News: Natural Resources Justice Network pens UNESCO World Heritage Committee on oil exploration in Lake Malawi National Park

Lilongwe, Malawi, 17 November 2016: The Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) and its affiliated chapter of Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Malawi have sent a letter to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee over concerns about the integrity of Lake Malawi National Park asking the Committee to take immediate action to protect the park and to demand the Government of Malawi to provide all information to the public about the status of and its position towards oil exploration in the park.

The letter “Oil Exploration and Lake Malawi National Park” (6 November 2016) reads: “We are deeply concerned with the environmental health and integrity of our iconic Lake Malawi not only as an irreplaceable, globally significant site for biodiversity, but also as a critical source of livelihoods for many Malawians and citizens of neighbouring Mozambique and Tanzania. And these are worrying times because the property faces many potential threats, not least of which is oil exploration. Although the government has discussed the potential for oil exploration and production for many years, it has not officially shared its position concerning the status of oil exploration and the property with parliament, civil society or the general populace, nor as far as we know with the World Heritage Committee.”

NRJN and PWYP have already requested information to be in the public domain in relation to oil and gas exploration in Malawi particularly following the Government’s review of the licences and agreements that was undertaken to ensure they were awarded and signed for the benefit of Malawi. Suspension of exploration has been lifted and all companies have been given the go ahead to continue exploring for petroleum across six blocks, three on land and three that cover Lake Malawi.

NRJN and PWYP remain committed to working with Government to ensure the natural resources make a difference in the lives of citizens of Malawi.

About NRJN and PWYP: NRJN is the main civil society network working on mining, oil and gas issues in Malawi to ensure these are used to contribute to broad-based, sustainable development in line with the Africa Mining Vision. It is made up of over 30 national and community based organisations and was founded in 2007. The PWYP Malawi chapter is a campaign being run by 16 organisations under NRJN focusing on ensuring revenue from natural resources are stewarded wisely. In April 2015, PWYP Malawi was approved as a member of the PWYP global coalition that is in over 40 countries.

Contacts:
Chairperson of NRJN – Kossam Munthali kmunthali@focusmw.org
Chairperson of PWYP Malawi Steering Committee – William Chadza william@cepa.org.mw
NRJN Secretariat and PWYP Host Organisation – Citizens for Justice, Reinford Mwangonde reinm@cfjmalawi.org


Read UNESCO’s response to the letter here


6 November 2016
World Heritage Committee
World Heritage Centre, UNESCO
7 Place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris CEDEX 07
France

Copy: Director of the World Heritage Centre, Dr Mechtild Rössler
Director of International Union for Conservation of Nature World Heritage Programme, Mr Tim Badman

Dear Members of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee,

RE: Oil Exploration and Lake Malawi National Park

Lake Malawi National Park (“the property”) has been a World Heritage Site since 1984. As the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) describes, Lake Malawi is an area of exceptional natural beauty surrounded by rugged landscapes that contrast with the remarkably clear waters of the lake and exceptional biodiversity. It is a globally important scientific asset and a unique ecosystem due particularly to its fish diversity. The property is home to over 1000 endemic species of cichlid fish, nearly all of which are endemic to Lake Malawi and it contains 30% of all known cichlids species in the world. It is one of two World Heritage Sites in Malawi.

We are a group of civil society organisations that form the Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN), which is Malawi’s only network for organisations engaged on the extractive industries, and NRJN oversees the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) chapter in Malawi. We are deeply concerned with the environmental health and integrity of our iconic Lake Malawi not only as an irreplaceable, globally significant site for biodiversity, but also as a critical source of livelihoods for many Malawians and citizens of neighbouring Mozambique and Tanzania. And these are worrying times because the property faces many potential threats, not least of which is oil exploration. Although the government has discussed the potential for oil exploration and production for many years, it has not officially shared its position concerning the status of oil exploration and the property with parliament, civil society or the general populace, nor as far as we know with the World Heritage Committee. This is pertinent given that since 2011 the government has awarded six petroleum exploration licenses, three of which lie across the lake and three are on land. Without information on the government’s position, we are unable to assess the potential risk of oil exploration on the lake, including its World Heritage Site, or engage on this issue of national importance.

In May 2014, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published a report from its reactive monitoring mission to the property, warning of risks to Malawi’s ecosystem and biodiversity and raising particular concern over oil exploration within the lake. The report notes the “potentially devastating impact” that this could have on the lake’s ecology. At the time of the monitoring mission, oil exploration on Lake Malawi was in its preliminary stages, and no information was available on specific future drilling sites, should exploration progress, and no environmental and social impact assessments had been prepared. Consequently, the monitoring mission could not assess the potential threats of oil exploitation on the property and the greater Lake Malawi ecosystem. With regard to the oil exploration, the report recommended, inter alia, to “complete the ESIAs [Environmental and Social Impact Assessments] for the initial exploration phase” and to “enhance stakeholder involvement and transparency in all aspects of the oil and gas development programme”.

In the same year, the World Heritage Committee urged “the State Party to cancel the oil exploitation permit which overlaps with the property and reiterated its position that oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status”. The Committee has also successively suggested that Lake Malawi National Park be extended to cover a greater area.

The Government of Malawi was given until 1 December 2015 to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the Committee’s decision including on oil exploration. This report was to be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its 40th Session in 2016. The Government of Malawi did not substantively respond in time ahead of the 40th Session, so the Committee could not determine progress made on their decision (38COM7B.92). The submission by government of a short letter in lieu of the required State of Conservation report indicated that a joint ministerial committee had been established to advise the Cabinet on the World Heritage Site, the Department of Culture had “facilitated a number of meetings with all stakeholders” and the government required more time to assess the decision and consequences. In July 2016, the committee reiterated its recommendations from 2014 and requested a progress report on their implementation in February 2017 and again in December 2017. Following a government review of petroleum licences and agreements that was initiated in 2014 to ascertain if these were awarded and entered for the benefit of all Malawi, the companies were given the go-ahead to continue exploration in February 2016. Government has not formally communicated to civil society or parliament the findings of its evaluation even though the Attorney General initially stated in a legal opinion that a number of irregularities needed to be investigated.

NRJN and PWYP, which represent the overwhelming majority of national and community-based civil society organisations working on the extractives in Malawi, have also repeatedly asked the government for information about the status of the exploration and have not been proactively engaged by government to discuss the World Heritage Site. On 18 February 2016, we submitted a request for information on oil exploration to the government, but have not received a public response to date although during meetings with the Department of Mines in April 2016, officials committed to publishing a response; efforts to meet more senior government officials responsible for mining have not been forthcoming. To follow up, NRJN and PWYP produced a second press release on 24 June 2016, repeating the same requests for information with a focus on asking the government to make known its position on exploration and exploitation of natural resources in Lake Malawi National Park. Similar challenges are also reflected in broader attempts by civil society to solicit information on the oil and gas sector. For example, formal attempts, starting in April 2016, to officially access Production Sharing Agreements the government signed in May 2014 have been to date unsuccessful; these agreements should be public under Malawi’s commitments to contract transparency through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

We are writing to urge the Committee to take immediate action to protect the property before exploration proceeds further. The Committee should request that the Government of Malawi to immediately provide all information regarding the oil exploration licenses to the general public, to actively engage and reply to specific questions asked by interested stakeholders and to commit to prohibit any exploration in the property area and buffer zone. Without information on the government’s position and without broad, meaningful consultation, we fear that the government is moving ahead with oil exploration without any independent, public assessment of potential threats on the property, of its great ecosystem, and of the value and centrality for many Malawians who depend on it.

Yours faithfully,

ActionAid Malawi
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP)
Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA)
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR)
Church & Society of Livingstonia Synod
Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC)
Citizens for Justice (CFJ)
Economics Association of Malawi (ECAMA)
Foundation for Community Support Services (FOCUS)
Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI)
Institute for Policy Research and Social Empowerment
Mabilabo Area Development Committee
Malawi Economic and Justice Network (MEJN)
Malawi Watch
Malawi Women in Mining Association (MAWIMA)
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) – Malawi
Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust
Norwegian Church Aid
Oxfam Malawi
Ufulu Wathu
Ukhondo Services Foundation

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