Written by: Landia Davies
Africa – rich in not only people, culture and abundant natural beauty, but home to a tremendous wealth of natural resources and potential. This eclectic African mix of society and nature is at times explosive, with nature and man competing for space and resources both above and below the ground.
Here are some of the major conflicts happening around Africa:
Virunga National Park (DRC) – oil and critically endangered mountain gorillas
Virunga National Park in the east of The Democratic Republic of Congo is Africa’s oldest conservancy, founded in 1925 by Belgium’s King Albert I. This park is home to about a quarter of the remaining mountain gorillas left in the wild. Now, in addition to the serious threats posed by poachers and habitat destruction, this gorilla territory is under risk from the imminent threat of oil exploration. The British based oil company SOCO international PLC is set to start seismic testing in Lake Edward, which borders the national park, and could begin drilling as early as next year.
Although the government of the DRC has given SOCO permission to carry out oil exploration, environmental groups are up in arms. The concerned groups that are opposing oil mining plans are outraged by activity they see as having a negative impact on a crucial wildlife habitat that is already under severe pressure.
Tens of thousands of families depend on the lake and are at risk from water contamination and loss of livelihoods should the exploration continue. Coupled with this the already bloody war within the park between M23 rebels, the UN and the Congolese army, and the environmental outlook becomes dire. Since 1996 up to 140 conservation wardens have already lost their lives on the frontlines of this battle and conservationists who have spoken out against the exploration have begun to receive death threats.
Karoo (South Africa) – fracking, habitat loss and water pollution
Fracking is the process of drilling into shale rock and then blasting a solution of chemicals and water to ‘fracture’ the rock thus releasing valuable methane gas. Though this process has been lauded as the answer to the world’s energy crisis, there have been massive protests across the globe due to the well documented environmental implications. Through seepage of chemicals into ground water tables, entire systems become polluted making land uninhabitable for both people and animals.
Despite these protests and bans being implemented world-wide, including Europe and various states in America, the South African government is pushing forward with plans to ‘frack’ the Karoo with petroleum giant Shell, Jacob Zuma describing shale gas as ‘a game changer’ for the South African economy. However, as environmental lobbyists argue, the cost to the environment could be greater than the rewards in terms of the size of the gas reserves, which are unknown.
Niger River Delta (Nigeria) – oil spills and implications
The largest crude oil producer in Africa, with over 1.92 million barrels a day – Nigeria! The Niger River Delta is however fraught with controversy from environmentalists, militants, fair trade organisations and human rights activists in a disaster that has been unfolding over the last 50 years. The involvement of large petroleum companies has been problematic at best, as environmental disasters are common, but often undocumented and unacknowledged. The problem is exacerbated by the flimsy infrastructure in place, as well as pipeline sabotage, oil theft and corruption. The result is an alleged 1.5 million tons of oil having spilled into the delta over the last 50 years. This is the equivalent of about one Exxon Valdez spill per year!
While there has been extensive back and forth talks and court cases between Shell and the local Bodo community regarding reparations for oil spills in 2008 and 2009, this is a step in the right direction towards taking responsibility for the type of environmental catastrophe that too often does not make it into the headlines of popular press.
Throughout Africa’s vast expanses there are tensions and conflicts between large global corporations and local communities striving to extract Africa’s rich resources. Often these situations are exacerbated by war and corruption and a lack of transparency or accountability. Angola for example, is the second biggest oil producer on the continent, but information on the environmental impact of offshore drilling with regards to fishing stocks and local communities is scarce. These are just a few examples of trouble areas, but it is also important to keep an eye on Africa’s success stories.