In a small, tight-knit community live the community members of Kijumba, Hoima District, who have been subsistence farmers all their lives, growing crops and raising livestock to support their families. In this peaceful village, life is simple but fulfilling.
Their peace was quickly shattered, however, when the plans for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) were announced. The project will cut down their native forest, endangering the environment and their way of life. Many community members are deeply concerned about the potential fallout.
When commercial oil deposits were discovered under Lake Albert in Uganda in 2006, the region quickly transformed into one of the world’s top exploration hotspots. Yet more than a decade later, oil production has yet to start. A significant obstacle to the commercialization of these deposits is their remote inland location and the need for export pipelines to transport crude to the coast and onward to international markets. After years of negotiations, the governments of Uganda and Tanzania finalized an agreement to build the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) in 2017, with French energy company Total1 serving as lead developer of the project.
Hoima District is located in Western Uganda, with a population of approximately 573,903.43. The area is inhabited by the Bantu ethnic group. The fishing industry in Lake Albert and the salt mining in Kibbiro employ hundreds of people. The recent discoveries of oil in the region are increasingly attracting people to many of the activities involved in the industry. Other economic activities include tourism and crop production.In Hoima district, the pipeline passes through only one village, Kijumba
The construction and operation of any crude oil pipeline poses significant environmental and human rights risks. These include potential involuntary resettlement, loss of land and natural resources vital to livelihoods, and pollution. These risks are higher for women who rely primarily on subsistence farming and face particular risks of being excluded from decision-making processes.
These risks should not be underestimated: Oil exploration and development projects around Lake Albert have already been accused of human rights abuses for a reason. Communities claim they face challenges such as violence, social disruption, slow land acquisition, inadequate compensation, and inadequate eviction procedures.
Large-scale mining, oil and gas projects can have profoundly negative impacts on women’s rights and gender equality. Women in rural areas are particularly vulnerable when it comes to land-related human rights risks. Discrimination manifests itself in different ways, including women’s ability to formally own land or have land titles recognized, and their exclusion from community, corporate and government consultation and decision-making processes.
The establishment of oil and gas projects often requires land acquisition, which results in the displacement of local communities. This disrupts livelihoods, cultural practices and social cohesion, forces people to relocate and can create social tension and conflict.
Agriculture is the main source of income and food security for many communities in the Hoima District. The development of oil and gas projects reduces available arable land, affects water sources, and introduces pollution that negatively impacts agricultural productivity and threatens the food security of local communities.
The oil project threatens Uganda’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 24.7 percent by 2030, as oil and gas production could hamper energy transition efforts. Oil exploration in Uganda’s protected areas, such as Murchison Falls National Park, has negatively impacted biodiversity and community livelihoods.
While we acknowledge the potential economic benefits and development opportunities that the oil industry can bring to Uganda, we cannot ignore the significant social and environmental challenges that often accompany these projects. Facilitate active and inclusive dialogue with affected communities, ensuring their meaningful participation throughout project planning, implementation and monitoring. Uphold the principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and respect the rights of Aboriginal peoples and local communities. Prioritize the protection of Uganda’s unique ecosystems and biodiversity. Implement strict environmental protection measures, including but not limited to comprehensive environmental impact assessments, water protection measures, and strict monitoring of discharge and pollution levels. Properly do a good job in the compensation and resettlement of project affected people; a timely, fair and adequate compensation framework should be established.
It is my firm belief that by adhering to these principles, Uganda can be a model for fostering a responsible and ethical oil industry that respects the rights and needs of its citizens and its natural environment.
We urge governments and fossil fuel companies to act quickly and seriously to address these issues in order to protect the well-being of communities affected by the East African crude pipeline. Let us turn this grand challenge into an opportunity for sustainable development and a better future for all Ugandans. Together we can pave the way for a society that balances economic growth, social progress and environmental protection.
Patience Catu Plum
Project Assistant, Uganda Institute of Environmental Governance.
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