UK Government Uses Aid Money to Back Oil Drilling in UNESCO World Heritage Site

British officials are using aid money to support oil drilling in a World Heritage Site in Africa, according to an Energydesk investigation.

Government documents, obtained through freedom of information (FOI), reveal that the Foreign Office pledged thousands of pounds in aid to support drilling in Lake Malawi, where the UN warns that a spill could wreck the fragile ecosystem.

UK oil company Surestream has a stake in two oil blocks overlapping the lake, while United Arab Emirates firm RAK Gas holds the rights to explore in the UN protected zone itself.

UN environmental agency UNESCO warned in a previous statement that: “An accidental spill anywhere in the lake would pose a potentially severe risk to the integrity of the entire ecosystem, including the aquatic zone and shoreline of the property.”

Surestream has already carried out seismic surveys in the region to inform drilling plans.

The documents detail the UK government’s aim to develop the oil industry in Malawi while “establishing the UK as the partner of choice in the sector.”   

Energydesk, together with the Guardian, has pieced together diplomatic cables, project plans, official reports, press clippings and company accounts to reveal how British government intervention and foreign aid have been used to pave the way for UK companies exploring for oil in one of the world’s poorest countries.

The news comes after International Development secretary, Priti Patel, announced a move towards tying foreign aid to trade deals.  

Energydesk has previously revealed that UK companies hold exploration licences for oil in 29 national parks across sub-Saharan Africa with UK officials offering support for drilling across the continent.


In Malawi, campaigners and NGOs have expressed serious concerns over the consequences of any oil exploration.

Most of Malawi’s oil license blocks overlap Lake Malawi, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. The vast body of water is home to Nile crocodiles, hippopotamus, monkeys,…

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