We must get people out of wetlands and forests
Posted Monday, March 31 2014 at 21:20
In 1986, we created the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Desertification (IGADD), specifically to address drought and related issues. Ten years later, we decided to broaden the function of IGADD to include development, peace and security. This is the IGAD we have today.
Twenty years have passed and we are still embroiled in how to combat drought or develop our resilience to it.
I have been informed that the droughts have been increasing in severity and frequency over the years and that their impact is exacerbated by the advancing desertification, land degradation, global warming and climate change phenomena.
We are also experiencing recurrent drought cycles in arid and semi-arid areas and increasing likelihood of drought in areas that never used to be prone to drought. In Uganda, we are just recovering from drought which hit most parts of the country. Yet Uganda used to be one of the wettest countries on earth, with some parts having as much as 2500mm of rain per annum.
The other day, I flew over the Rwenzori mountains (5000 metres plus above sea level) that used to have a large sheet of snow cap and glaciers. I saw much smaller snow caps on four of the five peaks that used to have snow.
There was none on the fifth. This phenomenon of climate change is to a large extent man-made. It is a result of lifestyles, pollution from industrialisation, deforestation and others. We are to blame for what is happening due to uncontrolled industrial policies.
But to a greater extent, developed nations are the major polluters and should take responsibility and cut on their emissions. We should collectively demand justice. However, the IGAD countries, including Uganda, are also to blame for the following strategic mistakes:
Delay in industrialisation; inadequate electrification leading to the excessive reliance on the bio-mass for energy (fire-wood); primitive agriculture, on account of low yields and land fragmentation, always requires more land and yet land is not elastic; destruction of the wetlands and forests; and over stocking, causing soil erosion and silting of the water bodies (rivers, wetlands and lakes).
The delay of industrialisation means too many people remain in agriculture, which puts a lot of pressure on the land, forcing the peasants to encroach on the forests and wetlands.
As already said, the low level of electrification, means the peasants continue to destroy the biomass for firewood. In Uganda, about 32.8 million cubic metres of wood is destroyed per annum for firewood. The meteorological scientists of Uganda have told us, repeatedly, that destroying the wetlands interferes with the evapotranspiration process that is crucial in rain formation.
They have also told us that while 60 per cent of the rain in Uganda comes from the oceans, 40 per cent is from the local moisture. That is why West Nile has got much more rain than Karamoja, the fact that they are on the same latitude notwithstanding. Apparently, this is thanks to the huge swamps in South Sudan and the forest in Congo.
Therefore, this destruction of the wetlands is real danger to our future. A win-win way to get people out of the wetlands and forests must be found through adequate funding.
Even, the repeated outbreaks of ebola disease is caused, possibly, by people who encroach on the forests where the monkeys and bats live. A fund for the gradual recovery of the wetlands and forests should be set up if we are serious.
This is a matter directly affecting our livelihood and we cannot just look on. On our part, IGAD member states should invest in sustainable affordable energy and infrastructure.
In 2011, the Heads of State and Government of IGAD member states met in Nairobi to address the crisis resulting from drought. We agreed that we should do things differently. This is how the current IGAD Drought Resilience and Sustainability Initiative came into being.
We committed ourselves to enhance development of policy frameworks and supporting practices to ensure improved food security and sustainable livelihoods.
Our greater expertise should be invested in preventing drought by building our resilience to it through: Strengthening early warning mechanisms, capacity building for researchers and institutions, developing adaptive and resilient varieties of crops and livestock, investing in water for production and proscribe all forms of environmental degradation in each of our countries.