Added 22nd March 2017www.newvision.co.ug
The worst hit area by deforestation in the country is Sango Bay in Kakuuto County, Rakai district
As the country continues to grapple with the ripple effects of environmental degradation, New Vision has established that 493 out of 506 central forest reserves in the country are under heavy encroachment, especially in the central region, south west and northern areas.
According to the State Minister for Environment, Dr. Mary Kitutu, since 1990, the country has lost 400,000 hectares of forest cover, a trend she says, needs a combined effort of all Ugandans, if the problem of deforestation is to be averted.
“We don’t have much forest cover left. Out of the 506 forest reserves in the country, 493 have been encroached on. However, when we blame, we should blame everybody because it is Ugandans who are dealing in illegal timber trade, cultivation within the forest reserves and using charcoal to cook,” she said, appealing to all Ugandans to protect forests.
The minister said the worst hit area by deforestation in the country is Sango Bay in Kakuuto County, Rakai district.
In some areas, especially the Albertine Graben, the Environment Protection Police Force, National Forestry Authority (NFA) enforcement officers and the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) have been deployed in over 40 forest reserves to ensure proper demarcation of forest reserves and the eviction of encroachers.
Michael Mugisa, the executive director of the NFA said a memorandum of understanding with UPDF was signed to ensure that UPDF provides back-up for environment and forestry protection officers whenever they execute evictions of encroachers.
“Forests are not easy to navigate. Encroachers are very aggressive. Therefore, we need UPDF as a backup. We are working together with our army to ensure that we regain these forest reserves. All our staff have been directed to pitch camp in the forests to ensure that evicted encroachers don’t come back,” he said.
According to the spokesperson of the UPDF, Brig. Richard Karemire, the army under the National Vital Assets and Strategic Installations Security, has a mandate to protect key installations in the country.
Recently President Yoweri Museveni directed the Minister of Lands, Betty Amongi, to cancel all titles that have been privately acquired by citizens in forest reserves.
Museveni said that the major forest reserves were gazetted in 1932, and whoever got a land title after that year, such a title deed should be cancelled.
Kitutu told New Vision that Museveni’s directive came at a time when her ministry had suspended over 50 forestry officials, who have been implicated in a forensic report that investigated the chain of corruption involving the giveaway of forest reserve land by senior government officials.
‘Investigations were conducted and some environment and forestry officials have been already dismissed. We are actually about to roll out a recruitment exercise of new officers, who we expect to be patriotic in this exercise to protect our environment and forests,” she said.
Kitutu has called upon local governments to ensure that every homestead plants at least 70 trees every year.
Commenting on the effects of recent drought, Museveni urged Ugandans, who have illegally occupied swamps and other natural resources such as forests, to voluntarily leave or be forcefully evicted.
“The recent drought has taught us the importance of water. I ask encroachers to leave swamps voluntarily before we forcefully evict them,” he said.Speaking to New Vision yesterday, Mugisa, said the most deforestation-affected districts include Rakai, Mubende, Sembabule, Mubende, Kiryadongo and Luwero.