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.