Selous park in Tanzania at risk of losing status as World Heritage site

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Selous Game Reserve, the biggest wildlife conservation park in Tanzania and East Africa, risks losing its status as a World Heritage Site after the Tanzanian government gave a green light for hydropower harnessing and construction of a big dam within the conserved ecosystem.

Despite the mounting protests from nature conservationists, the Tanzania government had hired experts from Ethiopia to study and advise on best options to construct a dam and revive an earlier plan to build a hydropower generation station inside the Selous Game Reserve, the designated World Heritage site.

Tanzania’s President, Dr. John Magufuli, has dismissed this as groundless criticisms against the Stiegler’s Gorge Hydropower project, saying the mega scheme will cover only three percent of the Selous Game Reserve.

Some ecologists are up in arms, opposing the envisaged power project, which they say will subject the World Heritage game reserve to irreversible damages.

Dr. Magufuli, speaking to an Ethiopian team of experts in electric engineering and hydroelectric dam construction, said he was quite aware of impediments that will emerge on the course of executing this project inside the park.

“This project will cover 1,350 square kilometers, only three percent of the Selous Game Reserve’s 45,000 square kilometers,” he told the Ethiopian power and water experts who visited him at his office in the Tanzanian commercial city of Dar es Salaam.

Currently, Tanzania generates 1,450 megawatts of electricity but Stiegler’s Gorge will produce 2,100 MW.

He said the team from Ethiopia arrived in the country to share experience with its Tanzanian counterpart charged with the responsibility of executing the Stiegler’s Gorge power generation project.

The government is now set to construct the US$215 million Kidunda Dam and the US$2.6 billion Stiegler’s Gorge hydroelectric power station, out of protests from wildlife and nature conservation groups which had attracted international attention over negative impacts to arise from the two major projects.

Wildlife and nature protection organizations are opposing construction of two projects near and inside the 55,000 sq. km. Selous Game Reserve, the biggest wildlife and nature conservation area in Africa.

Kidunda dam is located outside Selous, but its water is feeding a conserved ecosystem.

Selous Game Reserve was listed among the World Heritage by UNESCO in 1982 but was later declared a World Heritage in Danger by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) after the government of Tanzania showed its willingness to commercial activities inside the reserve.

A team of experts from IUCN and UNESCO headquarters in Paris visited and inspected the Selous Game Reserve in February this year and released its interactive report on May 19 which advised the government of Tanzania to stop all mining and commercial activities in the Selous Game Reserve, and lso to abandon the planned hydropower project.

The UNESCO report further warned over extension of commercial activities related to mining and power generation projects inside the reserve, saying such activities would risk the reserve to be given an international status of the World Heritage site.

IUCN conservation experts said in the report that the reserve will be retained in the list of World Heritage in Danger until the government of Tanzania rectified its legislation to prohibit exploration of oil, gas, and mining in the reserve.

Construction of hydropower at Stiegler’s Gorge on Rufiji River cutting in the middle of the Selous Game Reserve would threaten the survival of the 100-year-old biggest wildlife conserved area on the African continent, and one of the richest natural tourist attraction sites on the continent.

Plans to build the dam in the heart of one of Africa’s largest remaining wildlife sanctuaries of note have dismayed conservationists who fear that it could cause irreversible damage to the habitat.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Heritage conservation officer, Remco van Merm, recently described the Stiegler’s Gorge project as a matter of “significant concern for many years now due to its potential negative impact to the World Heritage site.”

“This includes inundation of significant wildlife habitat, including that of the critically-endangered black rhinoceros, as well as a heightened risk of poaching and other illegal activities due to increased access to the area,” van Merm said.