The layer of soil that covers most of the earthâ€™s land surface is the key to human well-being and survival. Without it, there would be no plants, no crops, no animals, no forests and no people. However about 40% of the earthâ€™s land surface and more than one billion pe
The layer of soil that covers most of the earthâ€™s land surface is the key to human well-being and survival. Without it, there would be no plants, no crops, no animals, no forests and no people. However about 40% of the earthâ€™s land surface and more than one billion people are affected by land degradation.
We have a serious challenge in Uganda if we are to protect our environment by reversing the trend of deforestation. Uganda is losing forest cover at a massive rate and several recent press articles have highlighted the subject. Some time back, the media reported that our region was facing a severe crisis in the forestry sector owing to over utilisation of wood fuel, which is â€œunsustainableâ€. By 2000, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania had a combined total of over 60 million hectares of vegetation cover.
Deforestation has led to 93,100 hectares of trees being cleared each year in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, forest clearing reaching over 90,000 hectares. Much of this destruction is attributable to charcoal burning.
On Feb 2, The New Vision highlighted the illegal felling of trees in Mabira Forest, (more than 20% of the forest has been degraded) which is 300 sq kilometre with 200 species of birds. The racket is masterminded by timber and charcoal dealers and the illegal activities have lead to uncontrolled harvesting of trees.This is a threat to the birds.
National Forest Authority (NFA) claims that monitoring is difficult due to â€˜settlersâ€™ in the forest and the size involved. NFA is engaging the local communities in checking illegal activities in Mabira in return for sharing benefits under collaborative management.
Early this year, President Museveni called for more tree planting to reverse the alarming deforestation in the country and a nationwide undertaking to reverse the effects of deforestation.
Likewise, the Rotary Club of Kampala launched an environmental protection campaign to replace the use of wood with solar energy as the main source of fuel in Uganda.
Solar cookers (using solar energy) are potential solution to the fuel/ wood crisis and one of the most popular solar cookers is the â€˜sun stove,â€™ which is manufactured in South Africa. At least 200 sun stoves are sold in 12 African countries per month. Apart from being economical, the sun stove is user friendly and uses less water in cooking due to the lower heat flux.
Apart from finding alternative sources of fuel, community conservation projects are active in South Africa. Under the project known as Food and Trees for Africa, established 14 years ago, the Green Trust has planted two million trees and the Trustâ€™s outreach programme comprises 500 projects, ranging from urban growing, to helping communities establish â€˜parmacultureâ€™ food gardens, to developing environmental awareness in schools.
Part of the awareness programme is to sensitise the community of the benefits of trees that provide beautiful landscape and shades and to particularly emphasise that one-acre of trees filters 2.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide from air each year.
As was made clear at the UNCED Conference in Rio (1992) and Kyoto (Japan), which led to the Kyoto Protocol, and the WSSD in Johannesburg (2002) â€˜sustainable developmentâ€™ is central to the issue of international environmental management and has been embraced by many national policies in the reports on the state of the environment.
In an era of environmental reason and awareness, governments can create incentives for companies and to innovate and improve environmental performance, quality and management.
Every organisation should focus on their individual role in the protection of the environment irrespective of whether they are involved in a polluting industry or activity. All the stakeholders, such as â€˜City Councils, NEMA, UWA and NFA and other environmental NGOs must work together with the assistance of regulatory, voluntary and economic measures.
Uganda has sophisticated environmental legislation on the books, but effective implementation is a problem. India, for instance, has both environmental auditing and impact assessment regulations in place and the unfortunate Bhopal incident of 1984 demonstrated that if high standards of management by a company are not maintained, the consequences can be devastating. The Bhopal incident led to American businesses being forced to maintain uniformly strict standards wherever they carry out their operations irrespective of local regulations.
The current international trend is for increasing implementation of environmental legislation with stronger enforcement and tougher penalty provisions, including criminal fines. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Environment Protection Act 1990, strengthened the criminal penalty provision within the United Kingdom and gave sweeping powers to the secretary of state for the Environment to enact comprehensive regulations for the control of everything from air and water pollution through to litter.
Public perception, communication and education towards environmental awareness, therefore, can be a powerful motivation to prevent deforestation, which is damaging our environment irreversibly. Strict adherence and implementation to environmental laws and regulations including tree preservation orders, is essential.
Protecting our environment is paramount and teamwork with various agencies is vital. The media can be a powerful tool for illustrating how environmental factors affect us and how we prevent the serious degree of deforestation and learn to plant more trees.
Schools should have environmental awareness programmes. We should adopt the principal that â€˜environmental responsibilityâ€™ is part of â€˜social responsibility.â€™ By involving communities, we will instill civic pride with a pragmatic vision and take a conscious decision to leave a greener legacy for the next generation.
The writer is solicitor/advocate
Effort towards greener legacy