President Museveni has ordered residents occupying Zoka Forest Reserve in Adjumani District and other wetlands in West Nile Sub-region to vacate.
Speaking at the closure of the West Nile Investment Symposium at Muni University on Friday, the President said many residents are ignorantly destroying the forest reserve.
“Get out of Zoka Forest. It is just a small area. Why do you destroy this small forest? People, who are going into the forests and wetlands, do not know the consequences. We should stand firm and tell them to get out peacefully,” Mr Museveni said.
The President’s directive followed remarks by the MP for Ora County in Zombo District, Mr Lawrence Songa, who said climate change, if not addressed, would lead to water shortage and desertification in the sub-region.
Mr Museveni said having an industrial agenda without respecting nature is a recipe for disaster.
“How can you talk of hydropower, irrigation when you are destroying the water? It is childish. People should get out of the forests,” he said.
“Leave the central government forests because they are even very few and why should you destroy them?” he added.
Zoka Forest, which covers about 13 square miles, has over the last decade suffered severe encroachment and illegal logging. As a result, most of its trees have been cut down.
In 2016, Madi cultural chief Stephen Lopirigo Izakare Drani warned that the unregulated cutting of trees by unscrupulous timber dealers had destroyed nearly half of the forest’s natural cover.
“More than 50 or 60 per cent of it (Zoka Forest) has been plundered. This is the only natural forest we have in the region to support our echo system,” Mr Drani said.
In October 2016, the UPDF instituted a commission of inquiry after some of its officers were implicated in the plunder of the forest. The committee then chaired by the 4th Infantry Division Commander, Brig Muhanga Kayanja, has since failed to come out with names of suspects.
In 2017, the commander of UPDF Land Forces, Maj Gen Peter Elwelu, called for full military approach to end cases of plunder of the forest reserve. He made the remarks while officiating at the handover ceremony of the 4th Infantry Division office from Col Rugadya Akiki, the 4th Division deputy commander, to Brig Emmanuel Kanyesigye in Gulu Town.
“We are going to have a military operation. We need to flush out those cutting trees from the forest; if we managed to flush out the Lord’s Resistance Army in the region, can we fail to flush them out?,” he said. However, this operation has never come to fruition.
ABOUT THE forest
Effects. Rain patterns in Adjumani have changed tremendously, which environmental activists attribute to the indiscriminate cutting of the trees and encroachment on wetlands in the district.
Efforts. In March, environmental activists led by Mr William Amanzuru walked about 470 kilometres from Kampala to Zoka Forest in a drive aimed at creating awareness of the plight of the forest.