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Uganda reverses forest destruction by inviting in … loggers

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KALAGALA, Uganda (Reuters) – For decades, farmers hungry for land and families needing firewood whittled away at Uganda’s forests, home to endangered gorillas, elephants and chimpanzees.

Now the decline has reversed, thanks to a government policy that relies on loggers to help protect trees. Private companies are developing timber plantations as buffers next to protected forests.

“Private planting is helping raise trees … to absorb carbon and lock it there, but they are also stopping people from demanding timber in protected reserves, so it’s a win-win situation,” Tom Okello, head of the state-run National Forestry Authority (NFA), told Reuters.

But expanding forest cover further will not be easy, Okello added, with some 90% of Ugandans relying on firewood for cooking amid some of the highest electricity prices in Africa.

Uganda’s forest cover plummeted from 24% of its area in 1990 to 9% in 2015, said a donor-funded report, State of Uganda’s Forestry. It is now up to 12.5%, according to Okello.

Uganda’s forest cover has clearly increased, said Leonidas Hitimana, project coordinator at the U.N. agency Food and Agriculture Organization, which helps fund some of the private forestry investors.

The companies are licensed to plant trees for timber in unplanted parts of government-owned forest reserves, such as Mpanga Forest Reserve in central Uganda where a trail twists through eucalyptus seedlings next to a forest of towering hardwood trees.

The program began 15 years ago, but the impact unfolded slowly – it takes at least seven years for a seedling to grow tall enough to count as forest cover.

Then the timber had to meet growing demand before any recovery was possible – timber consumption rose by around 50% between 2005 and 2011, the donor report said.

So far the NFA has licensed 4,000 private local and international investors, including Britain’s New Forest Company, Norway’s Green Resources and Germany’s Global Woods. Nearly half the 200,000 hectares allocated for the initiative have been planted.

Favoured species include pine, eucalyptus, teak and maesopsis. A pine plantation takes about 20 years to mature and makes a return of over 500%, the NFA said.

The timber meets demand previously filled by illegal logging. Armed patrols also help deter cutting. A pile of confiscated Afzelia africana logs lies on the lawn of the NFA, their rotting bark revealing the hard wood prized in China.

CLIMATE BUFFERS

Uganda’s tropical rainforests are vast carbon sinks, safeguarding water catchment areas and mitigating the harsh effects of climate change.

Uganda’s maximum average annual temperature increased an estimated 0.6-0.9 degrees Celsius between 1951-2010, a 2018 Irish Aid report found, predicting an increase of around 2°C over the next 50 years.

Father-of-12 Muhammad Katerega, who grows vanilla, beans and potatoes on the edge of Mpanga forest, complains that rains and droughts seem more unpredictable and extreme.

“Sometimes I plant my crops expecting a rainy season, but instead there’s a drought and I lose my entire crop,” said the 59-year-old, his gumboots red with soil.

Reforestation might help reduce such unpredictability and slow the warming.

“Forests are natural carbon sinks for tropical countries which don’t have large seas,” Tom Sengalama, climate change and natural resources adviser at British development agency DFID, told Reuters. “A deforested landscape is less resilient to climate changes.”

Okello says NFA wants to replenish forest cover back to 24% of Uganda’s landmass by 2040. His biggest obstacle: costly power. If the forests are going to survive, that must change, he added.

“Unless electricity is cheaper, we will keep cooking on firewood. We don’t have an alternative,” Katerega said, minutes after a group of children clutching machetes filed into the forest.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Mike Collett-White

Original Post: Reuters

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Breaking Alert: Barely a year after signing the remedy agreement, World Bank Project-Affected Persons (PAPs) receive fresh land eviction threats

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By Witness Radio team.

Kawaala community, which signed a dispute resolution agreement between the Kawaala community and the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), facilitated by the World Bank Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) a year ago, has received a fresh land eviction threat. PAPs say they have received a three-day notice to vacate the land or face an eviction by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

This community first faced a forced eviction in December 2020, shortly after Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) acquired a loan from the World Bank on behalf of the government of Uganda to construct the Second Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2).

A USD 175 million project was started before consultations with the project-affected community, with no compensation or alternative settlement.

The remedy agreement signed on May 31st, 2023, aimed to mitigate the negative impacts of the drainage channel development on the livelihoods of the affected community and agreed to compensate all PAPs.

On June 3rd, 2024,  PAPs and their advisors  (Witness Radio and Accountability Counsel) issued a statement titled One Year Later, Justice is Delayed expressing disappointment in the way the post-agreement phase was being managed. In the agreement, KCCA, on behalf of the Government, offered to compensate all victims, resettle, and restore livelihoods, which have not been met since.

However, as the victim community is still waiting for the full implementation of the agreement by the KCCA, NEMA is forcing the urban poor community to vacate their land without any due process.

On June 13, 2024, NEMA’s representatives, under the protection of over 30 heavily armed soldiers and police officers, descended on the Kawaala Zone II community and issued an ultimatum of three days to vacate their land. Community members’ houses and other structures were marked with a big “X,” indicating they would be demolished.

“NEMA deployed at our homes soldiers and policemen to intimidate us, warning us that if we fail to remove all our belongings in three days, they will be brought down. Yet this is the land that we have held for decades. We are surprised that this is happening.” Kawaala community members revealed to Witness Radio.

According to Project-Affected Persons (PAPs), this is a collusion between KCCA and NEMA to evict them without receiving additional and fair compensation and their livelihood support under the Second Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP2) project as terms of the May 31st, 2023 agreement.

Witness Radio investigations show that this is the third eviction attempt by the government to run away from its responsibility of providing fair and timely compensation to victims.

The first attempt occurred in December 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Kawaala Zone II community received an eviction notice with a 28-day deadline and no explanation from the government. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) officials heavily guarded by armed soldiers marked the houses with letter “X,” indicating they were to be demolished under the guise of the Public Health Act Cap 281.

KCCA had hidden intentions of taking the community land for the project without compensation. Upon learning that the project is funded by the World Bank, the Project Affected Persons filed a complaint to the World Bank’s inspection Panel demanding to be fairly compensated among others. The parties (KCCA and the Affected community) opted for the dispute resolution supported by the World Bank’s Dispute Resolution Service (DRS).

Still later on, on 23rd August 2022, when the community was still under the dispute resolution, NEMA emerged under the protection of the military, and anti-riot police descended on gardens for the same families in Kawaala Zone II, cut down food crops and demolished houses belonging to over 100 families.

The grieved PAP revealed that this tactic between the two government entities is intended to deny justice to them.

Mbabali Hamis, a 47-year-old father of 15, is cursing the World Bank-funded project. According to Mbabali, ever since they learned about the project’s implementation in their area, they have faced evictions by government agencies, including KCCA and NEMA, which they believe is a tactic aimed at grabbing their land. Mbabaali’s sentiments were re-echoed by many other project-affected persons.

“We have lived here happily for many years, but everything changed when this project began. Since then, we have witnessed numerous attempts to evict us from our land under the pretense that we have been living in the Lubigi Wetland. This is not true,” He revealed.

Like other residents, Mbabali has lived on his land since 1999, farming yams, sugarcane, and trees to provide for his family. When we spoke to him, his words were coming from far away, “he said, this is my land, and I have been living on it for two decades. I have all the documents proving ownership. Where do they want me to take my family when I bought this land with my hard-earned money?” he asked.

Currently, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is disguising itself as ‘evicting wetland encroachers’ a move targeting the urban-poor families’ land well aware that these individuals are the rightful owners of the land.

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Anti-oil pipeline activist in Uganda detained, pressure group says

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A Ugandan activist campaigning to stop the development of a $5 billion crude oil pipeline in east Africa by France’s TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA), opens new tab and others has been detained by Uganda’s military, the group he works for said on Wednesday.

Stephen Kwikiriza from the Ugandan environmental pressure group Environment Governance Institute (EGI) has been campaigning to halt the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).

The 1,445-km pipeline is to carry crude from oilfields in Uganda’s west through Tanzania to a port on Tanzania’s coast.

The pipeline’s opponents, including Human Rights Watch, say the project will displace hundreds of thousands of people, destroy fragile ecosystems and undermine efforts to limit carbon emissions.

In a statement, EGI said the Ugandan military had detained Kwikiriza on Tuesday in the capital Kampala, according to a text message he sent to a colleague. His whereabouts are unknown, said EGI, which works with other groups to oppose the pipeline.

“The StopEACOP coalition…condemn this latest abduction and all the recent escalation of intimidation and arrests and urges the Ugandan authorities to release the human rights defender,” EGI’s statement said.

Deo Akiiki, deputy spokesperson for Uganda’s military said he was not aware of Kwikiriza’s arrest. He said EGI should make a report to police if they believed their colleague was missing.

TotalEnergies did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The company has defended the project in the past, saying that it adheres to strict Ugandan and Tanzanian environmental laws.

Pressure groups accuse Ugandan authorities of harassing activists who have been campaigning against EACOP. Ugandan authorities deny the accusation.

Last month seven activists were briefly detained outside the Chinese embassy in Kampala as they prepared to hand over a petition to the Chinese ambassador asking China to not fund the pipeline.

Source: Reuters

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PAPs and advisors cry foul over the mismanagement of the remedy agreement with the Uganda Government facilitated by the World Bank’s IAM.

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By Witness Radio team.

When Rita Zinsanze (not her real name due to fear of retaliation) signed a remedy agreement with the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) on behalf of the Uganda government, facilitated by the World Bank Independent Accountability Mechanisms (IAM), she was confident that her land, targeted by the Second Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2), would be compensated fairly.

The agreement was aimed at mitigating the negative impacts of the drainage channel development on her livelihood and gave her hope for a just resolution.

Rita’s family is one of the hundreds of families affected by the construction of the Lubigi drainage project, which is part of the KIIDP2 project implemented by KCCA.

“I wanted fair compensation so that I could buy land elsewhere and resettle my family, hoping to rebuild our lives as we once lived,” she revealed in an interview with a Witness Radio journalist.

Before the coming of the project, Rita used to live happily with her family on her 100 ft70 ft plot (0.065 hectares) of land farming yams, sugarcanes, and trees, which she used to sell and earn a living to cater for her family’s needs.

“I used to earn at least 500,000 Uganda shillings (131.53 United States Dollars) from yams and sugarcanes every season plus doing other works that supplemented my living.” She added.

But now, Rita says her situation has worsened since the project got to her land. Now, she struggles to make ends meet for her family of 10 because the compensation is very little to enable her to find an alternative piece of land elsewhere.

Rita, like other Kawaala Project Affected Persons (PAPs), finds themselves disillusioned, as none of the promises made before signing the agreement have materialized.

“Every time I follow up on my additional compensation and other promises, they (governmental officials) keep extending days to get my entitlements. I am becoming hopeless for the endless and empty trips I have been making to their offices.” she lamented.

May 31st, 2024, marked the first anniversary since a remedy agreement was signed. In the agreement, PAPs were promised additional compensation, livelihood restoration projects, settlement, and other support.

Instead, the aftermath has brought more negative impacts on the community members, including increased flooding of the area caused by poor drainage, hate speeches, poverty, and family separation.

In a statement released on June 3rd, 2024, by both Witness Radio and Accountability Counsel under the title: One Year Later, Justice is Delayed called upon KCCA and the World Bank to pay agreed compensation, address livelihood concerns, provide a thorough update, and ensure effective monitoring of the implementation of the agreement among others.

Furthermore, the statement mentions that some members of the community are worried that the remains of their departed family members would be lost as some of these affected community members are yet to be compensated for this loss and have not been able to restore their loved ones’ grave sites.

For more details on the statement, click on the link below; https://witnessradio.org/one-year-later-justice-is-delayed-a-joint-statement-on-the-implementation-of-the-kiidp-2-kawaala-community-agreement/

A brief background of the project;

KCCA in 2015 acquired a USD 175 million loan from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) for Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP) project. However, part of the money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) is to finance the construction of Lubigi Primary Channel.

On December 3, 2020, the Kawaala communities were shocked to find KCCA representatives in their village, accompanied by armed police officers, distributing eviction notices and informing residents that they had 28 days to vacate their homes. A few days later, for instance, in the wee hours of 05th/12/2020, the community started experiencing attacks by armed anti-riot police and workers of the construction company; destroying properties, without any prior consultation or plan for compensation and resettlement.

In a bid to find justice, in June 2021, the affected community filed a complaint with the World Bank’s Inspection Panel and raised concerns about forced evictions during COVID-19. At the time of the Complaint, the Kawaala community worried that their land would be taken away without adequate compensation and that the project had been marred with retaliatory attacks from people believed to be project implementers against project affected community.

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