The coronavirus outbreak: Lessons learnt to address its impact on vulnerable Ugandans in the Oil and Gas sector

Early this year, a flue like sickness first reported in the Wuhan province of china started to continuously spread across the world. A month later, the World Health Organisation (WHO) identified the illness naming it COVID19 and sequentially categorizing it as a pandemic. Ever since COVID19 brought the world to a temporary standstill bringing many economies to their knees as a result of lockdowns. Several discussions have since followed on the impact on the pandemic with major emphasis on severely hit sectors like the oil and gas sector. Similarly in Uganda, many oil and gas related developments were put on halt as a measure to curb the spread of the virus, for instance, At Hoima International Airport, a big very big percentage of workers had to be sent home to enable social distance and reduce the risk of the workers catching the deadly virus. Also majority of the people affected by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) have been left in glaring suspense and fear for their already threatened livelihoods.

After 4 months of lockdown, Uganda has started to gradually ease the restrictions. However, as we all adapt to this new normal, focus should now shift from looking at the impact of COVID-19 to looking at how communities affected by oil and gas developments can be rehabilitated and prepared for a sustainable livelihood.

In his address to the nation on 1st June 2020, The President stated that while imposing measures to stop the spread of the virus, it would be dangerous to stop the “real economy” where sectors like agriculture lie. Prior to the COVID19 pandemic, communities that originally depended on agriculture for survival had given up their land for Oil and Gas developments in the hope of getting compensation. However, by the time of the outbreak, communities had not received the long awaited compensation and yet at the same time, they were not using their land for which they entirely derived livelihoods. A local farmer is now wondering if the corona outbreak has revealed that farmers are essential workers and carry out "real economy" activities why then would oil and gas developments continue to disorganize them. Instead, the government should be organizing them to boost the country’s economy through training them about sustainable agriculture because in all this, it seems like the communities have lost it at both ends.

Agriculture has proved to be one sector locals can use to add value and reap the benefits of the Oil industry since the other many opportunities seem to out of their reach. However, to optimally seize this opportunity, there needs to be backing from the government. However, experience with some host communities shows the inexistence of a clear government program to help PAPs benefit from the industry. For instance, in 2012, 6000 -7000 people were affected by the land acquisition for the development of oil refinery in Kabaale parish Hoima district. Apart from the compensation paid for their properties, there's no visible plan existing to prepare such people to benefit or trade in the oil and gas industry which has disrupted their economic activities for close to eight years. Similarly, the people affected by the Central Processing Facility (CPF) in Kasenyi, Bulisa district, and Land acquisition for the development of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) have not been spared of the wrath of these Oil and Gas developments. It is therefore imperative that Government develops programs that will build capacities of Project Affected People and help them to be prepared and supported to tap into the enormous benefits the oil industry presents.

Article by:

Richard Orebi

Programme Associate - Global Rights Alert