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Ministers disagree on impact of children on climate change

By John Agaba

Added 30th September 2016 09:10 AM

The percentage of Uganda’s area covered by wetlands was estimated at 13% before 2008

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(L-R) Minister of State for Water Ronald Kibuule, NWSC managing director Silver Mugisha and Minister of State for Environment Mary Goretti Kitutu interact during sector review at Speke Resort Muyonyo. Photo by Godiver Asege

The percentage of Uganda’s area covered by wetlands was estimated at 13% before 2008

Legion was a game played by the Samurai Sword masters. At not anyone time was there any kind of disagreement or distortion of the teachings and rules that governed the game.

The students bowed to whatever the masters instructed and carefully learned from them until they became masters at the game themselves.

That was in centuries past. But the virtue in it was that the masters were always reading from the same page and they delivered harmonized messages to their students, who, in turn, acted as they had been taught, without deviating.

But on Wednesday, during the water and environment sector review at Speke Resort Munyonyo, the sector ministers, who you can say are the sector custodians and thus same as masters, failed to agree on a simple thing as: ‘many children are a danger to the environment’.

When state minister for water resources Ronald Kibuule took the microphone to give his speech, he started by preaching that high fertility rates had no significant effect on the environment and climate change. The minister suggested that it was okay for every woman in the country to have close to seven children, the national fertility rate.

“As long as these children are not cutting down forests, they are not a danger to the environment,” minister Kibuule said.

But when his colleague, minister for water and environment Sam Cheptoris, got the microphone minutes later, he downplayed what Kibuule had said.

“We know Hon. Kibuule has contributed a lot to improving population figures (estimated at about 34m) in the country. But we do not need many children. Uganda is already stretched (with a high population).

The minister may have clarified the issue (of number of children). But what message is he and his junior minister sending? Why can’t they speak a same language? Like the Samurai Sword Masters.

The disagreement might have come off as lightly and indeed solved lightly, but it shows major issues in governance at many public entities, where what the public would have needed to fall in line is clear and consistent messages they instead get a mixture of contradicting issues.

And this was highlighted during the sector review. Reports from the ministry indicate that the country has lost its wetland cover by about 5%.  The percentage of Uganda’s area covered by wetlands was estimated at 13% before 2008.

In 2008, it was estimated at 10.9%. Today, wetlands only cover 8.4% of Uganda’s surface area. So, there is a problem. Wetlands are being encroached on.

But the district chairpersons who attended the sector review meeting at Munyonyo don’t know what directive to refer to, to stop wetland encroaching and degradation.

“Are we going to wait for a presidential directive (on wetlands) before we can act or not?” former Isingiro district local council five chairperson Moses Mugabi asked.

“We tell our people to not build in wetlands. When they come to Kampala, they see mansions in wetlands. We tell them to not plant and grow anything in wetlands. But when they go to Kabale and Kisoro, all swamps have been turned into potato gardens and farms. There seems to be double standards, yet we need to be on the same page,” the ex-chairperson said.

The encroachment on wetlands and other natural resources (Uganda loses close 200, 000 hectares of forest cover per year. FAO 2016) has affected other resources and animal natural habitats.

The director for environment affairs at the ministry Paul Mafabi said water sources in the country have reduced.

“The water we used to get, which emanated from hills, has disappeared. Ninety percent of rivers don’t have clear water (because the wetland which purifies this water has been degraded,” the director said.

A survey by conservation nature said the crested crane, Uganda’s heritage symbol, was on its way to extinction because its natural habitat had been tampered with.

However, all is not lost. During the opening of the meeting on Tuesday, the national environment management authority boss Dr. Tom Okurut said the plan to cancel titles issued in wetlands was now at Cabinet level.

Cabinet had approved the procedure and guidelines (for the cancellation of the titles) in February 2016. He said the authority hoped the proposal will be presented to Parliament before December 2016.

And other wetlands have been restored.

Commissioner for wetlands Collins Oloya said 1, 340.9 hectares of wetlands were restored last year in Gulu, Soroti, Kumi, Kamwengye, Katakwi,Mityana  and Mbarara, maintaining the hydrological, ecological and biodiversity functions (of the wetlands). 

He said a total of 419.2kms of wetland boundaries were demarcated.

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