No Bail Out For Harmful Projects in Protected Areas: Save Upemba and Murchison Falls National Parks!

More than 265 civil society groups around the world are calling upon the Chinese government to ensure that COVID-19 related financial relief for struggling Belt and Road projects flows only to high quality overseas investments that meet stringent criteria aimed at protecting people and safeguarding the environment. The organizations urged China to avoid bailing out projects already mired in environmental, social, biodiversity, climate, or financial risks prior to the onset of COVID-19.

In the statement, civil society groups highlighted 60 Chinese sponsored projects in the mining, pulp and paper, hydropower, infrastructure, fossil fuel, and other sectors which do not meet these criteria, and set out 10 specific principles that if present could help to ensure that projects are “high quality.” This includes ensuring credible, robust environmental impact assessments, obtaining free, prior informed consent from affected people, committing not to impact on key biodiversity areas, and ensuring alignment with international norms and best practices and China’s green finance policies, among others.

In a post COVID-19 world, the organizations joining the statement emphasize, global actors seeking to stabilize and revitalize the economy must ensure that any COVID-19 related financial relief is allocated to projects and investments which are fully supported by and benefit local communities, align with international standards and best practice, and preserve our world’s increasingly fragile ecosystems.

Save Upemba National Park 

 Sombwe Hydropower Plant

Haut-Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Energy – Hydropower
Financier: Unconfirmed
Key Project Developers/Contractors: Sinohydro/PowerChina, Kipay Investments Project Status: Construction

In June 2019, PowerChina and the Congolese company, Kipay Investments Sarl, signed a joint venture for the construction of the 150 MW Sombwe hydropower plant in the DRC. The proposed US$400 million Sombwe hydroelectric power complex includes a dam, reservoir, and road works. It is located inside Upemba National Park, one of the country’s oldest national parks, famous for lions, endemic zebras, leopards, buffalo, elephants, among other charismatic megafauna. As the dam is located inside a Congolese Protected Area, the project violates Law N° 14/003 of February 11, 2014 relating to nature conservation. Park staff who have voiced concern regarding the environmental and social impacts of the dam have even faced death threats.

Dam construction requires a deep 40 km long reservoir, which threatens migration of the largest mammals. In particular, the dam will block migration paths of the last population of 193 elephants in the Katanga region. The dam will further block fish migration in the Lufira River. Changes in flow rate and sediment load in the extensive network of lakes into which the Lufira runs will dispossess local downstream communities of their livelihoods, as they depend on the fishing resources for their survival. Most alarmingly, any degradation to Lake Upemba’s natural ecosystem could trigger a food crisis, impacting nearly 80,000 fishermen who are settled with their families in this conservation area. Compounding the situation is the project developer’s failure to design a consultation process based on free, prior, and informed consent, per international best practice. In November 2019, road construction to the dam site began.

Save Murchison Falls National Park

East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP)

Uganda and Tanzania
Energy – Oil Pipeline
Financier: Unconfirmed
Key Project Developers/Contractors: China National Offshore Oil Corporation Ltd (CNOOC Ltd), Total, Tullow Oil, governments of Uganda and Tanzania.
Project Status: Construction

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is a proposed 1,443-kilometer pipeline from Hoima, Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania. Construction of the pipeline threatens to open critical ecosystems, including Murchison Falls National Park, to oil extraction. It is expected to cause large-scale displacement of communities and pose grave risks to protected environments, forests, water sources and wetlands in Uganda and Tanzania.

This project presents risks to local people through physical displacement and threats to incomes and livelihoods of millions of people who depend on tourism, agriculture and fisheries for their incomes. The pipeline creates risks to water, biodiversity (including threatened and endangered animal and plant species, such as lions and chimpanzees, among others), and to natural habitats. It also represents a massive new source of carbon emissions – estimated to be over 34 million metric tons per year. As such, banks should avoid financing this project and instead seek opportunities to finance genuine renewable infrastructure to help meet the region’s energy needs in a clean and rights-compatible manner in the decades to come.

Source: IDI