Environment

Tanzania’s President Magufuli’s government clash with UNESCO and Conservationists over dam project in Selous Game Reserve

Tanzania president John Magufuli downplayed fears that the mega-dam project planned at the World Heritage nature reserve would affect the environment. This despite grave concerns raised by UNESCO and conservationists over the scheme. The reserve is a haven for elephants, black rhinoceroses, cheetahs, and giraffes.

The government is set to implement a 2,100-megawatt scheme at the Selous Game Reserve-a 50,000sq kilometre protected area which was designated under UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Elephant poaching, lack of funding, unsustainable mining coupled with other major problems caused UNESCO to place the reserve on its list of World Heritage in Danger in 2014.

The president has made the dam project a centrepiece of his presidency since being elected in 2015. There are concerns the scheme will straddle R. Rufiji in the game reserve.

President Magufuli downplayed the fears and argued it will instead promote environmental conservation. He said providing energy to the local communities adjacent to the reserve will deter them from felling trees for charcoal burning. According to United Nation figures, its only two percent of the rural population and 39% of the urban population have access to electricity in Tanzania.

Through the scheme, the president assured the environment will be protected. “I want to reassure everyone, this project in fact will promote the environment, also, it’s just a small part of the reserve, just 3% of the total area.” He added.

President Magufuli has been accused of riding rough over the process and being intolerant to dissent from conservationists. He defended Tanzania’s environment record arguing approximately one-third of the country was a protected area. “I am very surprised by those who say we don’t like the environment,” he said.

His environment minister, Hamisi Kigwangalla went ahead and attacked conservationists for criticizing the project. He argued Tanzania has no lessons to learn from any individual or country on wildlife protection. “We have been protecting these wild animals for generations and generations. These activists should be ashamed of themselves.”

But the UNESCO has been calling for the project to be scrapped arguing its incompatible with the site’s World Heritage status, which it earned for being one of the largest remaining wilderness in Africa.

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