By Brian Katabazi
As the world was being engulfed by coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic which later led to a total lockdown, Imaramagambo forest was equally not spared by a pandemic of perpetrators who have mercilessly and indiscriminately cut down trees. It is evidently visible that perpetrators were harvesting trees largely for timber and charcoal. Whereas most authorities concentrated their efforts on the fight against the spread of Covid-19, a group of yet to be known people invaded and unsparingly unleashed terror on the forest. A reliable source has since informed us that the inner part, which also forms the heart of the forest, is almost gone. It should, however, be noted that the forest has been under invasion for a very long time but the invasion escalated during the coronavirus lock-down.
Following numerous calls from concerned local citizens, on May 12, 2020, the leadership of Rukungiri district where the forest is situated swung into action and held a crisis meeting over the matter. This was later followed by a police operation that intercepted and arrested a number of lorries carrying logs, charcoal, and timber. But all this ensued after many hectares of the forest were lost due to the lockdown led invasion on the forest. It’s nevertheless inappropriate not to appreciate the intervention and role of Rukungiri district leadership towards saving the forest amidst difficult circumstances posed by coronavirus pandemic.
I, however, want to authoritatively and categorically state that Imaramagambo is just one of the many forests in Uganda that are being depleted at a very high rate. It is on record that a court of Appeal judge permitted the destruction of 22 square miles of the disputed Bugoma central forest reserve to pave way for sugar cane growing. It is not only unfortunate but also disheartening that this is happening at a time when Uganda is reportedly losing 200,000 hectares of forest cover on an annual basis. The Bugoma central forest reserve court-ruling incident translates into a scenario where government all agencies seem not to be at the same frequency in solidarity with achieving the vision 2040 target of restoring the national forest cover from 15% to 24% by 2040. In order to attain the set vision 2040 target, all government’s organs and agencies need to act in a coordinated manner.
Amidst efforts put in place to stop deforestation in the country, a number of protection-related gaps remain not addressed. For example, there is a loud outcry from National Forestry Authority (NFA) a body charged with protecting forests about understaffing. The communication and public relations officer at NFA Ms. Aisha Alibhai is on record to have told the June 9, 2020, daily monitor that the Authority is in a serious crisis of inadequate staff. This leaves the duty of protecting forests to the few NFA staff and largely at the the mercy of God amidst the escalating pressure on the national forests.
At the Centre for Energy Governance, we have strongly been encouraging the government to promote alternative sources of energy as a measure of discouraging the general public from using charcoal and firewood hence stopping deforestation. The recent decision by the government to scrap off 18% VAT on cooking gas is welcome and a great milestone towards saving our national forest cover. This is because the price of cooking gas will automatically come down hence becoming more affordable for most Ugandans who will eventually transition from using charcoal to cooking gas. It’s now the time to operationalize the decision and create awareness on the health and environment benefits of using cooking gas to the general public so that they embrace cooking gas rather than charcoal and firewood.
As a matter of fact, if we don’t act and implement policies or actions geared towards protecting our national forest cover, Uganda is headed for a severe environmental catastrophe and the generations to come will find nothing left for them but suffering.
Brian K Katabazi
Associate Director, Centre for Energy Governance.