By Guest Writer
OPINION: Thursday, September 08, 2022 Daily Monitor published an article titled “Investors allowed to stay in wetlands”. In the article, the minister of finance Hon. Matia Kasaija said that the government ordered all Ugandans to vacate wetlands and forest reserves, but will allow investors who set up factories to operate for the meantime because they were misled.
Sarcastically saying that some investors did not know they were occupying such catchment areas. I urge the government through its minister to clarify to the people of Uganda what’s misleading on the identification of swamps, forests and other protected areas. Which kind of investors is Uganda entertaining that cannot draw a distinction between swamps and use-land.
His statements uttered on behalf of the government seem to suggest that the investors have a right to use protected areas like swamps and forest reserves yet Ugandans are labelled encroachers. Perhaps to remind the minister who has on number occasions said that his department is too demanding, and he is often tired.
National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy 13 of the constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995 clearly states that “the State shall protect important natural resources, including land, water, wetlands, minerals, oil, fauna and flora on behalf of the people of Uganda. In addition, Objective 27 further states that “the State shall promote sustainable development and public awareness of the need to manage land, air and water resources in a balanced and sustainable manner for the present and future generations”.
Therefore, the minister’s statement is unconstitutional and has no legal basis whatsoever, henceforth he should withdraw his statement and apology to the Ugandans publicly. His statement not only calls for investment in protected areas but it incites Ugandans to encroach on these areas that are supposed to be protected by law.
To remind the minister that Uganda is one of the most vulnerable countries grappling with climate change impacts. More than 900 residents have died due to hunger-related diseases since start of the year because of massive crop failures as a result of a long dry spell. In July, over 29 people died of floods in Mbale because Nabuyonga and Namatala rivers burst their banks and flooded villages. Just this week, people of kasese are still nursing the damages of mudslides. Bududa and Mt. Elgon surrounding areas have annually lost lives because of mudslides. All these disastrous incidents are arising from human encroachment on nature and government not paying attention.
Just to update you, approximately 41% of Uganda’s total area is experiencing degradation. Uganda’s deforestation rate is 2.4% annually among others. By 1994, Uganda had 15.6 percent of the land surface covered in permanent and seasonal wetlands but less than 8.4 percent are remaining following massive encroaching in the last 25 years.
I call upon the government through it is leadership to know that Human rights are intimately linked with climate change because of its devastating effect on not just the environment, but our own wellbeing, threatening our very existence, climate change is having harmful impacts on our rights to life, health, food, water, housing and livelihoods.
Most importantly, I call the leaders to put in mind how Uganda will be, how it will look like when our swamps, forest cover and other protected areas keep containing investments. Which kind of Uganda will the generation after them live?
As a country through finance and other line institutions, we should be looking at irrigation and dam construction in the areas of Karamoja and other dry areas to mitigate long rain spells to support crop growth and stop hunger. We should be relocating people in protected areas like swamps, mountains, forests and others to stop human encroachment but not encouraging investment in such areas.
Lastly, Ignorance is not a defence as per our penal code Act in our society therefore there is no such a word as misleading when it comes to our protected areas. Let us ensure strict adherence to our supreme law to protect our environment and defend our rights. The minister should withdraw his statement and apology or even resign.
The writer is Brighton Aryampa, a lawyer and Chief Executive Officer, Youth for Green Communities (YGC).
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