10th May, 2006
Good policies, poor policing

Millennium Development Goal 7 aims to integrate the principles of sustainable development into our policies and programmes as well as reversing loss of environment resources. Richard M. Kavuma asked the executive director of the National Environment Management Authority(NEMA), DR ARYAMANYA-MUGISHA HENRY about Uganda’s performance

Are you satisfied with Uganda’s performance on Goal 7?
In some respects, yes; in others, no. From a policy, legislative and institutional framework angle, I think we have made some headway. But if you look at the implementation, there are some weaknesses.
The main government policies – Poverty Eradication Action Plan, Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture, the district development plans – now have integrated environmental considerations… But also the laws, starting with the Constitution: Chapter 15 talks about land and the environment and provides for the protection of protected areas, including the forest reserves, the wetlands, the river banks and lake shores

How effectively are you able to enforce these good policies?
Uganda of course is one of the Least Developed Countries and therefore we do not have enough resources to do what we would like to do, like restoring degraded hills and wetlands. Although implementation is going on and there are river banks, lake shore and wetlands that are recovering, there are others that are being degraded because people are eking a living on those resources. Therefore the question of poverty and how it affects programmes for environment management comes in. We would want more money to go into afforestation. National Forestry Authority is doing a good job but the resources are not enough

Can you realistically preach environmental resources conservation to people whose survival depends on those resources?
Under the PMA, environment is mainstreamed and one of the activities carried out there is awareness. Under NEMA, we have programmes on local radio, television and workshops at national and district levels aimed at sensitising the communities about environmental concerns.
When you are poor and you further degrade the environment on which you depend, then you are going to be poorer. But sensitisation alone is not important, one must provide alternatives; don’t do this, do this. And that is where the question of financial resources comes in.

For instance about 97 percent depend on solid fuel: How much does that worry you?
It is even probably higher because you have those who are totally dependent on wood fuel like those in the villages. And you have those in the urban areas who use wood fuel because they cannot afford other sources like hydro power.

It worries me a lot because it leads to deforestation, which leads to land degradation. Degraded land means that agricultural yield will go down, which means reduced money going into people’s pockets. But there is also the question of food insecurity. You can see it is a vicious circle.

How do you deal with that?
One is promoting massive afforestation by involving the communities. Two is efficient use of the wood fuel through use of cook stoves that are energy-efficient and those are now being popularised by government and the NGOs.
Third is the promotion of alternative energy sources like solar energy, biogas and mini-hydros.

Some people complain that the law only catches small fish but can’t check big business; that projects like Butamira, Kalangala palm oil or even Garden City were cleared despite environmental concerns…

It is not true that the law is discriminatory. But probably what people are not able to see are actions happening at a low level compared to these actions happening at a very high level. Our law provides that for development projects which are likely to harm the environment, an Environment Impact Assessment be carried out to identify problems likely to arise, and propose alternatives, mitigation measures or abandon the project altogether…..

So it is not a question of stopping per say. There must be a reason. For example, at one time you heard that there was going to be a development project on Constitutional Square: Because we thought that project was out of character with the environment, when an EIA was carried out, we disallowed it. At one time water hyacinth on Lake Victoria was supposed to be sprayed with chemicals. We evaluated the likely impact and we said no, the best way to go is to use biological control and to harvest it mechanically. And it worked. It was a win-win situation.

Lake Victoria is very important to East Africa but its levels have been falling
It is not only important to East Africa but for Africa and the whole world – Apart from how it regulates the climate…low levels also mean that shallow areas where fish breed now don’t have water. So it will inevitably impact on the fisheries and our fish exports.
But this lowering of the lake levels is partially self-caused… Lake Victoria gets its water through streams and rivers. Those streams have dried or are beginning to dry because the wetlands around the lake have been drained by us. Vegetation around the lake has also been cut down and that influences the rainfall that we receive. But also by cutting it down you are getting a lot of sediment going into the lake. So what we are seeing is a sick and dying lake.

Goal 7 also talks about reversing of loss of environmental resources: What do you regard as the most endangered environmental resources?
Land, which is being degraded as a result of inappropriate agricultural methods [like failure to provide terraces and grass bands and overgrazing]. I have also mentioned deforestation and wetland degradation.

What are the trends in Uganda’s forest cover and areas protected to maintain biological diversity?
It terms of forest reserves, it is about 7 percent of the land area. The total forest cover is between 22 and 24 percent. That is very low compared to 1900 when our forest cover was 45 percent.
Protected areas, Game Parks and game sanctuaries are about 7 percent.