In an opinion article published in the Washington Post, Britain’s Prince Harry warned that the ongoing oil drilling in Namibia’s Kavango regions would lead to irreversible and devastating damage to the environment which supports the livelihoods of more than one million people.
He said the search for oil would only enrich a few.
The article was co-written by Reinhold Mangundu, a Namibian environmental scientist and activist, and was published on Thursday.
Canadian oil exploration company ReconAfrica is currently drilling for oil in the protected area that supplies the Okavango Delta with water.
The drilling exploration licence is for an area on the banks of the Okavango River in the newly proclaimed Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, also called the Kaza Park.
In a region already facing exploitation, poaching, and wildfires, the risk of environmental harm from drilling and plowing new roads through the wilderness is even higher, Prince Harry and Mangundu pointed out.
“Knowing the above, why would you be drilling for oil in such a place?” they asked.
According to them, there is no way to repair the damage from “mistakes” such as these.
“Drilling is an outdated gamble that reaps disastrous consequences for many, and incredible riches for a powerful few. It represents a continued investment in fossil fuels instead of renewable energies,” the article said.
Prince Harry, Princess Diana’s younger son, has visited Namibia and Botswana several times.
“The Okavango River Basin is under siege by ReconAfrica . . ,” Prince Harry and Mangundu wrote.
A series of six National Geographic articles published since last year has highlighted serious concerns about the oil-drilling development in the Kavango regions, including the possibility of groundwater pollution, and a lack of community consultation in accordance with Namibian law.
A whistleblower has alleged that the company has misled its own investors in violation of United States laws, and that ReconAfrica was working without the required water permits.
The prince and Mangundu argue that the Okavango Delta is a significant environmental asset.
Though drought-ridden for much of the year, the region averages 2,5 trillion gallons of water flow during the flooding season between May and June.
ReconAfrica last year said it anticipates discovering up to 32 billion barrels of oil in the area – an announcement that was seen by many as a move to boost its share price.
“The ecological, moral and economic imperatives to protect our natural resources eclipse the financial incentives of drilling,” the letter stated.
They are calling on the world to move towards clean, green and renewable energies.
Prince Harry joins a group of international public figures and celebrities, including actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Forest Whitaker, as well as Ecuadorian indigenous rights leader Nemonte Nenquimo.
They are calling for an immediate moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Kavango regions.
According to community members, ReconAfrica has been bulldozing new roads through community conservancies to set up oil and gas drilling pads in the watershed upstream of the Kavango regions.
A recent press release from the Namibian environmental group Frack Free Namibia says the company has been destroying delicate habitats and damaging homes “in clear violation” of its operating permits.
Namibia’s parliamentary standing committee on natural resources also recently said some of the initiatives being publicised by ReconAfrica do not represent the harsh realities faced by citizens of the Kavango East region.
It has been established that people’s livelihoods and crop production have been affected to make way for ReconAfrica’s operations.
ReconAfrica’s Canadian co-founders Craig Steinke and Jay Park have in the past rejected climate-change concerns.
Steinke told The Globe and Mail earlier this year that “it’s easy to criticise” an oil project on another continent when you live in the developed world where the lights flick on at the touch of a switch, and clean water is as simple as turning a tap.
ReconAfrica spokesperson Ndapewoshali Shapwanale yesterday said the company’s operations are guided by its environmental management plan.
“ReconAfrica’s stratigraphic wells are located 260km and more from the Okavango Delta, and our project no-go buffer zones for water include the Okavango River buffer zone, Tsodilo Hills buffer zone and Okavango Delta buffer sone,” she said.