By Carrie McKee (Posted: August 20, 2012)
In one the strangest stories hidden behind US elections and Russian dissent in the international media, the Tanzanian government has allowed an international uranium conglomerate to begin exploration in what used to be part of the 54,600 sq km Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania. This piece of East African habitat is not only home to the world’s largest elephant population, but is, in fact, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Tanzanian government diligently lobbied the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to change the boundaries of the iconic game reserve, allowing the Mkuju River Uranium Project (owned by Russian ARMZ and Canadian Uranium One) access to their desired location – a wildlife corridor between Tanzania and Mozambique. What’s been described by the WHC as a “minor boundary change”, the o.8% border alteration of the reserve will exclude 200 sq km of previously protected land. The decision by the WHC stands in contradiction to their 2011 statement that “mining activities would be incompatible with the status of Selous Game Reserve as a World Heritage site.”
The government claims the mine will provide much needed funds to support development programs and drive the economy. Environmentalists decry the decision, insisting that no safe method exists to avoid contamination of surface and ground waters during uranium mining. In its 10 years of planned operation time, the mine is expected to produce up to 60 million tons of highly poisonous waste – more if a projected extension of the mine is approved. The government of Tanzania, which previously declared that it would “win its battle” with the WHC on this issue, has not specified how it will ensure that the waste is “limited”. NGOs report that the WHC has heavily influenced by intense corporate lobbying. Additionally, activists worry that this decision will set a precedent for the future adjustment of World Heritage sites under pressure from financial interests.