Information was confirmed overnight that UNESCOs World Heritage Committee 36th meeting in Russias St. Petersburg has granted permission to the Tanzanian government to reduce the size of the Selous Game Reserve to exclude an area earmarked for Uranium mining.
Celebrated by official Tanzania as a victory of sorts it immediately brought environmental pressure groups to the forefront once again demanding that no mining should take place in the ecologically sensitive area until such time that all possible safeguards, no matter the cost, be introduced to ensure that neither ground water sources nor rivers downstream will be contaminated by what they say is a highly toxic process.
Tanzanias Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ambassador Khamis Kagesheki, went on record to state that the area now excised from the worlds largest game reserve is a mere 200 square kilometres or less than 0.8 percent of the overall size of the Selous and was well removed from present tourism activities nor foreseen in planning maps to ever feature as much more than a peripheral buffer zone.
He also went on to say, according to a report from Dar es Salaam sent in overnight, that the Tanzanian government would insist on the latest environmental safeguards to be implemented by mining companies to avoid any lasting damage to the environment or impact, as has been suggested, on the water sources on which populations as well as wildlife depend.
The Selous is Tanzanias largest wilderness area but hardly tapped by tourism as yet and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, when founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere committed the country to forever respect the natural resources and in particular the national parks and reserves like the Serengeti and the Selous, the former also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and controversially under assault by the government of the day intent to build a highway across key migration routes. Named after Sir Frederick Selous, how fought against the Germans during World War 1 in Tanganyika, the Selous has of late also been in the negative headlines for a sharp rise in elephant poaching as well as attempts to convert the scenic Stieglers Gorge in the core tourism area of the reserve into a massive hydroelectric dam and adjoining lake, considered by conservationists and environmental experts as potentially changing the fabric of the reserve and its game populations forever, and not in a good way.
No application to UNESCO has been made though for those plans, and a regular source from Paris has already indicated that while the Uranium mining area excision was approved as it was in a remote and very peripheral area of the Selous, no such positive decision could be expected for a core tourism and conservation area to be used for power generation, lest the reserve lose its status.
The Minister was also sharply critizised by conservationists when he cited Germany and Japan as examples of safe use of nuclear energy, as it seems to have escaped him that Japan suffered last year of one of the worst nuclear fallout disasters and just narrowly avoided a meltdown, contaminating huge tracts of land and ocean, while German is undergoing a full transformation, moving away from nuclear power to sustainable sources of energy, intent to shut down both ageing as well as newer reactors over huge safety concerns and unsolved but growing problems over the storage of nuclear waste.
Watch this space as this saga will undoubtedly continue to dominate the debate between conservationists and developers purely interested in the total exploitation of resources with little if any inclination to protect Tanzanias natural habitats, biodiversity and the environment.