Experts warn investors against constructing in forests, wetlands

MBALE – Environmental experts have warned the public and investors in the country against encroaching on wetlands and forests as they establish their projects.

The experts said the structures constructed in wetlands block water, which can lead to floods while cutting trees in the hilly areas could lead to landslides.

The remarks were made in Mbale City during the commemoration of African Climate Caravan Uganda organised by Youth Go Green Uganda, an umbrella organisation for all young people engaged in climate change interventions in Uganda with the support from Oxfam ahead of the COP27 UN climate conference in Egypt in November 2022.

Jackson Muhindo, the climate Justice coordinator Oxfam in Uganda, said Many investors in the country are constructing in wetlands, investing in forests for sugar cane growing.

“We are sacrificing the country. We need to save the wetlands because they support the ecosystem that is very important in fighting climate change,” he said.

He said, “Uganda we are going into industrialisation but we must be keen on preserving our environment, we must preserve our wetlands, and forests generously.”

Muhindo said there is a big problem of climate change in the world.

“You saw what happened in Mbale district recently, people died in the floods as some roads, bridges, and schools were destroyed,” he said.

He predicted that if climate change is not revised disasters will continue affecting the country.

Members planting more trees (Photo by Yakubu Kitunzi).

“We are going to see a lot of food insecurity. We are going to see a lot of people moving from villages to Urban areas to look for survival. Increased disasters will affect people’s livelihoods, increased losses, and damages,” he said.

He has tasked government to block investors from constructing more factories in wetlands.

“The situation is changing. Many years ago, we were not receiving the current disasters we are receiving today,” he said.

Edwin Muhumuza, the chief executive officer of Youth Go Green, challenged the government to implement existing laws that aim to conserve the environment.

“There are environmental laws in Uganda, but they don’t seem to be implemented. The country must decide whether we are for the environment, or the country is against the environment. Yes, we need the investors, but can we have strategies on how we can handle the investors,” he said.

Muhumuza said the country has very many places where they can locate land for investors but not in wetlands.

“The investors can have areas that don’t have an ecosystem. Look at Bungoma forest is halfway gone by investors,” he said.

According to him, they have launched a youth go green twenty million trees campaign in the country.

“Twenty million youth in this country plant trees. We have started training youths in waste management, ”he said.

Many parts of the country have been severely hit by floods that have claimed lives and destroyed crops.

In August this year, about 30 people were killed in floods that devastated Bugisu Sub-region in eastern Uganda in July 2022.

Environmental experts have, however, weighed in on the causes of the floods and offered solutions on what ought to be done to restrain them. The activists single out degradation of the catchments, especially around mountain slopes and riverbanks as the major causes of the floods.

President Museveni has always underlined the dangers of environmental degradation by cutting of forests, invading wetlands, cultivating on riverbanks, and throwing polythene bags in drainage channels, thereby blocking the free flow of water.

Stella Gimono, an environmental activist, encouraged the government to intensify mass sensitization on climate change.

She said Uganda is experiencing significant impacts of climate change including changing weather patterns, drop in water levels, and increased frequency of extreme weather events such as floods and drought. Climate change has potentially posed one of the greatest challenges for the country to realise its full development potential.

“The government is not moving quickly enough to mitigate the effects of climate change. There is fragility in the ecosystems including wetlands, lakeshores, and mountainous forests that are facing encroachment and degradation,” Gimono said.

She said there is a need for practical climate change solutions. so that we have a better future we are bequeathing to the next generation.

Experts are calling upon authorities to not only prevent the worst consequences of climate change through mitigation strategies but also to develop and implement adaptation strategies on how best to survive the unavoidable impacts.

The communities around the Mt Elgon region, for instance, can be educated on drivers and effects of climate change, the seasonal calendar and the links to their livelihoods, and most importantly, disaster risk reduction and adaptation measures.

Environmentalists planting more trees in Mbale City (Photo by Yakubu Kitunzi).

Latif Mugerwa, an environmental expert said natural resources are mercilessly under threat from both natural and manmade drivers of change.

He said there is unplanned urbanization and industrialisation among others.

Environmental campaigners worry that minimum attention to climate change even after the 2021 COP26 in Glasgow- could yield more disaster world over.

Mugerwa warned that climate change is likely to change the magnitude, frequency, and timing of extreme events such as flooding, landslides, and storms, as well as generate new disaster events.

The Resident City Commissioner  Mbale, Ahamada Washaki said: ” We are here to enforce a presidential directive on environmental conservation and protection.”

He urged residents to work towards the promotion and protection of the environment since it’s now criminal to engage in unlawful activities like wetland encroachment and deforestation.

The Mbale City senior environmental officer, Rhoda Nyaribi explained that the green campaign plan is targeting to plant over a million trees for each constituency; and aims at mitigating effects caused by climatic change.

“As environmentalists, we are committed to ensuring that these seedlings are planted, watered, and monitored,” Nyaribi said.

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