VENTURES AFRICA – With the approval of the United Nations, Australia-based miner Mantra Resources can now mine uranium on Tanzania’s world heritage game reserve, Selous Game Reserve.
The approval went through yesterday despite opposition from environmental groups who opposed to the project on the ground that mining will have harmful effect on the ecological sensitivity of the reserve.
To mine uranium on the site, Tanzania would use 0.85% (about 200 square kilometres) of the total area of 54,600 sq. km (21,100 sq mi). The authorities insisted that the reduction in the size of the world heritage will not have a harmful effect on the wildlife.
UNESCO committee made the decision at the ongoing 36th session of the World Heritage Committee in St Petersburg, Russia. This is in response to Tanzania’s request made in January last year.
According to the Natural Resources and Tourism Minister, Ambassador Hamisi Kagasheki, “The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has accepted Tanzania’s request to make changes to the territory of the Selous Game Reserve to pave way for uranium mining,” he said.
The project will be carried out by an Australian uranium mining firm, Mantra Resources, at a cost of $400million. Tanzania says it has at least 54 million pounds of uranium oxide deposits.
Mining on the reserve will earn the east African country an average annual gross turnover of $250 million in 15 years. Mining firms could expect to earn $200m.
The Selous reserve is also expected to earn $5 million annually, a double from the $500,000 it earned in the past. Money earned at the reserve will be used in the conservation of wildlife. The government believes the income from mining could also help pay for guards to stop poaching.
The uranium mining business on the reserve will provide employment for about 1,600 Tanzanians, the minister said.
To allay the fears of the people, Ambassador Kagasheki said the country has nothing to worry about in connection with the acclaimed hazards of uranium as application of modern technology would assure safety to the environment and lives at large.
In an interview granted to BBC last month, Tanzania’s Minister, Ezekiel Maige, said the “Radiation levels will remain the same – the minerals in the ground are already emitting a degree of radiation, but it is not dangerous for human beings, the animals or the (Mkuju) river.”
“Tanzania needs energy for development. Experts will help us realize our goals. The project is economically viable and will benefit the nation significantly,” Kagasheki insisted.
The Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania is one of the largest faunal reserves in the world. It was named after Englishman Sir Frederick Selous, a famous big game hunter and early conservationist, who died at Beho Beho in 1917 while fighting against the Germans during World War I.
According to the UN cultural organisation UNESCO, the 5m hectare-Selous Game Reserve in the south of Tanzania has large numbers of elephants, wild dogs, black rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos and crocodiles – and is relatively undisturbed by humans. The animals found there are larger numbers than in any other African game reserve or national park.