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Adjumani officials worry as refugees strip the land bare



Grace Anyang, 32, bundles a pile of freshly cut wood tied using grass neatly knotted for a rope.

She is a South Sudanese refugee residing at Pagirinya Refugee Settlement Camp in Adjumani District. The widow and mother of four fled the mayhem in her home country in November 2016.
Ms Anyang, a resident of Block B10, together with four other women, are carrying their bundles of firewood back ‘home’.
While Ms Anyang cuts the trees from the nearby woodlands for firewood, others are cutting it for building. This is how Ms Anyang has been surviving at the camp after she and thousands of other refugees were forced to flee to Uganda in 2016 following an outbreak of war in South Sudan.
Both refugees and the host communities in the area use firewood for everyday cooking needs and making shelters, which activities have taken a toll on the environment and thus brewing tension over natural resources in the district.
Today, deforestation in the district has reached its highest rate in a decade, according to data at the district’s forest office, due to increased energy demands precipitated by the influx of refugees to the district. This has led to protests by host communities.

No alternative
Mr Tonny Okot, a resident of Block E32 at Pagirinya Refugee Settlement Camp, says refugees cut trees in large quantities every day and the demand keeps increasing.
“Some organisations tried to train us on using eco-friendly alternatives like charcoal briquettes or stoves but it took only a few months before the raw materials for making them got used up due to high population and demand here,” Mr Okot says.
This is the same story at Maji Refugee Settlement Camp, also in Adjumani District. The environment, that formerly boasted of thick shrubs and tree cover, has changed to almost bare land surface after the refugees cut down most of the trees.
Adjumani District officials have petitioned the government and other development partners to intervene and create alternative energy sources for the refugees.
“The refugees have become a big challenge to us in regards to the environment in communities surrounding these settlements. Trees are indiscriminately cut down whereas no replacement is being done,” Mr James Leku, the Adjumani District chairperson, says.
Adjumani District provided 3,128Sqkm of land on which 17 refugee settlement facilities are established to host a total of 202,433 refugees, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
However, 93 per cent of these refugees rely on the environment around for their energy demands, a scenario shared by the rest of the districts across the West Nile region.
But efforts towards afforestation in these refugee communities, for example in Pagirinya, have equally been frustrated as distributed tree seedlings are not planted but left to dry on the verandas or under trees.
Mr Mark Dulu, the Adjumani East MP, in whose constituency a number of refugees camps are located, says the refugees do not only cut down trees but also steal food from gardens of the host communities.
“We are sensitising these refugees to let them understand that they have a role in ensuring that we escape the tough impacts of environmental degradation like global warming, drought and soil erosion,” Mr Dulu reveals.
Recently, UNHCR urged countries hosting large numbers of refugees to plant more trees as deforestation could trigger more conflict.
The refugee humanitarian body stated that tree planting was paramount since four out of five people who flee their homes rely on firewood for cooking and heating, which is a major cause of deforestation in most refugee settlements across the world.
But Mr Leku accuses humanitarian agencies operating in the district of not taking the reforestation initiative seriously and that refugees themselves have a negative attitude towards planting trees where they did not own land.
“Unfortunately, refugees’ attitude towards tree planting has been too bad that they do not want to plant seedlings given to them, as they claim they have nothing to benefit from planting the trees since they hope to return to their home countries anytime,” Mr Leku says.
Uganda has one of the most favourable refugee protection environments in the world; providing for freedom of movement, access to land for agriculture and settlement in line with the Refugee Act 2006.

UNHCR speaks out

Ms Duniya Khan, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson, told this newspaper in an interview recently that deforestation by refugees who largely rely on natural resources to meet their basic needs, has had a significant impact on the environment in the recent past, not only in Adjumani but across all the districts in West Nile region.
“UNHCR, the Office of the Prime Minister and the district are engaged in various activities to remedy the situation. For example, they are training communities on alternative energy use such as the use of biogas and energy-saving stoves,” Ms Khan said.
She said UNHCR has partnered with NGOs in refugee settlements and host communities in West Nile to plant 588 hectares of trees through “cash for work” programmes, support operations for 20 tree nurseries, as well as supporting 58 refugee groups by giving them briquette-making machines and providing training.
“UNHCR is supporting 14,620 households to access fuel-efficient stoves and 1,100 households with heat-retaining cooking bags, produce and distribute 122 tones of cooking briquettes to refugee communities and we believe it will relieve the pressure on the environment,” she said.
At least 400,000 trees out of a target of 700,000 trees for this year had already been planted by the beginning of July in Adjumani District, according to Ms Khan.
Today, UNHCR-funded partners have reported planting more than two million trees in the South Sudanese refugee and host communities (primarily in the West Nile) this year.
In October last year, a joint United Nations and World Bank report warned on the competition for available resources such as trees and land for cultivation, among other factors, as a possible cause of tension between the refugees and host communities.

Source: Daily Monitor


Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.



By Witness Radio Team.

Witness Radio, in collaboration with Dan Church Aid (DCA) and the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD), is set to launch the Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy for Human Rights in Uganda (MDA-HRU) project tomorrow, 22nd February 2024, at Kabalega Resort Hotel in Hoima District.

The project, funded by the European Union, aims to promote the protection and respect for human rights, and enable access to remedy where violations occur especially in the Mid-Western and Karamoja sub-regions where private sector actors are increasingly involved in land-based investments (LBIs) through improved documentation, and evidence-based advocacy.

The three-year project, which commenced in October 2023, focuses its activities in the Mid-Western sub-region, covering Bulisa, Hoima, Masindi, Kiryandongo, Kikuube, Kagadi, Kibale, and Mubende districts, and Karamoja sub-region, covering Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Karenga districts.

The project targets individuals and groups at high risk of human rights violations, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs). It also engages government duty bearers such as policymakers and implementers in relevant ministries and local governments, recognizing their crucial role in securing land and environmental rights. Additionally, the project involves officials from institutional duty bearers including the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Equal Opportunities Commission, and courts, among others.

Representatives from the international community, faith leaders, and business actors are also included in the project’s scope, particularly those involved in land-based investments (LBIs) impacting the environment.

The project was initially launched in Moroto for the Karamoja region on the 19th of this month with the leadership of the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD).

According to the project implementors,  the action is organized into four activity packages aimed at; enhancing the capacity and skills of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs) in monitoring, documentation, reporting (MDR), and protection, establishing and reinforcing reporting and documentation mechanisms for advocacy and demand for corporate and government accountability;  providing response and support to HRDs and marginalized communities; and lastly facilitating collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagements that link local and national issues to national and international frameworks and spaces.

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Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.



By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo district leaders have embraced Witness Radio’s collaboration with the Kiryandongo district aimed at ending the rampant violent and illegal land evictions that have significantly harmed the livelihoods of the local communities in the area.

The warm welcome was made at the dialogue organized by Witness Radio Uganda, Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog at the Kiryandongo district headquarters, intended to reflect on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

Speaking at the high-level dialogue, that was participated in by technical officers, policy implementers, religious leaders, leaders of project affected persons (PAPs), politicians, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and development partners that support land and environment rights as well as the Land Based Investments (LBIs) Companies in the Kiryandongo district, the leaders led by the District Local Council 5 Chairperson, Ms. Edith Aliguma Adyeri appreciated the efforts taken by Witness Radio organization to organize the dialogue meeting aimed at bringing together stakeholders to safeguard community land and environmental rights in order address the escalating vice of land grabbing in the area.

During the dialogue, participants shared harrowing accounts of the impacts of land evictions and environmental degradation, including tragic deaths, families torn asunder, young girls forced into marriage, a surge in teenage pregnancies, limited access to education, and significant environmental damage which have profoundly affected the lives of the local population in Kiryandongo.

Participants attending the dialogue.

In recent years, Kiryandongo district has been embroiled in violent land evictions orchestrated to accommodate multinational large-scale agriculture plantations and wealthy individuals leaving the poor marginalized.

According to various reports, including findings from Witness Radio’s 2020 research Land Grabs at a Gun Point, the forceful land acquisitions in Kiryandongo have significantly impacted the livelihoods of local communities. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 individuals have been displaced from their land to make room for land-based investments in the Kiryandongo district. However, leaders in the district also revealed in the dialogue that women and children are affected most.

The Kiryandongo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Jonathan Akweteireho, emphasized that all offices within the Kiryandongo district are actively involved in addressing the prevalent land conflicts. He also extended a welcome to Witness Radio, acknowledging their collaborative efforts in tackling and resolving land and environmental issues in the district.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the land rights together with environmental rights have been violated in our district, but because we don’t know what our rights are, because we have not directly done what we could to safeguard our rights and now this is the time that Witness Radio has brought us together to safeguard our rights. I want to welcome you in Kiryandongo and be rest assured that we shall give you all the necessary support to help us manage these rampant cases,” Ms. Adyeri said in her remarks during the dialogue meeting.

The team leader at Witness Radio Uganda, Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala expressed gratitude to the participants for their active involvement in the dialogue and revealed that Witness Radio’s objective is to find a holistic solution to the escalating land disputes in Kiryandongo district serving as an example to other districts.

“We are here to assist Kiryandongo district in attaining peace and stability because it stands as a hotspot for land grabbers in Uganda. Mismanagement of land conflicts in Uganda could potentially lead to a significant internal conflict. Everywhere you turn, voices are lamenting the loss of their land and property. Kiryandongo, abundant with ranches, suffers from a lack of a structured framework, which amplifies these land conflicts. The influx of wealthy investors further complicates the situation,” Mr. Ssebaggala disclosed.

Within the dialogue, Mr. Ssebaggala emphasized the need for the Kiryandongo district council to pass a by-law aimed at curbing land evictions as an initial step in addressing the prevalent land injustices.

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Kiryandongo authorities decry rising cases of land disputes



The LC5 chairperson of Kiryandongo, Ms Edith Aliguma Adyeri, has saidnland dispute has impacted on people’s lives, dignity and children’s education in the district.

Just like other parts of Uganda, conflicts over land in Kiryandongo arise when individuals – who often are blood relatives – compete for use of the same parcel of land or when members of the community lay claim over ownership of unutilised government land.

Ms Adyeri further said land and environmental rights affect people both directly and indirectly, “and we are not hearing it from afar. It is already together with us [here], it has already affected us!”

She was speaking at a meeting which sought to discuss alternative remedies to salvage the appalling land and environmental rights situation in Kiryandongo at the district headquarters on Thursday.

The one-day dialogue was aimed at reflecting on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

It was attended by private companies, members of civil society and local government officials and organised by Witness Radio – an advocate for land and environmental rights in Uganda – in partnership with Oxfam, and Kiryandongo District leadership.

“Some people have even died, families are broken up, and brothers are not seeing eye-to-eye because of land rights. Access to justice is equally becoming very difficult because when you hire one lawyer that
lawyer will talk to learned friends, and they agree. They leave you in suspense,” Ms Adyeri said.

According to her, some children have not accessed education because of land and environmental rights.

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the deputy Resident District Commissioner of Kiryandongo, said enlightened people especially should be sensitive to the historical injustice of this area.

“We can never handle the Bonyoro land question without thinking about that history. It will be an injustice to the incomers, to the government and to the leaders who don’t understand,” he said.

“We had 38 ranches here which on the guidance of these international organisations, especially the World Bank, the government restructured them, allowing people to settle there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he added.

Mr Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the executive director of Witness Radio, said that a well-functional land sector supports land users or holders and investors, reduces inefficiencies and provides mechanisms to resolve land disputes.

Mr David Kyategeka, the secretary to the Kiryandongo District Land Board, said the issue of land rights is very clear but the major challenge has been sensitising the locals to know what rights he or she expects to enjoy out of this very important resource.


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