Recent media reports that Malawi government is still undecided on whether to explore oil or not in Lake Malawi.
The media reports quote the official communication from Malawi Government to World Heritage center offices in Paris, France.
The official Communication originated from the Secretary of Sports and Culture .The department of culture is the official custodian of the world heritage sites in Malawi.
The government suspended oil exploration licenses in Lake Malawi on 21st November, 2014. The Official press release from the secretary of energy and mining indicated that all oil licenses be put on hold. It is almost a year since the suspension of the oil exploration licenses in Lake Malawi.
Lake Malawi national Park was inscribed as a world heritage site in 1984. This is the part of Lake Malawi having outstanding universal values and natural scenic beauty. Thus the lake has over 1000 unique species of cichlids type of fish.
This rare endemism of fish species forms 10% of all fish species in the world. It is out of this background that Malawi ratified the 1972 world heritage convention in 1984. Indeed since then this part of Lake Malawi was declared a protected area by an act of Malawi Parliament.
The Lake Malawi National Park was also then declared a world heritage site. This meant the Lake belongs to the whole world and not only Malawi. The world heritage convention demands the country to conserve the outstanding universal values of the Lake Malawi National Park.
When news of oil discovery in Lake Malawi reached the world heritage Centre, a reactive mission was sent to Malawi in April, 2014. The United Nations Education and Scientific Committee (UNESCO) is the official UN body responsible for world heritage.
UNESCO recommended a withdraw of oil deals in the area overlapping Lake Malawi National Park.
A very good number of reasons on potential impact of oil exploration in Lake Malawi are outlined in the UNESCO report.
In my view I suggest the Malawi government to come out in the open and completely withdraw its ambition of drilling oil in Lake Malawi world heritage site.
The oil exploration process when it comes to drilling stage will affect the aquatic ecology of the entire Lake Malawi. The rare endemism of cichlids fish species occur due to special evolutionary processes. Drilling oil is accompanied by heavy machinery, noise and pollution which will automatically affect the marine ecosystem. This has been proven through a number of scientific studies.
The drilling of oil involves release of waste water that is often too salty. Such water is lethal to aquatic biodiversity and not good for human consumption. The phobia is created by many Malawians since they have got experience on how the Uranium Mine at Kayelekela has performed on waste water from the mine.
The drilling of oil in fresh water lake requires credible companies with a detailed track record and experience in drilling oil in a fresh water Lake. The country does not have safety nets and measures to mitigate and man-made disaster in a fresh water lake. The potential of oil spills pauses a huge threat to our fresh water lake.
Lake Malawi is the origin of fresh drinking water to residents of Blantyre and most areas. This country at present is failing to provide access to clean and safe drinking water to most of its residents. It is ironic for the same country to exploit its only source of fresh water.
Tourism in Lake Malawi is one sustainable economic adventure that is being underutilized. Irrigation Agriculture has the potential to improve lives of ordinary Malawians. Over 2 million people along the Lake shore depend on this Lake directly.
Sanity must prevail, oil drilling in Lake Malawi is not a good idea. The risk is huge and benefits are minimal over a short period of time.
Apart from all these facts the country is not ready with policy and legal framework to guide the oil drilling processes.
Production sharing agreements with the local people not ready. Enforcement of regulations in the extractive industry is below international standards. Issues of transparency and accountability still unclear.
*Godfrey Mfiti is an environmental Activist and promotes conservation of Lake Malawi
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