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A woman walks home from work in Kijumba, Uganda, January 14, 2023. A mother of five and a Project-Affected Person, she told the New York Times that she waited years for the oil company to pay her for her land, and then it was too little to buy a substitute plot. © 2023 Arlette Bashizi/New York Times
  • The French fossil-fuel giant TotalEnergies’ planned oil pipeline in East Africa has devastated thousands of people’s livelihoods in Uganda and will contribute to the global climate crisis.
  • The project will displace more than 100,000 people, has caused food insecurity and household debt, caused children to leave school, and is likely to have devastating environmental effects.
  • People should be compensated in line with the IFC Performance Standards, other companies should not support the pipeline, and the project should not be completed.

(Nairobi) – The French fossil-fuel giant TotalEnergies’ planned oil pipeline in East Africa has devastated thousands of people’s livelihoods in Uganda and will exacerbate the global climate crisis, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. If completed, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project will have dozens of well pads, hundreds of kilometers of roads, camps and other infrastructure, and a 1,443-kilometer pipeline connecting oilfields in western Uganda with the port of Tanga in eastern Tanzania.

The 47-page report, “‘Our Trust is Broken’: Loss of Land and Livelihoods for Oil Development in Uganda,” documents the land acquisition process for one of the largest fossil fuel infrastructure projects under construction anywhere in the world. The development in the oilfield, which will ultimately displace over 100,000 people, is well underway. Although 90 percent of people who will lose land to the project have received compensation from TotalEnergies EP Uganda, the project has suffered from multiyear delays in paying compensation and inadequate compensation.

“EACOP has been a disaster for the tens of thousands who have lost the land that provided food for their families and an income to send their children to school, and who received too little compensation from TotalEnergies,” said Felix Horne, senior environment researcher at Human Rights Watch. “EACOP is also a disaster for the planet and the project should not be completed.”

The report is based primarily on over 90 interviews that Human Rights Watch conducted in early 2023, including with 75 displaced families in 5 districts of Uganda.

Human Rights Watch found that the impact of multiyear delays has been compounded by unclear communications as to whether farmers can continue to use the land to harvest coffee, bananas, and other cash crops in the interim. Consequently, the land acquisition project has caused severe financial hardships for thousands of Ugandan farmers, including heavy household debt, food insecurity, and an inability to pay school fees, causing many children to drop out of school.

Farmers said they felt pressured to sign compensation agreements in English, a language many of them cannot read, and many described being offered cash instead of the option of replacement land in line with international standards. Unkept promises about grave relocation and an improvement in the quality of life that was promised in the many early meetings extoling the virtues of EACOP have eroded trust between communities and TotalEnergies.

“They come here promising us everything,” a resident said. “We believed them. Now we are landless, the compensation money is gone, what fields we have left are flooded, and dust fills the air.”

TotalEnergies is the principal company involved through its Ugandan subsidiary TotalEnergies EP Uganda, alongside the China National Offshore Oil Company and the state-owned oil companies of Uganda and Tanzania. Atacama Consulting and Newplan Group managed the land acquisition process on behalf of TotalEnergies EP Uganda.

TotalEnergies has promised to respect various international standards including International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standards, which require TotalEnergies and its subsidiaries to restore or enhance livelihoods to pre-disturbance levels. The pipeline has still to secure 60 percent of the project cost. While the project still searches for the necessary financing, TotalEnergies and its subsidiaries should increase the amount of compensation and livelihood restoration efforts to be consistent with human rights standards.

In a June 15 letter to Human Rights Watch, TotalEnergies stated they “continue to pay close attention to respecting the rights of the communities concerned” and provided detailed responses underscoring their view that compensation offered was in accordance with IFC standards. Atacama Consulting, the environmental consulting firm facilitating land acquisition for TotalEnergies EP Uganda in the Tilenga oilfields, responded on June 22. They rejected allegations that pressure was applied to people to sign and outlined why in their view that compensation provided met the requirement of “full replacement cost.”

Studies show that the construction and operation of EACOP poses grave environmental risks. The pipeline route traverses sensitive ecosystems, including protected areas and internationally significant wetlands, posing threats to biodiversity and ecosystems that local communities depend on for their sustenance.

EACOP is being developed at a time when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading authority on climate science; the International Energy Agency; and others warn that no new fossil fuel projects can be built if the world is to reach Paris Agreement goals and limit the worst impacts of climate change. In March, the IPCC confirmed that global temperatures are increasing at record levels, and urged governments to cut emissions by phasing out fossil fuels and scaling up renewable energy.

Because of the opposition to EACOP from civil society organizations and climate activists in Uganda and around the world, many financial institutions and insurance companies have made a public commitment to not support the pipeline. Financial institutions should avoid supporting EACOP due to the devastating impacts of fossil fuels on climate change as well as future risks of serious human rights impacts, Human Rights Watch said.

“The burning of fossil fuels is driving the climate crisis,” Horne said. “Financial institutions considering funding EACOP should steer clear of this project and instead help Uganda embrace its significant clean energy potential.”

Please see: Uganda National Oil Company's letter on June 27, 2023, in response to Human Rights Watch's letter on June 2, 2023.

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