Environmental conservation and protection has been one of the major challenges the world over. The green world has been attacked by both natural and artificial encroachers, leading to dangerous climatic changes, some of which have resulted in deadly disasters. Isaac Khisa looks back at 2010 and what the government is doing to stop degradation:-
Previously, Uganda never took seriously devastating effects of environmental degradation and climate change until March 2010 when cruel landslides occurred in the mountainous eastern district of Bududa, killing more than 300 people.
With the negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change, the government through its regulatory body, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), vowed to take strict measures against environmental destroyers.
To show government commitment, it approved NEMA’s proposal last November to recruit 600 armed Environmental Protection Force (EPF) to guard forests and wetlands.
The recruitment of the 450 security personnel under NEMA and another batch of 150 under National Forestry Authority are already underway. The Force will be distributed across 12 regions in the entire country.
Dr Henry Aryamanya-Mugisha, NEMA’s executive director, said the Authority will use the new Force to demolish all the buildings constructed on the country’s wetlands starting this month. The force will also work with the Director of Public Prosecutions in prosecuting environmental degraders.
Now with the new Force, buildings sitting on Kyetinda, Northern Mayanja, Nalukolongo, Lubigi and Kinawataka wetlands will be demolished, accompanied with immediate demarcation.
Wetland degraders have always chased NEMA officials whenever they intervened to stop construction on wetlands. Hope sense prevails this year.
Wetlands cover about 13 per cent of the total land surface area (about 30,000km2) of the country representing a considerable ecological, social and economic value.
In 1989, the government acknowledged that wetlands need to be conserved. However, the conservation has over time led to conflicts between the land owners who wanted to utilise their land for commercial purposes and the policy.
Continued wetland degradation has led to the emission of methane and carbon dioxide gases into the atmosphere exacerbating the effects of global warming.
Further, it is estimated that by 2020, the country’s natural forests which have been a centre for tourist attraction, climate change regulator and water catchment areas for most rivers and lakes, will be no more if measures are not taken to avert the current forest degradation.
Environmental experts say although the government, private sector and non-governmental organisations are working hard to restore forests through planting artificial ones, the natural forests - known to be the best regulator of climate change - are disappearing at an alarming rate.
According to the Ministry of Water and Environment, the country’s wood cover now stands at only 18 per cent down from 45 per cent since 1890 adding that tropical high forest in the country, in terms of number of species and trees, has also declined over time with over 30 per cent being classified as degraded.
It estimates that the costs of environmental degradation to Uganda’s economy stands high at 17 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of which 11 per cent is constituted by soil degradation estimated at $625 million (about Shs1.45 trillion) per annum. The loss of biodiversity is estimated at $240 million (about Shs557 billion) per year.