It is World Earth Day, a reminder of our responsibilities to preserve and conserve the planet. This year, the world is reminded to keep cities green but millions of Ugandans woke up today not mindful of planting a tree, yet before a day ends, thousands of trees will be felled for shipping to the towns as firewood, charcoal or lost on cleared ground to grow food to feed the rising urban population.
It is children like Isaac Muhumuza of Nakasero Primary School, however, whose commitment to planting trees might help Uganda achieve this year’s theme of having green, sustainable cities.
“I am happy to have planted a tree confident that in the future I am going to have children and I am sure my children will also give birth. If we keep up with this culture of tree planting, Uganda will become a model country for protecting and conserving the environment,” Muhumuza said. He was one of the more than 80,000 pupils under the auspices of Uganda’s Little Hands Go Green organisation whose dream is to plant a million trees mainly in Ugandan towns.
What is happening in Kampala
Peter Kaujju, Kampala Capital City Authority spokesman, explains that city’s authority share this vision.
“That is why we have preserved and are trying to restore places like Centenary Park, Jubilee Park commonly known as the Sheraton Hotel Gardens. We have already embarked on creating green spaces for example along Jinja road,” he said in a telephone interview.
Kaujju blames their predecessors who approved projects like high raised areas with little attention to public open areas. He says KCCA is now cautious before approving plans for more constructions in the city.
“Moving forward, we are paying attention to provision of public open areas and green places in the city because Kampala was originally a green city,” Kaujju adds.
Gilbert Kadilo, National Forestry Authority (NFA)’s publicist says Uganda’s forest cover today constitutes about 17.4 per cent of the country’s total land area down from 24 per cent in 1990.
He blames urbanisation, and hence the Earth Day theme on cities is quite relevant for Uganda.
“Urbanisation has placed forests under immense pressure, especially due to the ever increasing demand for high value forest products such as timber for construction. Also, as urban centres expand, there is demand for new land.
For instance, the rapid expansion of Kampala, Mukono and Lugazi conurbation has put the very important Mabira Forest ecosystem under threat,” Kadilo explains.
A recent report released by National Environment Management Authority (Nema) warned of rampant deforestation which, if it continues unchecked, will make Uganda prone to drought and floods as a result of loss of its forest cover by 2050.
Kadilo says the loss of forest cover could come 10 years earlier. He says, “Uganda loses an average of 92,000 hectares of forests annually. At this rate, we may have no forests left by 2040.”
Every year on April 22, the world seeks to take action on Earth Day with focus on unique environmental challenges of our time.
This year’s theme is “Green Cities- with smart investments in sustainable technology, forward-thinking public policy, and an educated and active public, we can transform our cities and forge a sustainable future.”
Activities of individuals and organisations like Masembe’s is one of the solutions to restore the country’s lost forest cover in the face of accelerated repercussions of climate change. The children who have planted more than 80,000 trees is a testimony that if every child plants a fruit tree, then, nothing could be more powerful than the collective action of 18 million children of Uganda.
Another is artist Michael Cliff Kibuuka whose exhibition dubbed “Concrete Jungle” premieres this Friday to make a case for a green city. Kibuuka has documented constructions, formal and informal, that are happening around the cities and the suburbs.
“This [concrete] has replaced trees and the natural vegetation to form what I call the concrete jungle. The main cause of this is massive rural to urban movement coupled with poor urban planning. Thus anyone can construct anything anywhere, with no proper roads for accessibility, drainage and space,” he explains.
Kibuuka says in all this, it is the children who are most affected, because most of them grow up in dirty crowded areas, well as others grow up in flats with just a balcony as their only play area.
And Masembe’s Little Hands Go Green seeks to put children at the heart of conservation efforts in the fight against climate change and its adverse effects.
“With emphasis on a fruit tree per child, if a 12 year old child plants a tree today in 2014, in 2020 that tree will be six years old and that child ready to vote not just for their political future but on their environmental future. They will never cut that tree because of the
ownership and emotional attachment,” the social entrepreneur explains.
Martin Kiiza, secretary general of National Council for Children says children constitute the biggest percentage of the population.
“They account for 57 per cent of the population, which is about 18 million.”
He encourages the private sector and government to support the child participation mechanism so that children are given that platform to make a contribution in protecting the environment as a way of taking charge of their future.
While planting trees is important, more needs to be done to conserve wetlands, especially in Kampala, control environmental degradation and pollution in the city, which include solid waste, abattoir waste, sewage, sanitation, drainage, industrial pollution, traffic pollution, atmospheric pollution, urban agriculture, rapid urbanisation and water hyacinth.
Kaujju says KCCA has stepped up its efforts in managing waste in and around Kampala.
“We collect about 32,000 tonnes of garbage a month. We have placed garbage bins along streets and in markets, where people can deposit waste,” he says. This garbage is sorted and some private individuals recycle it.
Looking to the future
One of Uganda Wildlife Education Centre’s (Uwec) missions is to carry out conservation education to Ugandans with special emphasis on the young generation who are the leaders of tomorrow.
Uwec’s executive director, James Musinguzi, calls on Ugandans to step up efforts to conserve the environment by avoiding cutting down of trees and adopt planting of trees at household level.
Part of their plan is to work with children to do this. “The children are very good at influencing the old people and change their mind-sets and attitudes towards environmental action so we are going to get them on board in our campaigns,” he added.
Artist Kibuuka makes a plea. “I believe the environment should be accorded a lot more respect and care, and the relevant authorities should do a lot more to preserve it not for us but for the future generations,” he advises.
“In this, there should be more systematic and controlled construction and people should be taught the importance of planting trees, and maintain a green, clean and organised environment,” he concludes.
earth day events in uganda
• KAFRED, and UNITE are planning an all-day event for rural communities. The day will include viewing of environmental films, raffles, competitions, football matches and exhibitions by UNITE schools and other partners. The day is essentially designed to bring awareness to the conservation projects being undertaken in the Kibale region.
• Clemency Uganda is planning a tree planting activity with a group of orphans in Jinja.
• Liberty Conservation and Development plans to create new green sites by organising tree planting events. There will be a specific focus on shade trees near Tororo stadium. In addition they are beginning a campaign to provide agro forestry tree seedlings to farmers who stay around the city to help maintain soil fertility.