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“There is No Murchison Falls National Park Without Murchison Falls” #SaveMurchisonFalls

By Diaryofamuzungu @CharlieBeau
“There is no Murchison Falls National Park without Murchison Falls” #SaveMurchisonFalls

Uganda's tourism and conservation communities - and everyone I've spoken to - are seriously upset following a newspaper notice on 7th June saying that the Electricity Regulatory Company (ERA) is planning to build a hydropower dam at GPS coordinates that turn out to be one of Uganda's most popular tourist attractions!

With cries of UNACCEPTABLE and 'over my dead body,' everyone has something to say on this absurd idea. Bashir Hangi of the Uganda Wildlife Authority described the proposal as "unthinkable."

Professor Wolfgang Thome raised the alarm on the day the notice went live Major assault planned against Murchison Falls. He wrote:

"Uganda's tourism industry is up in arms over attempts by Bonang Power and Energy (PTY) Limited to start the process for a hydro electric power plant at the heart of Murchison Falls, one of the country's key attractions for both international and local / regional tourists.

Similar plans to build a power plant at the falls were already raised decades ago but abandoned when it was clear, even then, that destroying such a major resource would not benefit the country. Meanwhile have regular sources in Kampala also contacted ATC News, pointing out that once the Karuma Falls power plant goes into production stage, there will be a massive surplus of power which cannot be immediately sold, leaving consumers likely to foot the bills for some years to come as a result of a power purchase agreement entered into prior to the start of construction.

Across the region are new power plants, including several tapping into renewable energy sources like wind and sunlight, being constructed or have more recently come on line, arguably leading to a major surplus of electricity in Eastern Africa."

Tourism and conservation united in their condemnation of the proposal

At a press event organised by the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), Brian Mugume, AUTO Board Member asked "Who would destroy something that can be visited by a 1 year old or a 99 year old? Once you lose these falls, you will never recover them. We need them." He added "You need to say sorry to the country. Please do not touch Murchison Falls."

Tourism sector reacts bitterly to plans to build power dam at Murchison Falls

Herbert Byaruhanga, Vice President Uganda Tourism Association, General Secretary Uganda Safari Guides Association, Chairman Tourism and Hospitality Sector Skills Council upped the pressure with an ultimatum: "We are mobilising all other tourism associations. If by Friday (14th June), the government hasn't spoken, hotels, travel agents and people around Murchison Falls will be mobilised. We cannot allow this to happen. It is affecting everybody. This is unacceptable."

Bonifence Byamukama, Chairman East Africa Tourism Platform, Vice-chairman, Hotel Owners Association, Honorary Wildlife Officer said "Community projects [as a result of tourism revenue] are worth 2 bn ugx annually. Dam construction will impact visitor numbers and bird species." He called for ERA to be educated about the environment.

Pearl Hoareau, Chairperson of The Uganda Association of Travel Agents (TUGATA) read out a letter directed to ERA.

Baluku Godfrey, Managing Editor of Africa Tembelea says the campaign must be very clear: "when we say #SaveMurchisonFalls, we also say no to a dam at Uhuru Falls."

As I prepare to publish this blog, a Special Report of the Daily Monitor of June 18th states "In what is likely to be the original draft of President Museveni's State of the Nation Address published on his website, it is stated that government plans to develop six hydropower sites, including the Murchison Falls, which has a capacity of 650 MW. Others listed are Ayago (840 MW), Oriang (392 MW), Kiba (300 MW), Uhuru (300 MW), and Nshungyeezi (35 MW). In the version of the address delivered on June 6, which was circulated by the State House press team, the list of the proposed hydropower sites was conspicuously edited out."

It's clear there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Other commentators add:

Philip Briggs author of Bradt Uganda Guidebook "Murchison ranks among the five most spectacular waterfalls in Africa and it has additional prestige for its location on the Nile - the world's longest river - and as the centrepiece of a national park whose diverse wildlife includes lions, elephants, chimps and shoebills. Over the 25-plus years I've been involved in tourism to Uganda it has consistently been one of the most country's top attractions and an important motivator for extending a tour north of the main southwestern circuit. Any thought of damming this magnificent attraction seems short-sighted not only in terms of tourist development and associated revenue but also as a great aesthetic and ecological loss."

Patrick Agaba, Uganda Conservation Foundation "Giving out Murchison Falls for hydropower dam construction is like cutting umbilical code for Uganda's economy. We cannot afford to lose it. Please Ugandans, wake up and let us fight for our heritage."

Chris Higginson, Owner, Murchison River Lodge "The mighty Murchison Falls. Not only is it one of the most beautiful and most visited national parks in Uganda, it is without question an area of phenomenal natural beauty. Uganda's tourism sector continues to grow steadily, thus providing huge returns for the Government, whilst creating vital employment for Ugandan nationals and offering development opportunities for stakeholders. The Falls are the epicentre of the national park, the oxygen that keeps the park alive. If the hydropower plant is permitted to go ahead it will steal Uganda's largest national park of its jewel in the crown, while simultaneously robbing future generations access to one of Uganda's greatest wonders."

Andy Ault, Professional Guide "The combined impact of all of these projects is a death-knell for the park... countless kilometres of sensitive riverine woodland, animal - especially elephant - migration routes would be affected and the whole ecology of the Nile and its surrounding savannahs and forests would be changed and lost forever."

Nathalie Van Pee, Director, Nile Safari Lodge "It is unfortunate to hear that such a project is envisaged to take place in MFNP, especially since they will already exploit the petrol in the park, which will already have a strong impact in our National Park. Being strongly attached to Uganda and to this particular region, our family has chosen to invest in Nile Safari Lodge to share this experience with as many people as possible. Such a project would jeopardize the industry and the park. We, therefore, must preserve what we have been gifted with and look at it in the long-term for the next generations and for the country."

Susan Muhwezi Chairperson, Uganda Hotel Owners' Association (UHOA) "As Uganda Hotel owners Association (UHOA), we would like to join the rest of the tourism community to express our disappointment in this proposal and strongly request government and its agency Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) to reconsider any development to not only Murchison falls but also to any tourist destination." "There are several vantage points at the top of Murchison Falls, arguably the biggest draw to the National Park. To the right of the drop-off point, there is a glimpse upstream of where the River Nile is half a kilometre wide. See the staggering speed of the water, racing towards a gap in the rocks that is just seven metres wide. The water flows ferociously fast. It is breath-taking. I stand at the edge of this incredible feat of nature, trying - but failing - to comprehend its total and utter awesomeness. Oh, how microscopic and unimportant I feel with my little camera!"

On my last visit to the Falls, I wrote Stirring up magic at the Devil's Cauldron, Murchison Falls

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The GPS coordinates published in the odious newspaper notice are 2°16'42.6″N 31°41'08.8″E

I double checked them myself - and this is the map that appeared.

"There is no Murchison Falls National Park without Murchison Falls"

Without the main attraction of the Falls, few people will bother going to visit Murchison. It is the focal point of the park: the drive to the Top of the Falls, the famous boat ride to the Bottom of the Falls and the walk down to view Murchison Falls and Uhuru Falls 'side by side'

Although Murchison does have activities like birdwatching, safari game drives and fishing, without the main draw of the Falls, will visitors come for activities they can do elsewhere? (Note also that these other activities will themselves be impacted by these mega changes to the environment, again reducing their appeal).

Without Murchison, which tourists will go on to visit Kidepo, for example? Murchison is not just a place to visit in its own right but a key stopover in itineraries that require long distances to be broken up into comfortable chunks.

Murchison Falls National Park is also contributing to the growth of tourism in Arua, just ask Eagle Air who are now developing tourist packages.

Murchison Falls National Park has experienced a remarkable turnaround in living memory. During the banditry of the 80s, the wildlife suffered heavily, reduced to a fraction of its historic numbers. Famously a hideout for Kony and the LRA during the 90s, the park has turned its fortunes around. It's a spectacularly popular park and wildlife numbers are bouncing back. That has been no mean task, as my friends at Uganda Wildlife Authority and Uganda Conservation Foundation will attest.

What would Sir Samuel Baker say?

Baker (governor general of the Equatorial Nile Basin - today's South Sudan and northern Uganda - from 1869 until 1873) helped put the falls on the world map by naming them after the head of the Royal Geographical Society. They were originally known as Kabalega Falls. Sir Samuel Baker is remembered for his efforts to abolish the slave trade and for being the first European to see - and subsequently name - Lake Albert.

Fast forward to 2019 and the idea that Murchison Falls could be trashed for a big infrastructure project (that the country can ill afford) is some kind of bad joke.

Isn't Murchison under enough pressure from human exploitation? Poaching and human wildlife conflict are constant challenges. Oil exploration - and the wide fast roads created to service the oil industry traffic - are already impacting animal movements within the park - and oil isn't even coming out of the ground yet.

RIP 😭😭😭🐘
Speed at your peril!
A Gaagaa bus has knocked and killed an elephant 1/2 a kilometre from Pakwach bridge - on the edge of Murchison Falls National Park.

Posted by Diary of a muzungu - Uganda & East Africa Travel Blog on Thursday, 6 June 2019

How you can help #SaveMurchisonFalls

  • Electronic objections can be emailed to SECRETARY ERA on [email protected] NOTE: this must be done within 30 days of the newspaper notice (June 7th).
  • Sign - and share - the petition to #SaveMurchisonFalls - just click here over 17,000 signatures already - ADD YOURS!
  • Amos Wekesa, owner of Great Lakes Safaris advises all Ugandans to share positive images - and there must be millions! - from Murchison Falls. Include the hashtag #SaveMurchisonFalls on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

On a light note, Amos also threatens to strip naked to protest the dam construction! Let's hope the Ugandan sense of humour wins the day and we are soon laughing off this environmental nightmare. Tourism is sustainable, involves far less environmental or financial risk and is poised to take off in Uganda, thanks to support from the World Bank, a new CEO at the helm of Uganda Tourism Board and the country's breath-taking diversity of natural attractions.

Please let's #SaveMurchisonFalls


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