Monday February 24 2014

Climate change: City trees should be allowed to blossom

By Robert Sebalu

With temperatures consistently hitting 33 degrees Celsius and beyond during February in the Lake Victoria region, climate change is increasingly impacting on Uganda. The global intensity of extreme weather-related events is well known and the World Bank is concerned that without bold action now, prosperity is out of reach for millions and decades of development could be rolled back.

Science is unequivocal that humans - the cause of global warming - are the decisive factor in its control with tree planting as a vital mitigation action. Uganda rose up to the challenge with local climate change champions already working to save Earth and improve lives. These include individuals, NGOs, public and private companies, British Council, Rotary & Lions clubs, etc., involved in climate change awareness and mitigation programmes.

Volunteer farmers in Bushenyi, Hoima, Masindi and Kasese districts as well as the Rwenzori & Elgon ecosystems, for instance, earn per capita income of $985 in carbon credits doing afforestation, reforestation and agroforestry under a 50-year project run by Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty covering 1,210 hectares. Climate change action invigorated volunteerism, making a significant mark particularly on college campuses globally in 2013. The government of Uganda runs a dedicated climate change unit and engages in various climate change programmes through Naro, Nema, local councils etc.

But what will future generations say about us residents of Kampala - the nerve centre where most, if not all the above activities are hatched, coordinated, disseminated and or administered yet the very opposite is done in Kampala! The ficus benjamina tree species that gained popularity due to its resilience in harsh conditions, short maturation period, canopy generation capacity and kerb-friendly trainable roots that could have empowered Kampala as a model water front garden city, is instead continuously mutilated.

Trees should only be pruned to remove diseased or storm-damaged branches, thin the crown for new growth and air circulation, reduce heights, say under power cables, remove obstructing lower branches that cause traffic blind spots and shaped for ornamental purposes, which KCCA erroneously does en masse! Tree felling and mutilation doesn’t just affect that little square of earth but changes views, reduces privacy and habitats, affects groundwater, removes the cooling shade effect and affects quality of life.

Studies show that a leafy environment reduces pregnancy stress and asthma instances among children, makes them more active and better self-disciplined than those in concrete jungles. Those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder experience relief symptoms, improved concentration and direction following ability. People who lack connection with nature and trees have a higher risk of problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, vitamin D deficiency, osteoporosis and depression.

Trees contribute to release of microscopic nuclei needed for clouds formation - a more feasible process in lake basins like Kampala; clouds in turn have a high albedo effect, leading to reflection of solar rays back into space. Tree felling and mutilation negatively affect property values and neighbourhoods ought to have a say in it. Despite the risks of harsh weather conditions, injuries and damage to property, many cities protect trees. The world’s 10 most expensive streets, for instance, where property continuously appreciate and the wealthy are incessantly attracted derive value from spatial planning of their environment of which trees are a fundamental component.

KCCA owes the citizenry an explanation for mutilation city trees, more so given the anticipated expansion into Greater Kampala. Mundane tree colour coding with soft board pins could save the situation and engagement of “enlightened” city authorities on tree benefits as one entity should be easier for climate change champions than handling peasants.