multi-year delays in compensation on the affected individuals and communities. These delays, the report notes, have been compounded by unclear communications as to whether farmers can continue to use the land to harvest coffee, bananas, and other cash crops in the interim.

“Consequently, the land acquisition project has caused severe financial hardships for thousands of Ugandan farmers, including heavy household debt, food insecurity, and an inability to pay school fees, causing many children to drop out of school.”

According to the report, some of the farmers told Human Rights Watch that they had felt pressured to sign compensation agreements written in English, a language many of them cannot read. Many described being offered cash instead of the option of replacement land which is in line with international standards.

“Unkept promises about grave relocation and an improvement in the quality of life that was promised in the many early meetings extoling the virtues of EACOP have eroded trust between communities and TotalEnergies,” the report says.

Human Rights Watch cites studies that have showed that the construction and operation of EACOP poses grave environmental risks. The organization says the pipeline route, for example, traverses sensitive ecosystems, including protected areas and internationally significant wetlands, posing threats to biodiversity and ecosystems that local communities depend on for their sustenance.

The report also notes that Uganda’s oil pipeline which has been touted as the world’s longest electrically heated pipeline is being developed at a time when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the global authority on climate science as well as the International Energy Agency have warned that no new fossil fuel projects should be built if the world wants to reach the Paris Agreement goals.

Uganda Govt response

The Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) almost immediately responded to the Human Rights Watch’s report. In a statement sent to The Independent, PAU accused Human Rights Watch of following a pattern of similar attempts to discredit Uganda’s national petroleum programme. PAU says HRW reports are not based on available information or engagement with Ugandan institutions.

“Even where detailed responses are provided, such as is admitted in the Human Rights Watch report, facts are ignored and replaced with a false narrative that the oil and gas developments are bad for Uganda’s national interest, pose a danger to the environment and should be defunded.”

Ali Ssekatawa, the Director Legal and Corporate Affairs at PAU said the more balanced situation, which the report fails to give fair treatment to, is that “Uganda is working to build a one-of-a kind oil and gas sector based on the highest standards of care and focused on creating lasting value for its people.”

Ssekatawa said: “The world’s leading experts have been working to create a project that seeks to limit impact on the environment and mitigate against the effects of climate change while also seeking to harness the significant economic opportunity that this project provides the country, which has the possibility to transform the economic futures of millions of East Africans.”

“Uganda’s resettlement and compensation policies are a model in the region and meet the highest standards in the world. Together with our partners we are near completion of all pending obligations in the compensation and resettlement process,” he said.

“We would like to invite anyone who has questions about compensation to come see for themselves what is being done.”

Ssekatawa said the government is working to build a responsible future for its citizens and is committed to achieving this vision. “We welcome honest contributions on how we can work together to make Uganda a safe, prosperous economically and environmentally sustainable country.”

TotalEnergies earlier response

In a June 15, 2023 letter addressed to Richard Pearhouse, the Director of Environment and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch, TotalEnergies noted that whereas their projects (Tilenga and EACOP) require the acquisition of about 6,400 hectares of land, the company continues to pay close attention to the respect of the rights of the communities concerned (775 main residences and concerns a total of 19,098 project affected persons).

Carol Le Gall, the Director, Climate and Sustainable Development at TotalEnergies noted in the 11-page brief to Human Rights Watch that the company’s programme (land surveying and valuation of crops as well as monetary and/or in-kind compensation) has been done in accordance with the performance standards of the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

“An accessible, transparent and fair complaints management mechanism is in place throughout the process,” TotalEnergies noted in the brief which The Independent has seen.

Among the concerns Human Rights Watch wanted to get a detailed response to was how TotalEnergies or its subsidiaries determine compensation rates that reflect market rates at the time of payment and that enable them to meet the requirements of IFC Performance Standard 5.

Human Rights Watch also wanted to know why TotalEnergies or its subsidiaries pay district government tariffs that are lower, and in some cases significantly lower, than market rates.

In response, TotalEnergies started by defining who “Project Affected Persons” are. This, the company said, is a group of individuals forming a household or an entity (institution or company) which has been identified, in the framework of studies carried out for the programme of land acquisition necessary for the execution of the project, as having at least one asset impacted by the implementation of the project.

An asset can be a dwelling, a construction, a plot of bare or cultivated land, plants, trees, or crops. These concepts are defined in the methodologies established by the IFC standards.

TotalEnergies noted that the basic principle of IFC Performance Standard 5 is that compensation is made at “full replacement cost” (market value plus transaction costs. This principle has been applied by the projects in both countries).

TotalEnergies further noted that, in accordance with Ugandan law, its Ugandan subsidiary applies compensation rates which are approved by the Chief Government Valuer (CGV) and the District Land Boards.

“Rates for land properties and permanent buildings are decided on the basis of market analyses carried out by a registered valuer and approved by the Chief Government Valuer (CGV) while rates for crops and temporary structures are set by the District Land Boards (DLBs).”

Human Rights Watch also wanted to understand the measure TotalEnergies or its subsidiaries take to ensure that people affected are able to understand the compensation agreements and freely consent to them. Did the people affected receive legal and/or other forms of support before signing compensation agreements, HRW asked TotalEnergies.

In response, TotalEnergies noted that the land acquisition process is set out in the Resettlement Action Plans (RAP) of Tilenga and EACOP in both Uganda and Tanzania and it involves all stakeholders.

A presentation is made to local communities to describe the process of the survey of land and crops, remediation, resettlement and assistance to the people affected. A detailed identification of all the assets impacted by the projects is carried out, including land and structures, trees and plantations, and an estimate of their value as well as the deadline for these valuations (cut- off-date) is determined and communicated; a socio-economic survey of households is conducted to understand the impacts of land acquisition on the livelihoods of households.

“Reports of valuations and scales of compensation are then prepared for each project affected person concerned, communicated to the individual, then approved by public authorities at various levels,” the oil company said, adding that: “Support strategies are also defined, as well as programmes to restore the livelihoods of the people affected. Resettlement Action Plans are officially prepared and adopted, covering in detail each step of the process and including a specific plan for vulnerable people.”

Meanwhile, detailed individual explanations on the compensation options have also been provided to the project affected persons; with the individuals choosing between monetary compensation and in-kind compensation such as housing and replacement land.

TotalEnergies also told Human Rights Watch that particular attention has been paid to the protection of the most vulnerable people and the rights of women by guaranteeing their presence and participation in key stages of the land acquisition process.

“During the information session on rights and the signing of the compensation agreement, PAPs and their spouses receive an individual information session on all their rights, in order to explain them in detail and enable a question-and-answer session.”

“A copy of the compensation agreement is provided to the PAP to review and take home during a period of reflection. A grievance office is also set up so that PAPs can understand the procedure for filing a grievance and are able to do so immediately or later if they wish. Illiterate PAPs or PAPs who are more comfortable in other languages receive additional support and assistance from translators from the local community.”

“In the case of EACOP Uganda, third party legal advisors are made available to PAPs and provide legal advice on any questions that PAPs may have during the information sessions on rights and the signing of remediation agreements in a location that allows PAPs to have confidential and private discussions about their rights.”

According to TotalEnergies, starting from the conception phase, particular importance was given to informing, consulting and cooperating with all the stakeholders involved. In this way, nearly 70,000 people were consulted for the environmental and societal impact studies and to date, more than 20,000 meetings have been organized with the populations concerned and with civil society organizations.

As of May 2023, 97% of compensation agreements have been signed for Tilenga and 96% for EACOP. These agreements are supplemented by measures in favour of employment, education and respect for women’s rights in order to significantly improve the living conditions of the people affected.

Environmental and climate concerns

Meanwhile, the Petroleum Authority maintains that the latest technological innovations are being used to ensure Uganda’s oil projects generate the lowest carbon footprint possible, ensuring that together the projects have been classified as falling within the category of ‘low emission.’

The carbon dioxide equivalent emission per barrel of oil produced will be in the range of 20-45 kgCO2e. This is well below the global average of 70-100 kgCO2e.

The government agency adds that a significant reforestation operation, which will be part-paid for by revenue generated by the oil development, is underway, led by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the National Forestry Authority.

This will limit emissions from tree cutting in the country. According to the 2019 Uganda First Biennial Update report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Uganda’s emissions in 2015 stood at 90 million tonnes (mT) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

Unlike in developed countries where the major source of GHG emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity and industry use, Uganda’s GHGs are dominated by agriculture, forestry and other land uses, which account for approximately 86% of GHG emissions.

“The reforestation project, as well as other such initiatives being concluded by the government to address emissions from these sectors, are part of a parcel of pledges by Uganda to meet the strong commitments made by the country at the recent COP26 held in Glasgow, United Kingdom, to combat climate change,” Ssekatawa said.

2 comments

  1. Searching for an alternate stream of income? Look no further. Enjoy great financial service from

    Thenewglobalreserve. com

  2. The local population should be given jobs in the oil sector.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *