Friday, 6 July 2012

Uganda’s long walk to green economy and Bududa landlsides

Here is part of the story on Uganda’s journey to conserve the environment and fight climate change. On the eve of this year's World Environment Day I listened to Uganda’s minister for water and environment, Maria Mutagamba, with sadness.  The minister lamented that her hands are sometimes tied to stop encroachers on Kampala’s wetlands since most are connected to powerful people in the government she serves. Yesterday I was dismayed watching the people living around the shores of Lake Nakivale in Isingiro district Western Uganda quarrel with the state minister for Water Resources, Betty Bigombe and disaster Dreparedness minister Stephen Mallinga. The residents were resisting an eviction notice delivered by the two ministers to save the lake now endangered by silting and sedimentation. The residents turned rowdy and did not know the rains they receive in their villages depend on this lake.

Clearly, this is the challenge of environmental protection in our time. Most of our people are ignorant of our dependence on the environment. Yet, the reality of devastating effects of climate change as witnessed in increased incidences of extreme heat and cold and the recent Bududa landslides (Eastern Uganda) are dawning on us. Coffee farmers in the once-very-cold   Rwenzori mountains are complaining of a warming world (global warming) and  are reporting lower yields as well as lesser weight of coffee beans.

But that’s just one bit of the story.  While the rest of the world is jealously protecting their wetlands, which are important eco-systems, Ugandans are yet to wake up and appreciate the value of environmental conservation. Some careless Ugandans are busy draining Kampala’s wetlands and lakeshores with reckless abandon in the name of development. Yet this development that is not conscious of the environment is not sustainable at all. As the rest of the world campaigns for a green economy Uganda is still caught napping. 

Ugandan soldiers and relatives search for victims 
Yet, a green economy would bring in several benefits to us. For Uganda a green economy would mean recovering the degraded environment and promoting afforestation, improving soil fertility, prevent soil erosion, etc.  Here a green would mean low levels of pollution. Green economy for Uganda would mean social equity where all must participate in conservation efforts as they draw their livelihoods without endangering the environment and fellow man. It would also mean:  adapting environment friendly technology like use of energy saving stoves, solar energy, among others.

Given Uganda’s massive tourism potential, a green economy for us would mean eco-tourism; wetland protection to conserve the biodiversity so as to protect the eco-systems like river banks, lake shores, hillsides, wildlife, etc. In our case a green economy means letting the children know that we depend on the environment to survive. So it is important that we encourage the change agents and our future guarantors (the young generation) to maintain a cleaner and habitable environment. Therefore, we should conserve, love and protect the environment for generations.

The people of Bududa on the slopes of Mountain Elgon, Eastern Uganda, have suffered the wrath of landslides due to poor environmental protection techniques and law enforcement as they embarked on a tree cutting spree. Unfortunately over 100 lives have been lost since 2010 due to Bududa landlsides. Rudimentary farming practices in this area have left the soils bare and loose making them very vulnerable to cracks and mudslides. In the process lives have been lost. While suggestions of relocating people living dangerous mountainous terrains are good, the main emphasis should be on environmental education.

It is not yet a lost battle and we could still be in time to save future lives from such wanton destruction. We can start by planting trees and minimizing cultivation on the hilltops. Government should come out strongly on people cultivating very close to river banks and lake shores. The minister should lament of hands being tied, she must crack the whip on big and small wetland encroaches. That's the only way we can be guaranteed of a safer world free from pollution. Through environmental education and more conservation campaigns, Uganda can make a difference to build a green economy.

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

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