Activists punch holes in government’s plan to certify legal timber

Ugandan Water and Environment minister Sam Cheptoris recently instructed National Forestry Authority to stamp on all legal timber sold in the market to reduce illegal timber cutting that has led to irreversible ecosystem degradation but environmentalists say this will instead abet corruption tendencies leading to biodiversity loss and irreversible ecosystem degradation.

Rajab Bwengye, the Coordinator of projects at National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) says with connivance between timber dealers and those in charge of protecting the forests, the stamps can as well be misused.

Mr. Bwengye is instead calling on government to work towards ending corruption that is greatly facilitating deforestation and illicit timber trade. He also believes government should work towards harmonizing working relations been the forestry authority and the District Forestry Officers in a bid to strengthen protection of forests.

“We have seen district forest officers conniving with illegal timber dealers and even lending them stamps. What can work is NFA and DFOs to have harmonized positions in protecting the forests,” he noted

Joan Akiiza, the legal officer at NAPE, says District Forestry Officers are mandated to collect revenue from forests and the pressure that government piles on them to hit certain revenue collection targets partly accelerates illegal timber cutting.

While addressing journalists in Hoima after his visit to Bugoma Central Forest Reserve last month, the Minister said timber dealers were given two weeks to get rid of all the timber in the stores after which the government would start impounding all timber without stamps.

Stuart Maniraguha, the manager for Budongo Systems welcomed the move saying it would extremely make it hard for thieves to find market for their timber.
It remains to be seen whether the implementation will yield results.

Latest findings by Food Agricultural Organization (FAO) indicate that Uganda loses over 200,000 hectares of forest cover annually and plants less that 7000 hectares annually.

In Bunyoro, NAPE has been working with communities to protecting the forests through sensitization and supporting them to plant indigenous trees.

Compiled by Precious Naturinda

NEMA faulted for wetland degradation in Uganda

Wetlands are among the most important natural resources in Uganda covering 11% of the country’s total land area. They help in protecting water resources and sustaining agricultural productivity.

However, wetlands are experiencing rapid degradation in various parts of the country resulting into severe environmental impacts such as flash floods and reduced amount of rain fall.

According to the Uganda Wetlands Atlas, wetland destruction costs Uganda nearly 2 billion shillings annually, and contamination of water resources, which is partly caused by reduced buffering capacity of wetlands near open water bodies, costs the country 38 billion shillings annually.

Rosemary Nyangoma, the Hoima District Environmental Officer, decries high rate of wetland encroachment citing some illegal activities carried out as cultivation, brick laying, erecting permanent structures and car washing among others.

Speaking to community Green Radio, Rajab Bwengye, the Coordinator of Projects at National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) faulted  National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA)  for neglecting the duty of regulating, supervising and protecting the wetlands which has led to degradation.
He said NEMA has failed to follow up on what the investors or companies licensed to do the work in wetlands are doing in the guise limited government funding.
Mr. Bwengye said NEMA gives authority to investors to carry out Environment Impact Assessments (EIAs) on their own or hire a consultant on proposed projects in wetland and in the end; they (investors) do recommendations in their favor at the expense of environmental management.

“Almost all the wetlands in Kampala have been degraded. Government doesn’t want an investor or individual not to build or carry out activity in the wetland but it goes ahead to allow them to find out the impacts of the project on the environment on their own. This is why many projects end up degrading the ecosystems because the recommendations are done to favor the interests of the investor and the government doesn’t follow up,” he noted

He added, “Even some illegal activities in the wetlands are carried out with protection from environmental police or as regulatory authority look on.”

Bwengye said the government should undertake the role of carrying out Environmental Impact Assessments and ensure vigilant supervision if sustainability of wetlands is to be achieved.

While appearing on local TV recently, Mr. Frank Muramuzi, the NAPE Executive Director said activities carried out in wetlands like sand mining in Lwera wetland in Kalungu district are likely to cause flooding and degrade Lake Victoria.

“Wetlands act as natural sponges absorbing and storing excess water hence reducing flooding” he said.

He called upon government to step up efforts of protecting wetlands, restore degraded wetlands and enforce the laws put I place to protect them.
On 2nd February, Uganda joined the rest of the world to Commemorate World Environment day under the theme, “Wetlands for sustainable urban future”.

Story compiled by Precious Naturinda