The demand for oil jobs and environment protection dominated the public hearings of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report for the proposed East African Crude Oil Pipeline project (EACOP). From Kakumiro through Mubende to Rakai, local leaders seized the opportunity to warn of the danger of excluding local people from the affected districts from EACOP related oil jobs.
Speaking at Kasana grounds, Francis Kibuuka Amooti, the L.C V Chairman of Mubende said, "It is our prayer that that local people from the affected districts should be considered for jobs and supplies under the EACOP project. Employing foreigners (including people from other districts) against our local people will be a curse. You should avoid that curse," he said drawing applause from the audience.
Kibuuka emphasized, "On local content, we are very serious, in my district I only know one person has been employed by the project, yet we have many people who are skilled and can take up these jobs".
Similar demands were made by Robert Benon Mugabi, the L.C V Chairman of Rakai District. Speaking at Lwanda public grounds, Mugabi pressed government for oil jobs and supplies for local people. "Since the oil will be passing through Rakai, we request that schools, hospitals and roads be constructed such that people from Rakai can benefit from the oil project," Mugabi said.
Weighing in on the demand for oil jobs, Robert Lwanga from Total said residents from EACOP districts will be considered as long as they qualify for the jobs. "Local people will be given the first preference on jobs, especially jobs that either require unskilled or semi- skilled personnel," he assured the audience.
At least 4,600 people have been identified to be affected by the oil pipeline in the districts of Hoima, Kikuube, Kakumiro, Mubende, Gomba, Sembabule, Lwengo, Kyotera and Rakai. Of these, about 200 primary residents will be physically displaced and relocated.
Social and Environmental Concerns
Participants at the public hearings also called on government to ensure protection of the environment and mitigate the potential social impacts from the pipeline.
"We are here to advise NEMA and other government entities involved in EACOP to be cautious of the environment, trees have to be replanted, wetlands and their inhabitants have to be protected," Kibuuka Amooti explained.
He said the construction of the pipeline will require a lot of water and yet the districts it traverses are already water stressed. "The quality and quantity of water should be taken care of given the fact that these areas are water stressed. You need to put in place mitigation measures including construction of alternative sources of water like boreholes," he emphasized. He also called for consideration of EACOP impacted districts to be given the first priority to utilize EACOP project property such as land at the decommissioning stage.
Nabawesi Jane, one of the affected residents, requested for more corporate social responsibility projects as one way of benefiting from the pipeline project. "They [EACOP] should construct for us more boreholes, access roads and health centers," she demanded.
In Rakai, Namuli Rosette faulted the ESIA report on grounds that it lacks mitigation measures for potential family conflicts. "We are going to have many families and marriages breaking down. I know when compensation money comes in, men are likely to abandon their families and marry other wives, but also some women will also run away and go with pipeline construction workers who have money. I listened to the report, but it does not address such issues," she said.
Another participant wondered, "Our daughters are likely to have relationships with pipeline construction workers. However, after the construction, some workers will go back to their countries, what plan does government have to look after children from such relationships after the workers have gone back to their respective countries," he wondered.
Local people expressed concern that compensation money is likely to trigger crimes such as thefts and defilements among others and called for mitigation measures in that regard.
Presenting the ESIA report, EACOP team explained that several measures have been put in place to mitigate the environment and social impacts. For instance, the pipeline will not cross major forest reserves, water sources and other ecologically fragile areas.
Where the pipeline crosses a river or stream, block valves will be installed so that in case of any unlikely event of oil spills, the valves will be switched on to prevent oil from spilling into the water sources.
"Optic fiber will be installed along the entire pipeline to detect any potential leakages for prompt response to prevent oil spillage especially in underground water," Robert Lwanga from Total said. During the construction phase, where the roads are murram, the construction team will water the roads to prevent dust pollution. However, locals expressed concern over where the water will come from given some of the districts are water stressed.
"Relocation of all graves and shrines will be done in consultation with the family members and the community and appropriate speed limits will be adhered to so as to minimize roads accidents," Lwanga said.
Habimaana Benjamin, one of the affected residents expressed concern over the implementation of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report. "The way it has been presented, the report is good, but I wonder whether it will be fully implemented," he explained.
A public hearing is a forum through which all relevant stakeholders review and express their concerns on the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report in order to enable local understanding of issues and strengthen mitigation measures.
Peter Lokeris, the Minister of State for Mineral Development reiterated government's commitment towards expediting oil production. "Public hearings are one of the milestones towards first oil and full commercialization of Uganda's oil," he explained.