Last week, the government – through the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) – announced that it had earmarked about Shs31 billion for planting trees and building watersheds in refugee hosting districts to combat the effects of climate change. An environment specialist from OPM revealed that 44 watersheds will be built in the 14 refugee hosting districts under the Development Response to Displacement Impact Project.
This intervention is crucial. In the past seven years, the influx of refugees, especially from South Sudan, has been overwhelming. Host communities – notably in West Nile – have faced challenges as far as resource sharing is concerned. Key to note is the area of healthcare and education.
Beyond sharing other resources, environmentalists have raised the red flag over the massive tree cutting in the camps to clear space for settlement, farming and firewood for cooking. A year ago, this newspaper reported that Bidibidi in West Nile has been rendered bare following destruction of trees for firewood, charcoal and building materials by refugees. This is an area that was previously covered by natural trees and harboured a number of animal and tree species.
The State minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, Mr Musa Ecweru, who had at the time visited the camp, expressed shock at the high level of degradation. He noted that the area had in two years suffered about 58 per cent environmental destruction. The minister noted that if the refugees are going to be around for more 10 years, the area would become a complete desert.
It is a welcome development that partners are joining hands with government to reverse this trend. This is crucial because the problem, while alarming in refugee hosting districts, is a countrywide problem that must be confronted from all fronts.
In 2017, for instance, Daily Monitor did an investigation about how educational institutions, Uganda’s prisons, brick burning and tobacco drying activities are depleting the country’s forest cover. In a 2014 report titled Biomass Energy Strategy Uganda, the Energy ministry reported that educational institutions alone consume 1.7 million tonnes of wood fuel annually.
Brick-making alone consumes an estimated 6 million tonnes, tobacco shares another 200,000 tonnes of wood while prisons devour 5,435 tonnes annually, according to the 2014 government report.
This should prompt government to tackle this problem beyond the refugee hosting communities. The initiative to promote tree planting in refugee hosting districts should supplement similar national programmes. What the country needs is a sustained effort that targets communities and institutions.
Our commitment to you
• To be accurate and fair in all we do.
• To be respectful to all in our pursuit of the truth.
• To refuse to accept any compensation beyond that provided by Monitor Publications Ltd. for what we do in our news gathering and decision-making.
Further, we ask that we be informed whenever you feel that we have fallen short in our attempt to keep these commitments.