Uganda has lost nearly a third of its forests in the last two decades and could lose most of its tree cover in about 40 years unless measures are quickly taken to reverse the situation, environmentalists have said.
"Climate change does not happen in isolation... It interacts with existing problems and challenges - notably deforestation, soil degradation, declining food security, declining fish stocks - and makes them worse," said Frank Mulamuzi, environmental advocate and executive director of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE).
Uganda had more than five million hectares of forest in 1990, but only 3.5 million hectares remained by 2005. "If deforestation continues at the present rate, Uganda will have lost all its forested land by 2050," the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) warned in its State of the Environment for Uganda 2008 report published in mid-June.
It attributed the rapid rate of deforestation to expanding farmland, rapid population growth and increased urbanization.
"Water resources will disappear, water catchments areas will dwindle, agricultural productivity will suffer and livelihoods will be affected tremendously," Annet Nakyeyune, an environmentalist at Makerere University, told IRIN.
The effects, she said, would be felt across many social sectors including health "because diseases are going to increase". There would not be enough energy; habitats for some animals would disappear, while some species would either migrate or become extinct.
Photo: Vincent Mayanja/IRIN
|Tree planting in northern Uganda: The country had more than five million hectares of forest in 1990, but only 3.5 million hectares remained by 2005 - file photo|
Who will suffer most?
The main victims, however, would be farmers and the poorest of the poor since desertification would "tamper with the country’s food security because rainfall will be erratic, floods rampant and the poor who have reclaimed wetlands [will be unable] to raise the ground of their homesteads".
NEMA Executive Director Aryamanya Mugisha said Uganda would suffer dire environmental effects if no immediate remedial measures are put in place.
"In 41 years, if the current rate of deforestation continues, the per capita forest cover will be zero because already we are tending towards desertification-like conditions," he said.
Mugisha told IRIN the rate of deforestation was greatest outside protected areas, currently estimated at 698. These are mainly gazetted forest reserves.
Only 10 percent of Uganda's population has access to electricity, while the rest use biomass as a source of energy, especially firewood for cooking.
"Because 89 percent of rural Ugandans rely on burning firewood for cooking, deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate," NEMA said.
|Water resources will disappear, water catchments areas will dwindle, agricultural productivity will suffer and livelihoods will be affected tremendously|
High birth rate
The situation, it added, has been worsened by Uganda’s high population growth which is currently 3.2 percent per annum, with high fertility rates of seven children per woman. This high growth rate has resulted in the expansion of built-up areas, particularly around Kampala.
Areas surrounding the capital have lost more than 78 percent of their forestland since 1990, and people are migrating out of the increasingly crowded city into neighbouring districts.
"It is quite an alarming development and government and NEMA require that urgent measures be taken to mobilize the population for the conservation of the present forest resources through afforestation and reforestation, [and] to educate the population about a degraded environment and its consequences," NAPE’s Mulamuzi said.