LUZIRA KAMPALA: The Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga is known for her no holds barred approach to issues. And so when she was invited by Rotary to officiate at a mass tree planting campaign in Luzira near the home of the Ministry of Water, approved she didn’t mince her words.
Kadaga lashed out at the Ministry of Water and Environment for failure to implement the National Forestry Act 15 years ago in order to protect the country’s environment.
“Am surprised that you are supporting Rotary instead of taking the lead… the Ministry of Environment should give us a national program of tree planting but here you come and saying thank you to Rotary, yet that is your work. Tell that to the minister,” Kadaga charged attracting a thunderously applause and cheers from the audience.
The Minister of Water Sam Cheptoris was lucky his absence saved him from the embarrassment. But his director for the environment Paul Mafabi was seen shifting uneasily in his chair after the Speaker fired at him for lazying around.
Kadaga was annoyed that the NGO was performing the work of an entire ministry that receives billions of tax payers money but has not shown cause for it.
Kadaga said that Parliament passed an act to promote environmental conservation and yet the country continues to suffer widespread environmental damage forest degradation and wetland destruction.
Comparing efforts by other African countries to protect the environment, Kadaga said the Ministry of Water and Environment has not put out a comprehensive and sustainable program for Ugandans to conserve the environment despite the enactment of the relevant laws.
Kadaga also mocked as a joke a promise by the Ministry to contribute a million tree seedlings to Rotary International for this project.
She reminded the Director of Environment who represented the Minister for Environment that Parliament enacted the National Forests Authority Act 15 years ago and the country expected that the National Tree Fund would be established which has not happened.
“We were also supposed to have National Tree planting days. I have spoken and spoken and spoken and No one is listening, We want to see you (the Ministry of Environment) in the field in action, leading Ugandans rather than supporting from the sides,” Kadaga.
In response to the challenge by the Speaker of Parliament, the Director in Charge of Environment Affairs at the Ministry Paul Mafabi said that whereas the ministry has activities to encourage tree planting it is limited with inadequate funding.
“From what we lose we need to plant 7.5 million trees, if you multiply that by the cost of one tree seedling (500 shillings) we are talking of billions but there is a budget deficit. At the moment government has provided Ushs 5 billion to support the community’s tree planting program under the National Forestry Authority (NFA), but for starters we need at least to double the figure provided to be able to produce the required seedlings. The minimum we require to get seedlings alone is about 10 billion shillings,” Mafabi said.
After planting her symbolic tree at the compound of Luzira Prisons Academy and Training School, Kadaga asked Mafabi to ensure that the ministry’s puts in its financial requests for consideration at the next budget process. She pledged to lend her support towards the ministry’s efforts for a higher budgetary allocation aimed at conserving the environment.
Despite numerous calls by Rotary International and other civil society organizations for the authorities to reverse forest degradation and declining biodiversity, the impact of decreasing forest resources is all evident in Uganda as seen from recurrent droughts and rising temperatures.
Now, the Uganda and Tanzania District Governor Kenneth Wycliffe Mugisha says Rotary International was prompted to embark on the Mission Green Initiative to address the adverse effects of environmental degradation after realising that the relevant authorities were not doing enough.
Mugisha explains that the Mission Green that targets planting 20 million trees every year is aimed at reversing the adverse effects of forest degradation, which are believed to be connection to the increasing cases of cancer and famine in the communities.
When asked what motivated Rotary to embark on this kind of Initiative, Mugisha said it was the unavailability of water in areas that use to be water catchment areas like Insingiro district that is now facing famine.
He went on to justify the need for the initiative by saying that the cutting of trees has contributed to the rise in health problems, citing cancer as one of them.
Mugisha stressed to The Sunrise Newspaper that absence of trees, carbon emissions come to our bodies directly and therefore causing several cancers we are taking about today.
“Cancer is one of the biggest killer diseases in Uganda right now. And I feel we must do something for the future generation, what are going through is not what we would wish our children and grandchildren to go through. We should take action and Rotarians are men and women of action”-Mugisha.
Uganda Prisons Services partnered with Rotary International to facilitate the Mission Green Initiative.
The Commission General of the Uganda Prisons Service Dr. Johnson Byabashaija acknowledged that Prisons with the ever increasing population is the second contributor to tree cutting for wood fuel something that should urgently be done.
There are a total of 55, 600 inmates in the 252 prison facilities in the country and the population growth rates in these facility stand at 10 %, yet prisons use wood fuel to cook their meals which makes environmental conservation a very serious challenge for the Uganda Prisons facility.
Byabashaija regretted that the Prisons use 80,000 tons of wood fuel every year this translates into 9000 trees cut down every day and therefore being a net destroyer of forests.