The Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom was among the stakeholders that were opposed to the plans to construct a hydro power dam in the Murchison falls national park, according to a July letter issued by the kingdom to the electricity regulatory body.
The kingdom said the national park known locally as Kabalega national park is an important cultural landscape of local and national importance.
Last week saw fresh protests within Uganda’s tourism industry after reports that Cabinet had okayed the plans to carry out a feasibility study for the construction of a 360MW dam at the Uhuru falls upstream of Murchison falls.
Bunyoro kingdom’s reservations regarding the electricity project are contained in a letter written by Andrew Byakutaga Ateenyi, the Prime Minister of Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom and addressed to the Chief Executive Officer of Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA).
In the July 3 letter, the Bunyoro-Kitara Premier reference a June 7 notice issued by ERA. In the notice, the regulator acknowledged receipt of a notice of intended application for a license from a company known as Bonang Power Energy (Pty) Limited.
Bonang, a South African energy firm intends to generate and sale electricity from a hydro power plant proposed to be established near Murchison falls in Kiryandongo and Nwoya districts.
Byakutaga says Murchison falls national park’s unique landscape with River Nile flowing through creates unique riparian habitats with several iconic flora and fauna that define culture, norms and values of Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom, Uganda and the global community.
The kingdom also underscored the fact that the park’s features are crucial for enhancing the socio-ecological resilience of the people of Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom and neighboring districts through provision of several ecosystem services.
“Murchison falls is a home of several sites that are critical in the cultural identity of Bunyoro Kitara kingdom and the people,” the kingdom argued.
“Building a hydro power dam along the River Nile within the Murchison falls national park will disrupt the physio-chemical and biological process of the river Nile and adjacent riparian ecosystems which potentially can change the natural conditions.”
The cultural institution adds that the river and the adjacent riparian landscape host several flora and fauna and cultural landscapes revered by the people of Bunyoro and used in several royal and cultural rituals.
“The dam construction will threaten these bio-cultural landscapes with changes in natural flow regime of the river. Most of the revered flora and fauna are sensitive to any changes in the flow regime of the river”.
Building the dam on the proposed site will affect the Murchison falls either through changes in flow or sediment transfer, Byakutaga further noted, adding that “this will affect the flora and fauna around the site yet this is the main tourist attraction in Murchison falls national park’.
Murchison falls park attracts approximately 80,000 tourists most of whom are interested in experiencing the mighty falls.
The changes, according to the kingdom, will not only affect the perception of tourists towards the park but also negate the historical value the park has gained over decades.
“Tourists pay for the experience at the falls, if the falls are no more, the numbers attracted by the falls will considerably decline”.
There is already oil and gas exploration, production and development activities ongoing in the vast park, which activities Bunyoro fears will affect its (park) ecological resilience.
“Hydro power dam construction and development activities which will affect the park will exacerbate the risk”.
As such, Bunyoro Kitara kingdom rejected the proposal by Bonang Power and Energy Limited for application of a permit to undertake feasibility studies and other related activities.
The kingdom says its reservations are in line with the Environmental Impact Assessment Guidelines for the energy sector that require that areas with aquatic resources of highly biodiversity value, areas with sensitive habitats or containing highly values ecological resources, cultural, aesthetic and historic value to be avoided.