Uganda is among United Nations member states that adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) whose agenda is to improve the social and economic wellbeing of the people especially those from the Least Developing Countries.
To ensure that Uganda as country meets some of the SDGs especially goal number one which aims at ending poverty by 2030, Ugandan government has adopted national development plans that will drive the country out of poverty by the year 2030. This is being done through the implementation of the National Development Plan Phase Two (NDPII).
The plan looks at supporting sectors that can create more jobs in the country through Public private partnerships. Government is therefore striving to put up a conducive environment that can attract local and foreign Investors to invest in specific sectors that can support the government to achieve some of the SDGs by 2030.
By implementing the NDPII, government has attracted investors in major sectors of the economy such as agriculture, extraction industry, manufacturing, health among other sector. The investors have led Uganda as country to improve on its economic development Index, more jobs are being created and government revenue collection has gone up over the years.
However, the development has come along with negative effects on other sectors such as the environment. In recent years (2017-2018) the country’s environment has been highly degraded due to demand for resources such as land, forests products to pave way for establishment of industries, and growing of crops such as sugar cane.
For instance government, through the Uganda Investment Authority, has been on the spot for giving away land in fragile ecosystem to investors to establish Industries, an example is the Namanve Industrial park which was set up in the Namanve Wetland this has impacted those living near the Industrial park.
According to the residents, the place is now experiencing floods during rainy season which makes it impassable.
“We have suffered a lot with floods due to the industrial development along the namanve wetlands. All the runoff water ends up in our houses because of the concrete Infrastructure development in the wetland which makes it difficult for water to infiltrate into the soil,” a resident told East African business Week.
The degazetting of Namanve Wetlands has not only contributed to floods in the area but is also leading to pollution which in turn could also lead to eutrophication which may negatively affect the aquaculture lives in water bodies such as Lake Victoria
Apart from Namanve, places like Matugga along the Kampala-Gulu highway in Wakiso District has experienced floods which some have attributed to the encroachment on wetlands by both local and foreign Investors who are establishing factories and warehouses.
In Eastern and other parts of the country such as Bunyoro sub regions, wetlands and forests reserves have been cleared to pave way for the farming of Industrial crops such as Sugarcane .The most affected region in Eastern region is the Busoga sub region.
“Most of the wetlands have been encroached on for sugarcane growing; that is why the weather partners in the sub region have changed drastically thus contributing to global warming. Government needs to come in and intervene otherwise all the wetlands are getting degraded. This may end up affecting food crop production in the region since wetlands modify weather patterns in the region,” said John Kirya from Kaliro District.
According to him, more locals are embracing the growing of sugarcane due to the high demand for the crop which is raw material for sugar production. The Busoga region has experienced influx of investors in the sugar sector. The sub region currently has more than three sugar companies producing sugar.
Last year, the calendar for the environment subsector was also characterized by the incidences for example landslides that led to the death of more than 40 people in Bududa District in Bugisu sub region also in eastern Uganda. The Bududa incidences are also attributed to environmental destruction in the mountainous region of Mountain Elgon.
According to Benard Mujjasi the Mbale District LCV chairperson, activities by the locals such as massive clearing of the vegetation to pave way for agriculture degrade the environment.
“It’s the bad practices that are breeding these landslides; we the local leaders we have tried to sensitized them but they are not listening. That is why we have environmental refugees in the country. We need systems that are environmentally friendly,” Mujjasi told East African Business week.
Apart from the demand for natural resources such as land for Industrial and agricultural purposes, according to Information available chunks of forests from various parts of the country were depleted for charcoal burning. The most affected parts are the Northern Uganda particularly in the Acholi sub region.
“Acholi sub region in the year 2018 supplied the country with charcoal at the expense of environmental protection. The charcoal burning business is not 100 % regulated; this is a big challenge to Uganda as country. When we continue like this in 2019 then we shall pay for it in terms of extreme weather partners,” said Mapenduzi Ojala, the chairman LCV Gulu.
Uganda supplies charcoal to some East African states such as Kenya following the ban of charcoal burning in South Sudan. This has led to the depletion of the forest cover in most parts of the country particularly in Eastern and Northern parts of the country.
Some of the districts most impacted by charcoal burning in Acholi region include, Gulu, Amuru and Nwoya. According to Ojala, this compelled local leaders to set up environment committees to fight charcoal burning in the region but their effectiveness is challenged by limited resources.
According to a sector performance report by Ministry of water and Environment for the financial year 2017/2018, wetland coverage stands at 8.9% intact and 4.1% degraded while 2.6% was completely lost due to human activities across the various parts of the country.
On forest cover, the report indicates that the forest cover has declined drastically; the report reveals the forest cover declined from 24% in 1990, to 11% in 2015 and currently stands at 9%.
Such trends in deforestation create a big challenge to Uganda as country because it exposes the country to devastative impact of global warming.
Environmentalists speak out
Frank Muramuzi, the Executive Director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) says government should balance between biodiversity conservation and development. He reasons that the more government gives out fragile ecosystems lands to investors the more Uganda will experience environmental hazards such as floods, prolonged drought partners among other catastrophes.
“Uganda currently, like other countries, is experiencing climate change not because of anything but due to the destruction of the country’s ecosystems such as wetlands, forests and other natural resources either for personal gains of national developments but this should be dealt with before it’s too late,” Muramuzi said recently during an Environmental Dialogue held in Kampala.
He adds that government should empower its staff with enough resources especially at local government’s levels to ensure that environmental laws are enforced by the relevant officers at the district level.
“Uganda has the best environmental legal regimes if they are fully enforced the country couldn’t have registered decline in its forest cover to encroachers .government Environmental agencies need to be fully facilitated to enable them execute their Environmental protection duties,” he suggested.
About charcoal burning, environmentalists advise locals across the country to engage in planting trees for charcoal production since charcoal, as source of fuel, is a huge source of income both to government and the local people.
Mary Njenga, the research scientist Bioenergy, world agro forestry Centre (ICRAF) University of Nairobi, Kenya said the local community in Northern Uganda can engage in charcoal farming to regulate cutting of trees for charcoal.
She said charcoal is evolving as a key commodity within the country because one third of the population rely on charcoal and firewood and because charcoal is affordable, accessible for dependent, middle and high income earners
Njenga noted that in Uganda, the charcoal sector earns $38m (Shs144b) annually as majority of the households depend on charcoal.
She said due to high demand, there is an unsustainable practice like indiscriminate cutting of trees without planting new ones that are causing land degradation and deforestation in rural areas
“People can solve these challenges by integrating charcoal in agriculture with trees inform of agroforestry; intercropping trees meant for charcoal with crops in the gardens like in Western Kenya, where farmers are planting trees purposely for charcoal,” she advised.
Paul Mafabi, the Director Environmental Affairs in the Ministry of Water and Environment, noted there are many factors fuelling environmental destruction in the country such as the increasing population which also exerts pressure both on the country’s natural resources such as lands, wetlands and Forests.
“The population of this country has been growing; the more the number goes up the more land will be demanded for agriculture purposes and the biggest challenge is that our farmers are using poor technologies in agriculture production which lead to the demand for more lands. That is why part of the country’s central forest reserves have been encroached on by farmers to farm food crops,” he said.
He, however, noted that government has embarked on massive tree planting exercises where both government and the private sector are encouraged to plant trees. He said that government is promoting community outreach programmes where churches, schools are engaged in tree planting.
Key Achievement; the passing of the Environment Bill
Despite the many challenges the Environment sector experienced, Parliament passed the long waited National Environment Bill, 2017. Once implemented by all the government agencies, the Bill will help protect of the country’s environment. Among key areas, the bill will tackle is the issue of banning the polythene bags below 30 microns that was agreed upon by stakeholders in the environment sector.
Other issues are related to noise pollution from places of worships such as churches among other key areas.
For Uganda’s environment to be protected, there is need to Invest more resources towards the implementation of policies and regulations in place.
Ministry of Water and Environment is among the agencies allocated limited resources every financial year which affects the Implementation of Environmental protection regulations across the country.
A source in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development also cautioned government to ensure that the general public gets access to energy saving stoves, something that this will control the use of charcoal as a source of fuel.
BY SAMUEL NABWIISO