Retain Urban Forest Reserves - NEMA

National Environment Management Authority NEMA Executive Director, Dr. Tom Okurut, says all the urban areas risk more pollution as forests get cut.
Dr. Tom Okurut, NEMA Executive Director.

Audio 2

The rush by district councils to have urban forests de-gazzeted spells doom for urban dwellers and the environment.

National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Executive Director, Dr. Tom Okurut, says all the urban areas risk more pollution as forests get cut.

There are plans to have parts of Arua, Mbarara, Lutoboka, Kitubulu, Ibanda, Nebbi, Fort Portal, Kimaka, Gulu, and Mbale forest reserves de-gazzeted.

Though endorsed by the districts and the Ministry of Water and Environment, NEMA is opposed to the idea.  

Dr. Okurut says though the words urban and forests may sound contradictory, trees are very important to the urban environment but politicians at the districts seem not to understand it.

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Dr. Okuru says the negative impacts of air pollution on our health are now well-known given the increasing cases of respiratory problems related to and worsened by air pollution in urban areas. 

The rush to have urban forests de-gazzeted is being driven by the need for more land across the many mushrooming districts. Most of the urban forests had been deliberately planned to exist in areas whose population was projected to increase. Dr. Okurut says the new district authorities seem not to realise why they should be maintained.

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The warning by NEMA comes amidst reports that the quality of air pollution in urban areas has deteriorated significantly in parallel with the fast-paced economic developments.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health said there is a correlation between the air pollution in Kampala and some of the diseases treated at Mulago National Referral Hospital.

It said an ongoing study shows an increase of ischaemic heart disease from virtually absent up to the end of the 1990s to more than 10% of all admissions on the Mulago Hospital cardiology ward.

The air pollution in Kampala is characterised by airborne particulate matter (PM) within Kampala, according to the report.

In a report released last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 92% of the population breathes air with unhealthy levels of pollutants. It ranked Kampala as one of the most polluted cities on the African continent after Kaduna in northern Nigeria.

WHO collected air quality data from 3,000 locations across the globe and looked for concentrations of fine particulate matter, including sulphates, nitrates, mineral dust, and black carbon, which are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter—about 1/1000 of a millimetre.

These particles work their way into the lungs when we breathe, and can cause cardiovascular diseases like lung cancer, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

De-gazetting of urban forests according to Environment State Minister, Mary Gorreti Kitutu, should have been done by May this year.

The matter has been considered by Parliament's Natural Resources Committee where Kitutu and National Forestry Authority Executive Director, Michael Mugisa, have appeared.

Section 8 of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003 requires Parliamentary approval for any forest reserve to be de-gazetted. NEMA also has to endorse the decision before parliamentary approval.

Reports indicate that 28 districts have already lost their entire forest ecosystem while another 19 districts have forest cover lower than 1%.

The total value of Uganda's forests  has been estimated at 222.9 million dollars equivalent to 5.2% of the Gross Domestic Product. The destruction of forests in Uganda is estimated to be costing 1.8 million dollars annually