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Environmental sensitivity atlas for Tanzania

An environmental sensitivity atlas is an interactive tool that displays coastal areas sensitive to external influences. Such an atlas is under development in Tanzania. The Norwegian Environment Agency is contributing to the atlas by sharing their expertise through the Oil for Development programme.

"Access to relevant and updated information about the environment is important for prudent decision-making", says Ragnvald Larsen from the Norwegian Environment Agency.

The environmental consequences of an oil spill will depend on how well prepared the emergency response units are.


Along the coast of Tanzania, offshore exploration drilling for oil and gas can happen as close as 10-100 kilometres from the Tanzanian coastline where the water has a depth of between 300 and 3000 meters. In the event of an oil spill, currents can easily force the oil ashore within the first 20 hours, or even sooner in some cases. The atlas provides an overview of sensitive areas along the coast so that if an oil spill should happen, emergency response systems can quickly prioritize the most sensitive areas. ‘Our contribution to a coastal environmental sensitivity atlas is first and foremost about supporting our partner institution, the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC), in their effort to establish such an atlas’, says Larsen. The atlas also provides baseline data that can be used for environmental evaluations. ‘Our work has focused on tools and methods to support collection, storage, and dissemination of environmental information. In so doing, we have contributed to relevant infrastructure based on open source software’, says Larsen.


The project draws on experience from another OfD partner country, Uganda, which successfully developed their first sensitivity atlas in 2010. ‘We are now at a point in our work where we have the necessary infrastructure in place. We are well on our way to being able to compile coastal environmental information later this year. In 2017 we expect to use this data to do the necessary evaluations to establish a revised sensitivity atlas’, says Larsen.


The new atlas in Tanzania will be based on an earlier petroleum industry-led initiative for a Tanzanian sensitivity atlas known as TANSEA. Revising such a comprehensive set of maps is challenging work and requires up-to-date information about the coastal environment. Some of the data are based on environmental surveys done decades ago. A report from COWI Tanzania mentions that it is necessary to establish and nurture initiatives to share environmental data according to existing standards. Coordinating environmental surveys in the coastal areas is one of the big challenges Tanzania faces. ‘We are impressed with the work of our partners and acknowledge that our time, as well as their time, is a limiting factor for this work. The Norwegian Environment Agency will continue to contribute to OfD and our partner NEMC’, says Larsen.


Oil for Development: 2016 Annual Results Tanzania
Read the full 2016 annual report here for Oil for Development here: