Uganda’s environment is deteriorating and this is affecting several sectors of the country, including agriculture, infrastructure, health, schools, security and climate. The visible variability in weather statistics across the country is mainly attributed to continuous destruction of the environment, especially the forests and wetlands.
The occurrence of extreme events such as prolonged drought, floods and landslides in some areas are being accelerated mainly by human activities that do not take into consideration the sustainable use of the environment.
Our major sources of rainfall and temperature are the tropical rain forests and the lakes since we are a landlocked country and that is why despite being located along the Equator, we continue to enjoy a good climate and weather throughout the year.
However, this may change if the ongoing trend of environmental destruction continues. Therefore, continuous destruction of forests that has reduced Uganda’s forest cover to only 9 per cent today from 42 per cent in 1960, should be enough to raise concerns from every patriotic citizen that calls Uganda home, including all the stakeholders and all stakeholders who wish Uganda well.
Uganda’s lakes are at the same time facing variations in their water levels as a result of climate change due to environmental destruction.
The increased environmental destruction in Uganda largely results from the increasing population, increasing prices for agricultural products, lack of public and political will to conserve environment, weak and less implemented polices and rules, lack of an independent, well-facilitated and efficient environmental protection authority, Nema. Others are lack of a well-planned housing master plan for towns and cities. The increasing demand for houses in overbuilt up places is accelerating environmental destruction in Wakiso, Mukono and Mpigi districts.
We need to borrow a leaf from Kenya, where construction of houses in the Nairobi metropolitan, is regulated. The middle class or the working class that is increasingly constructing homes should instead buy already-built apartments in the Kampala or Wakiso District. Building high but less costly apartments achieves two things at the same time: Increases the supply of houses for residence and conserves the environment, including security. To achieve this, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) in conjunction with the Ministry of Lands, should come up with a plan and policy framework to support apartments as opposed to individual homes that consume space, thus leading to environmental destruction.
To attain this, there is need for cheap credit and well-functioning capital markets to supply credit to landlords to build apartments and later sell them. One well-built compound of apartments can accommodate 500 people an equivalent of a small village. The housing plan, if adopted in slums, will bring development of slums and increase value of slum land. This can be done by the government or through public-private partnership. Good housing comes with good health, schools, electricity, water and security, among others.
In addition to a well-developed housing plan that maximises space and thus saves the environment, including protection of wetlands and forests, the government should increase capacity and budget of the environmental protection agencies. It should also create awareness among the masses on the relevance of protecting environment.
When the environment is destroyed, it becomes very costly to revert environmental protection and in some cases, it is irreversible, thus we need to be very careful. This should start right in schools, churches, hospitals, mosques, etc. Self-discipline is key in environmental protection.
I have seen people throw rubbish in trenches and by the roadside through car windows. These are backward behaviours. Garbage tax should be introduced as this will reduce dirtiness in the city. the city dwellers should pay for the rubbish, and this should not be interfered with by the politicians for selfish interests and cheap popularity. It is high time Ugandans stood up and define the Uganda we want.
Uganda is a beautiful country, but if the current trend of environmental destruction continues, the beauty will be lost. The argument that developed countries exploited our environment and got rich no longer holds water. Today, we can exploit the environment sustainably. Not that we shouldn’t exploit the environment given that we need jobs, income, goods and services that come from exploitation of the environment. But the exploitation should be done in a sustainable manner by balancing between the environment, economy and ecosystem or ecology.
Another efficient way of environmental protection is through poverty alleviation programmes. When people are empowered economically, their demand for higher environmental quality increases and it becomes difficult to be manipulated to destroy the environment.
Lastly, carbon tax and other taxes on high environmental destruction activities such as sugarcane growing, should be charged and the revenues generated used to rehabilitate the environment. Car washing in rivers should be discourage and alternative places built sought to save the rivers. Sand mining and brick laying should be regulated to ensure sustainable use of the environment.
E-waste and the ongoing oil activities if not well managed, will accelerate environmental destruction, including destruction of animal habitats. This will greatly affect the ecosystem, fish quantity and food security. We should also start encouraging the re-use and recycling of packing materials, plastics and e-waste in addition to planting trees on major highways and roads. Reinstate the destroyed wetlands, encourage terracing and discourage building in known agricultural areas. This will not only protect the environment, but also ensure food security in the country.
Mr Babyenda is a PhD student at the University of Nairobi, Kenya.