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Alarm over high rate of deforestation

[Guinea] A forest destroyed by refugees, who made a clearing to cook and sell wood. People in the Forest Region make a toll on the environment around Nzerekore, June 2004.
Les interventions de l'homme sur la forêt ont conduit à des taux alarmants de déforestation (Pierre Holtz)

Uganda could lose all its forest cover in 50 years if the current rate of destruction is not reversed, thereby upsetting the ecosystem and exposing the country to further environmental degradation, analysts have warned.

"Forests and trees have been cut at rates that exceed sustainable levels; characterised by the prevention of forest regeneration by grazing and fires," Paul Drichi, director of technical services at the National Forestry Authority (NFA), said.

"Many urban and peri-urban forest reserves are also under threat of degazettement for industrial development and housing," he added.

About 4.9 million hectares of forest cover existed in Uganda in the early 1990s but this had decreased to 3.6 million hectares in 2005, an annual depletion rate of 2 percent. This is considered high by international standards, Drichi added.

Various experts said the current rate of deforestation was already causing environmental-related problems in some parts of Uganda. Regions that used to be cold and malaria-free have experienced rising temperatures, providing good conditions for disease spread.

"Areas like the southwest in Kabale, which had been cold, are losing 0.3 degree Celsius off their minimum temperature every 10 years," Paul Isabirye, a principal government meteorologist said. "These places did not have mosquitoes but now malaria is becoming rampant."

''The forest resource base in many reserves has been over-harvested''

On the Rwenzori Mountain peaks, ice caps were losing volume, threatening communities at the foot of the mountain range which depend on water from the ice caps for agriculture and other uses, Isabirye added.

"Population growth, unsustainable land-management practices, lack of economic opportunities and unfair trade have increased demand for land for agriculture and livestock," Drichi said. "The forest resource base in many reserves has been over-harvested and in some instances encroached upon, especially in the woodlands."

Despite these concerns, the government is considering giving away an estimated 7,000 hectares of the dense 32,000 hectares Mabira Forest Reserve, about 50km east of the capital, Kampala, to a sugar company to plant cane.


Photo: Pierre Holtz/IRIN
Destruction of forests affects rainfall patterns, disturbs the eco-system and changes the micro-climate

Local media on Wednesday reported that Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi had written a letter to Environment Minister, Mary Mutagamba, saying: "I direct you to bring a cabinet paper seeking permission to degazette part of Mabira for sugarcane growing."

Environmentalists said the move would disrupt Uganda's bio-mass and rainfall patterns. It would also endanger rare species and disrupt the livelihood of thousands of people living around the tropical forest. Mabira, they argued, is home to rare species of plant and animal life.

According to Frank Mulamuzi, destruction of part of the forest would severely impact on Lake Victoria water levels, affect rainfall patterns, disturb the eco-system and change the micro-climate.

A government spokesman disagreed. "This is the proper way of utilising resources," Tamale Mirundi, spokesman for President Yoweri Museveni, said. "It is easier to relocate the forest by planting trees elsewhere than to relocate a factory."

Isabirye said rising temperatures could also affect Uganda's main cash crop, coffee. "Any further increase by two degrees Celsius would wipe out coffee in many coffee-growing areas of Uganda," he said. "The ecological range of the coffee is shrinking."


Photo: Pierre Holtz
Burning and felling trees contribute to widespread destruction of forests

Uganda, he added, recorded its highest temperatures in February 2006, at 45 degrees Celsius. "We had not experienced such temperatures in the recent past," he said.

In December, the head of the NFA quit his job after he declined a presidential directive to allow the clearing of a forest for a palm plantation.

The president had asked Olav Bjella to choose between resigning and licensing large areas of rainforest on Lake Victoria's Ssese Island for a private palm plantation. Bjella said he would not allow the destruction of the forest because "it was against his conscience and against the laws of Uganda".

About 1.9 million hectares of Uganda's current forest cover is legally recognised estates, representing 9 percent of the total land area. This includes forest reserve land and forested areas in national parks and wildlife reserves.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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