July 14, 2021
Environmentalists are calling for Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve to be stripped of its status as a World Heritage Site because it is damaging wildlife habitats.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says the construction of the controversial Rufiji hydropower dam has caused irreversible damage to wildlife, and will continue to do so upon completion.
The dam became controversial after plans revealed the project was set to flood an 125,000-hectare area within the reserve in November.
Construction has already seen industrial complexes erected in the heart of the wilderness, diverting the Rufiji River from its natural riverbed, the EIA says.
The loss of habitat will threaten endangered black rhinos and elephants who already face threat from poachers and traffickers.
Newly built roads are also reportedly providing poachers easy access around the reserve.
An EIA report read: “The disastrous impact of the dam’s construction will stretch far beyond the dam and its reservoir and will undermine the high density and diversity of species which makes the Selous Game Reserve an area of outstanding importance for in-situ conservation of biological diversity.”
The Selous Game Reserve has been inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage list since 1982, a precarious position due to its recent links with poaching and deforestation.
Environmentalists argue heavy equipment, explosives and cement used as part of the Rufiji Hydropower project threatens the reserves inclusion in the list. The EIA is hoping the World Heritage Committee chooses to delist the reserve in its meeting on Friday.
Shruti Suresh, deputy campaign leader at EIA, said: “The reasons for designating the site as World Heritage are effectively gone, thanks to the Rufiji hydropower project, which contravenes international legal frameworks and will only continue to rip apart one of Africa’s largest remaining wilderness areas.”
The Tanzanian government has been called upon to respond to requests from the committee to allow an assessment of the damage caused by the project.
“Multiple requests for the project to be halted have been ignored by the Tanzanian government, which has instead responded by accelerating the construction of the dam, introducing security patrols at the site and threatening any opposition with jail time,” Ms Suresh said.
The Unesco World Heritage Centre last month published recommendations for the reserve to be delisted in June following a number of warnings.
It noted Selous Game Reserve’s elephant populations have “unexpectedly not started recovering, strongly indicating that poaching has likely remained a problem”. The black rhino population, estimated at more than 2,000, is “likely to be extinct or no longer viable”.
It added if there were any of the animals remaining, it is likely they would have only survived in the dense woodlands, including those which will be flooded by the dam.
Ms Suresh said: “It’s appalling that this has happened on the Tanzania government’s watch and at its direct instigation – the World Heritage Committee needs to send a clear and unambiguous message to the world that the wilful destruction of such a special environment is totally unacceptable.”
Only two sites have been delisted in the history of Unesco – the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman in 2007, due to oil and gas exploration, and the Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany in 2009, after a bridge was built across the site. If the Selous Game Reserve follows suit, it will be the first site in Africa to be stripped of its status.