Op-ed – If we don’t stop hurting the environment, it will hurt us back

By Sandra Atusinguza

The Albertine – a sensitive landscape – is one of the many regions feeling the negative effects of climate change. Uncertainty over rainfall patterns, prolonged dry spell and drought, have made it difficult for farmers in the region to plan and prepare for crop production.

In Bunyoro region, activities around oil exploration and sugarcane growing are worsening climate change effects. There has been a population increase in the areas surrounding the refinery villages such as Kabwoya – where a game reserve is located – and in the Buseruka sub-county villages of Nyakabingo, Hohwa, Kaseta, Wambabya and Butimba.

The increased population pressure is partly a result of expectation for compensation to people affected by the oil refinery. It’s worth noting that land measuring 29 sq km was acquired for Uganda’s proposed refinery. This affected 13 villages with over 1,200 households and a population of over 7,100 in Buseruka sub-county, Hoima District. The affected households on getting compensation and resettling, began encroaching on, and degrading the very land they were supposed to vacate.

It’s also worth noting that Kabwoya is a game reserve while Wambabya village where River Wambabya is located, has also been encroached on by the affected families.

In Bugoma forest, large swathes of trees have been cleared to pave way for both large and small scale sugarcane growing. Along the Kaiso-Tonya road, sacks of charcoal – all of which are got from trees cleared from the Albertine Graben – are being sold.

This encroachment on the river banks, wetlands and forests is reducing the water table according to the experts, thereby putting Uganda at the risk of water insecurity such as the one we have started witnessing. Communities in Galilaya sub-county, in Kayunga district are, for instance, trekking for as long as five miles to get water, a problem aired on NTV last month.

The fish population has tremendously declined and it is very difficult for a fisherman to catch a 5-kilogramme tilapia or Nile perch from Lake Albert. Silver fish, commonly known as mukene, with its low commercial value, is the one that is available.

Environmental degradation leads to changes in climate patterns and when this happens, food, water and ultimately household incomes, are affected. It’s therefore important that every individual exercises responsibility towards the environment. Development partners, the media and Civil Society Organisations should expose and speak out strongly and consistently against those who degrade the environment. Government should operationalise the National Climate Change policy and seriously enforce laws aimed at environmental protection.

The negative effects of climate change will continue getting worse if human activities such as sugarcane growing, charcoal burning, and oil activities are not checked. If we continue to hurt the environment, it will hurt us back and worse.

The writer is a field officer with Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO).


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