Nwoya- Before oil exploration started in Murchison Falls National Park in Nwoya District, in late 2000s, there were few cases of wild animals, especially elephants invading homes and gardens in areas that border the park.

When prospecting for oil progressed and finally concluded, the habitats for animals and other species, according to residents near the park - as well as local leaders – were destroyed thus forcing elephants to invade peoples’ gardens and homes.

Mr Godfrey Otukene’s grass thatched hut was destroyed by elephants. He narrowly escaped the attack early this year.

“To date, I am struggling to reconstruct my hut but what pains me is Uganda Wild Life Authority, which manages the park has no plan to compensate me,” he said.

Apart from destroying the hut, Mr Otukene’s maize and beans garden were destroyed.

Much as Total E & P has tried to restore the environment that was interrupted, the elephants have never ceased from straying in people’s homes and gardens.

“Obviously, we cannot give them guns to fire in the air to scare away the elephant,” Mr Bashir Hangi, the Uganda Wildlife Authority spokesman, said at the weekend.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority Act 2000, he said, is being amended and until then they have no legal basis to compensate communities affected by wild animals.

However, he said they deploy more rangers to protect people, especially in Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park.
“We distributed Vuvuzela’s to the community which they blow to scare away the elephants and to alert our wardens at the nearby outposts to come and intervene,” Mr Hangi said.

In 2011, Total E & P took over the running of the Murchison Park oil wells in Block 1. This is an area with the highest quantity of crude oil in the region.

Murchison falls National Park, which was gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, is Uganda’s largest conservation area hosts 76 mammal and 451 bird species including chimpanzees, elephants, leopards and giraffes.

Mr Otuekene’s frustration is shared by dozens of residents in Anaka Sub-county in Nwoya District as well as neighbours in Ganda Parish, Panymur Sub-county, Pakwach District.

Mr Raymond Pyem, the youth councillor Panymur Sub-county says some owners of these farms were promised to be given between Shs3 million and 4 million received less than a million shillings in compensation.
“The company that was contracted by Total never engaged with local leaders to explain some of these compensation issues properly. We only saw them come and prospect and leave after failing to discover oil,” he said.

Rotting plants
Mr Jonas Ongey, whose 76-year-old grandmother Ms Brandina Achieng, owned a cassava garden near the dry oil well says, the prospecting exercise affected the flow of the seasonal stream which regularly floods her cassava garden.

“She has abandoned the garden because the floods make the cassava rot,” Mr Ongey said.

The concern of Action Aid Uganda, under its Oil in Uganda programme, according to Ms Flavia Nalubega, is to ensure that citizens in oil-rich areas are sufficiently compensated.