Southern Sudan: Oil Exploitation vs Wildlife Protection

[Montréal, Québec, Canada -2°C] Before the last civil war started in Sudan in 1983, the country’s protected areas, according to the Wildlife Conservaton Society, “supported some of the most spectacular and important wildlife populations in Africa, and hosted the second largest wildlife migration in the world.” According to their website, “During an aerial survey, more than 1.3 million white-eared kob, tiang (African antelope), and mongalla gazelle are thriving in Southern Sudan.” And apparently, an estimated 8,000 elephants are located within the Jonglei region and particularly in Boma National Park.

To the surprise of researchers, wildlife remains plentiful in southern Sudan's Boma National Park, despite a long civil war, which ended in 2005. Here, a herd of elephants move through a grassland in the park. (Miguel Juarez for NPR)

This seems like such good news considering that all other information coming from Sudan is about war crimes in Darfur, tribal conflict, a fragile peace agreement and upcoming elections which may or may not be fair and free.

Sudan’s central and southern governments are over-dependent on oil for their respective revenues. Considering most of the developed oil fields straddle the as-yet-undemarkated border that situates the south, oil will play an important role in the country’s ability to hold on to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and avoid a third civil war.

Within the volatile political context that is Sudan, there has been little to no reporting on the country’s natural environment and the potential for wildlife reserves and national parks to become an important source of revenue for the South. Tanzania’s revenues from safari tourism is their second largest source of foreign currency after agricultural exports. And it is steadily growing.

The south is now seriously underdeveloped and lacking in general infrastructure and its primary foreing trade is done in oil, which is managed by the Central govenrment in Khartoum who shares the revenues with the government of Southern Sudan. The South has other exports like gum Africa to gain some foreign currency for its own development but it needs more revenue streams and with greater dieversity.

Of course it will take a while to develop the infrastructure for safari tourism but the southeastern region of Southern Sudan seems apt to offer an important future source of revenue that can rival oil exports.

Considering that wildlife tourism could be added to the important oil export to earn foreign capital, the region’s national parks and wildlife reserves could provide a genuine revenue stream for Southern Sudan’s economy that would diminish oil dependence.

Sudan Oil / Wildlife Overlay (source: Wildlife Conservation Society and European Coalition on Oil in Sudan, 2007)

Sudan Oil / Wildlife Overlay (source: Wildlife Conservation Society and European Coalition on Oil in Sudan, 2007)

How will an oil economy adapt to an emerging wildlife conservation economy? Just how do the two share the land? I thought it would be interesting to visualize how the two might complement or conflict with one another. Wildlife conservation and resource exploitation do not make good bedfellows and are unable to share the territory.

The map to the left is an overlay of two maps: one of national parks and wildlife reserves taken from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the other is of oil concessions and exploited oil fields taken from the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan.

It would seem that the Zeraf Reserve and the proposed extension are located in Blocks A, 5A and 5B, three very active regions of oil exploration and exploitation, particularly Block 5A.

The Southern National Park seems to be outside any region of exploration. The Boma National Park as well as the proposed Bandingallo National Park are within Block B at the fringes of oil exploration but not at risk of exploitation and future exploitation.

How these two ‘resources’ will coexist has yet to be seen. Hopefully, the Southern Sudanese will recognize the long-term benefits of protecting the land and its wildlife for their own benefit and the benefit of wildlife enthusiasts rather than succumb to foreign lust for oil. If the so-called ‘international community’ is genuinely interested in helping Sudan hold on to its fragile peace and preventing a third civil war in the Sudan, it needs to begin washing the bloody oil of its hands and help build a local industry that brings money into the country rather than take resources out.

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Further reading:

- After Sudan’s Civil War: Where the Wild Things Are. NPR’s WBUR Radio.

- Fragile peace may unravel in Southern Sudan. CNN

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Below is a video from CNN that give us a first-time glimpse of oil well pollution in Southern Sudan.

Categories: environment, maps, oil, podcasts

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