Residents and civil society organisations in Ituri province, Democratic Republic of Congo, have raised concerns over the negative impact that oil and gas production by Uganda will have on their trade, security and share of Lake Albert waters.
Recently, 23 organisations and Ituri residents petitioned Uganda's environmental watchdog National Environment Management Authority (Nema) together with DR Congo's President Félix Tshisekedi and Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni.
According to the petition, Lake Albert supports a population of about 100,000 people in Ituri, but also facilitates trade, water transport, fishing activities and provides water for domestic use. However, the Tilenga oil production project threatens the ecosystem of the lake.
Data from Uganda's Directorate of Water Resources' Management shows that over 500,000 cubic metres of water will be required per day when oil production starts.
Water will also be required during the construction of major oil and gas installations even before production begins.
The petitioners in DR Congo held public hearings shortly after attending those conducted by Nema and Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) in October.
They are concerned that certain areas of the lake will be declared no-go zones because of the oil and gas operations, yet communities in DR Congo and Uganda engage in trade activities by the lake such as transporting fish, vegetables, fruits, cosmetics, cement and steel products.
On November 9, President Museveni and President Tshisekedi held a meeting at State House, Entebbe, to discuss promotion of trade between the countries.
The expected high demand for water in the oilfields will increase pressure on local water resources and could potential spark conflicts in areas of high water stress across the two countries.
The community organisations estimate that up to 20,000 people will be affected by pollution--in cases of an oil spill--and influx of people into the Lake Albert area when oil production starts.
The environmental and social impact assessment presented by the oil companies notes that oil production activities could increase the population relying on Lake Albert, which could result in overfishing and reduced fish stocks.
"This is a major concern for us in the DR Congo because no adequate mitigation measures were provided to protect fisheries by both the Tilenga and Kingfisher project developers," said John Kakule Lufukaribu, community organisations co-ordinator, Ituri Province.
Uganda's Energy Minister Irene Muloni told legislators that: "The water extraction from Lake Albert requires the approval of water and environment ministries of Uganda and no objection from the Nile Basin Initiative."
The Nile Basin Initiative is an intergovernmental partnership of 10 countries: Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
The oil companies presented Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) reports to the government stating that they will steer clear of all ecologically sensitive areas to minimise environmental damage.
But, the DR Congo activists are demanding that Uganda halts further clearance of ESIA reports, assess the impact of oil and gas activities on communities in Ituri, in the spirit of the 2007 Uganda-DRC Ngurdoto agreement, which promotes community livelihoods, conservation of Lake Albert and security between the two countries.