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Uganda: Forest Conservation is a Key Factor in Devt

Source:  Copyright 2007, Monitor
Date:  December 27, 2007
Byline:  Moses Watasa
Original URL: Status DEAD

The debate on whether to conserve natural forests or clear them for investment and development projects is raging more than ever before. At the recently concluded conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia, there were proposals to look beyond development and commit more resources towards conservation of the environment and forests.

While land is in fixed supply, there is increasing demand for it for human settlement and development projects. In some instances, this has fueled an adversarial relationship between development planners and environmentalists.

Some development planners think environmentalists are 'enemies' of development, while environmentalists have described the planners as inhuman capitalists sacrificing the environment at the altar of wealth accumulation.

This is indeed a catch-22 situation for developing countries like Uganda. How do such countries industrialise and transform their economies now that issues like global warming are increasingly galvanising and amplifying calls for conservation of natural forests as a mitigating intervention?

The answer lies in sustainable development, a development paradigm that makes the case for maximising the benefits of investment and development while minimising environmental degradation.

Credible development projects are now drawn up with comprehensive guidelines on environmental conservation and the social well-being of the host communities. This is to preserve the benefits accruing from environmental resources like forests and wetlands.

Therefore, planners have a responsibility to establish economically viable but environmentally sound projects. Key project operations should be subjected to thorough Environmental Impact Assessment to mitigate degradation.

There are critical conservation eco-systems that must remain intact for their role in life-supporting systems. For this reason, some areas are set aside as forest reserves and wetlands to protect water catchments, soil systems and heritage.

More importantly, substantial forest cover is a vital ingredient in stabilising temperatures and climate. It has been proven that trees purify the atmosphere by sucking up large quantities of carbon-dioxide which is also a main contributor to global warming and hazard to an array of eco-systems.

Uganda's forest reserves were gazetted from the 1930s to the 1960s around strategic locations like mountains, water bodies and areas with significant vegetation and unique wildlife species.

Forests cannot be transferred because they are associated with these permanent features that can't be replicated. Besides, natural forests cannot easily be artificially re-generated to reach their inherent natural richness.

Forests must cover a significant portion of the country to be effective in performing their natural safe-guard duty. Uganda's forest-cover now representing about 23% of the land area compares poorly with other developing countries like Cameroon (47%) and Tanzania (45%).

This situation, the persistent encroachment of central forest reserves and the increasing depletion of privately-owned forests, should be a cause for concern.

Location of development projects should be carefully considered so that they don't pose a serious threat to the declining forest cover in Uganda.

There are non-destructive investment and development projects that can be undertake within and around forests like tree-planting, eco-tourism facilities, research and bee-keeping. Such ventures have potentially very lucrative returns on investment yet friendly to the conservation of the environment in general and forests in particular.

Climate-related adverse effects of deforestation and degradation unfolding in Uganda have already had a retrogressive impact on production in some parts of the country.

Erratic rains, floods, landslides, prolonged drought, and soaring temperatures have crippled farmers' yields in an economy still largely agro-based. In many parts of Teso, eastern Uganda, the citizens are still grappling with food shortage and the after-affects of the floods that ravaged the area recently.

Beyond the worrying climate-change and crippling of economic activity, the implications of deforestation are clearly one of the underlying causes of the ethic conflicts in parts of eastern Uganda. With the persistent encroachment and pressure on central forest reserves, such trends are certain to be replicated in other parts of the country.

The writer is the public relations manager for National Forestry Authority

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