The newly-appointed State Minister for Environment Mary Goretti Kitutu has decried the rate of deforestation in the country, saying that Uganda will soon be water-stressed if citizens do not pay due attention to environment management.
“Loss of forests cover in Uganda is reaching worrying trends, with 200,000 hectares lost per year,” Kitutu said, adding that if the trend continues, Uganda will have no forests by 2050 and will turn into a water-stressed country. “Even though we are trying reforestation, what we are planting cannot match the rate of destruction.”
Kitutu, who is also the Woman MP for Manafwa district, was on Wednesday speaking at the sixth WASH CSO Forum, at Silver Springs Hotel. The Forum was organized by the Uganda Water and Sanitation NGO Network (UWASNET) under the theme: Healthy ecosystems for improved quantity and quality of fresh water.
Kitutu observed that most of the forests being destroyed are located on privately owned land, which makes it very difficult for the National Forestry Authority (NFA) to intervene. She mentioned that when NFA was created in 1990, it was put in charge of 30% of the forests in Uganda which were mainly central forest reserves.
At that time 70% of the forests were located on private land, and most of them have been destroyed over the years.
“People are now turning to the central forest reserves,” she said. “These central forest reserves have a function. They are catchments. They provide eco system functions. But now they are depleted. This is like depleting the reserves in Bank of Uganda,” Kitutu said.
Kitutu observed that the effects of deforestation and poor environment management were already visible in the country, with a number of regions suffering long periods without water supply. She specifically identified Gulu district which suffered an extended water crisis at the beginning of 2016.
She further noted that failure to manage the environment, particularly the water source catchments, would result in insecurity. In this respect she identified Tororo Town which is experiencing water shortages because its main source, River Malaba is heavily silted. Thus, National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) is looking at drawing water from River Manafwa to supply Tororo.
Apart from the heavy investment required, that intervention could easily spark conflict between the two districts.
Kitutu also referred to River Rwizi in Mbarara, which is almost completely dried up due to poor catchment management, leaving residents of Mbarara with inadequate water supply. As such, NWSC has to get water from River Kagera to supply Mbarara. But given that Kagera is shared between Uganda and Tanzania, trans-boundary water issues are likely to emerge.
Apart from causing insecurity, the drop in water levels in lakes and rivers requires bigger investment in the technologies that will enable service providers to draw enough water from the sources. Honorable Kitutu noted that NWSC has already invested heavily in pushing pipes further into Lake Victoria owing to the drop in water levels.
“Many times people are debating they focus on water supply. It is important to know where water comes from. A functional eco-system contributes to adequate quantity and quality of water,” Kitutu said.
She called upon civil society organization to join hands with government to reforestrate Uganda and to manage the environment in a better way. She appealed to them to invest in environmental protection and catchment management. She said that her ministry targets to plant 200 million trees per year and to restore up to 18% of destroyed forest cover by 2020. That would require an investment of 600 billion shillings, which is a far cry from the 2.5 billion allocated to NFA annually.
“I urge civil society organisations to join hands with the government and invest in reforestation and tree planting especially on privately-owned land,” Kitutu appealed.