('No to uranium mining' in Swahili) On July 2, at a meeting in St Petersburg in the Russian Federation, the Unesco World Heritage Committee unanimously approved Tanzania’s request to allow uranium mining in the Selous game reserve. The reserve was designated a World Heritage Site in 1982 and is one of the largest remaining wildernesses in Africa.
After months of intense lobbying by nuclear industry and government the July 2, de-cision comes as a great relief to the go-vernment, whose plan to alter the boun-daries of Selous met strong opposition from environmentalists on the grounds that mining in the World Heritage Site would have disastrous consequences. They argued that mining of uranium had caused devastating environmental and health damage wherever it had been done.
But, at the meeting in St Petersburg from June 24 to 6 July 2012, the com-mittee unanimously approved Tanza-nia’s request to modify the boundary of the game reserve. The decision means that some 19,793 hectares (nearly 200 square kilometers) to the south of the Selous, where uranium deposits are found, will also excluded. Tanzania ap-plied for permission to alter the bounda-ries of Selous in January 2011, arguing that extracting uranium in the area was critical for funding development pro-grams and driving the economy.
The Selous was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1982 due to the diversity of its wildlife and undisturbed nature. Within the reserve no permanent human habitation or permanent struc-tures are permitted. All entries and exits are carefully controlled by the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Natural Re-sources and Tourism. The five million-hectare game reserve is home to the largest population of elephants on the continent and also has large numbers of black rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos and crocodiles -along with grasslands and miombo forests. Its diverse lands-cape retains undisturbed biological and ecological processes.
The project will be carried out by an Australian uranium mining firm called Mantra Resources at a cost of US$400million. Some environmentalists and politicians, including a handful of MPs, have consistently voiced strong criticism to the mining plan. They main-tain that the project will have devasta-ting consequences on the economic and social fronts and deal a major blow to the ecology.
According to IUCN more than a quarter of natural World Heritage sites are under pressure by existing or future mineral extraction. For this reason, IUCN is calling on the private sector, state-run companies and governments them-selves to adopt and enforce the “no go” principle, meaning that no mining and/or mineral and oil exploration and production can be carried out in World Heritage sites.
Sources: The Citizen (Tanzania), 3 July 2012 / Tanzania Daily News, 5 July 2012 / UICN website, visited 10 July 2012.