Concerned citizens, mostly those whose lives depend on the Lake Malawi, have appealed to the Malawian government to suspend the oil drilling survey project that is currently underway. Early this year, Malawi government through the then minister of energy Dr Goodall Gondwe signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Surestreams, a UK based oil drilling company to carry out the project.
The citizens, led by the country’s renowned businessman Watson Katawa Nyasulu said the cover up of the terms and conditions of the MOU to the general public by the authorities cast a lot of suspicion amongst the citizens.
“The agreement between the government and Surestreams was done without consultations, we remember quite well that there was a massive consultation when granting Kayelekera Uranium Mining contract to Paladin with various politicians, traditional leaders, the religious community, the civil society an chiefly the people at the grassroots level.
“The approach was fundamental for our participatory development an we want the same with the oil drilling project,” said Katawa adding that their stand represents about 95 percent of people living along the lake shore.
Katawa added that as a nation which mostly depend on the lake economically and socially, they are not confident about environmental hazards control to do with the project such as the demise of Lake Species such as fish and water pollution in case of oil spills.
“We are technically aware of dangers of oil spills as was the case with Nigeria, Mexico, United States and other countries which resulted in loss of lives, property and environmental pollution. We don’t want such calamities to occur once the project has been fully instituted,” he said.
When signing the MOU, Surestreams Petroleum General Manager Keith Robinson said the assessment exercise is nowhere near production.
“We only presented our plan for the environmental and social impact assessment as required by the Malawi and international legal requirements. Actual exploration which will involve shooting pressured air into the lake, begins anytime between 2013 and 2014 but rest be assured that it will not scare fish in deep waters,” he said.
But a local environmentalist, William Chadza feels the project in not environmental friendly.
“There is a minor difference between explorations an actual drilling of oil. Our worry is that economic issues have taken precedence on environmental issues. This is not healthy,” chadza, who is also Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental policy and advocacy, was quoted in the local media.
There was no immediate comment from the current energy minister who was not available on numerous occasions.
The fish industry supports nearly 1.6 million people in lakeshore communities and makes substantial contributions to their livelihoods, by supporting approximately nine percent, 18 percent, 15 percent, nine percent and 30 percent of the people in lakeshore districts.
It has the largest number of employees (4) per enterprise, compared to 3.8 under crops; it generates the largest profit per employee per hour (K50.15) (2002 figures) compared to mining (K16.64) and crops (K5.94). So if we put more emphasis on it, for sure, the economy of the country will grow.