THE Ministry of Water and Environment has earmarked 15 urban forest reserves to be degazetted to cater for the growing population and development in the affected towns.
The forest reserves are in the towns of Arua, Entebbe, Fort Portal, Gulu, Kabale, Lira, Mbale, Mbarara, Soroti, Kalangala, Kapchorwa, Kitgum, Nebbi, Ntungamo and Rukungiri.
According to the National Forestry Authority (NFA), there is serious pressure to degazette the urban forests due to growing urban population and increased socio-economic activities. The urban authorities are required to provide alternative land (in any part of the country) in exchange for the forests to be degazetted.
True, the Government has increasingly come under pressure to degazette, not only the forest reserves in the urban areas, but also others in densely populated areas. But the Government must not succumb to these pressures, particularly spearheaded by populist politicians who are keen to please their voters.
Ugandaâ€™s total forest cover has halved in the last two decades. In 1988, 26% of the country was covered by forests. This has reduced to 13% in 2008. The country loses an average of 86,000 hectares of trees per year, or 2.1%, according to the NFA.
Loss of forest cover has serious implications. The rapid deforestation is already disrupting agriculture as climatic variations have started hitting farming communities, particularly in the dry land areas. The massive cutting of trees in lake areas has also led to declining water levels, according to experts.
Consequently, the move being taken by the Ministry of Water and Environment to degazette 15 urban forests is misconceived and short-sighted.
It will fuel further demands for more forest reserves to be degazetted. Besides, the demand for degazetting urban forest reserves is based on the misconception that urbanisation and environmental conservation cannot co-exist. Urban authorities should instead be encouraged to create more forest reserves and green belts.
Retain urban forest reserves