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UPDF Wants to Take Lead in Reclaiming Swamps, Wetlands

Brig. Gen. Stephen Oluka wants the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) to be given the mandate to reclaim swamps and wetlands in the country.
The Presidential Affairs Committee Chairperson, Jessica Ababiku interacts with the Minister of State for Veteran Affairs, Huda Oleru, National Coordinator for Disasters and Emergencies Brig. Gen. Stephen Oluka and other MPs.

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The National Coordinator for Disasters and Emergencies in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Brig. Gen. Stephen Oluka wants the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) to be given the mandate to reclaim swamps and wetlands in the country.

Oluka was on Tuesday speaking to Members of Parliament on the Presidential Affairs Committee which is assessing the disaster situation in the country. Oluka appeared together with the Minister of State for Veteran Affairs, Huda Oleru, and UPDF’s Deputy Chief of Legal Services, Col. Moses Wandera.

Uganda has in the past witnessed several disasters that have resulted in injuries, loss of property, and also deaths. The country is still prone to these catastrophic events occasioned by the increased degradation of the environment.

Brig. Gen. Oluka said that there seems to be a problem in the management of the country’s eco-system despite different efforts from leaders led by President Yoweri Museveni to protect nature in order to prevent natural and human-induced disasters.

He cited an example of UPDF’s role on the water bodies to ensure good fishing practices.

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Oluka also noted that there are more trees cut down daily than those planted and that on top of sensitizing people to plant more trees, there is a need to recover areas that are already known to have been encroached on.

Oleru also emphasized that there is a need for deliberate efforts to recover swamps and forests that have been illegally degraded by human activities since they are necessary to regulate the eco-systems and therefore reduce the effects of climate change.

In response to his suggestion, the Presidential Affairs Committee Chairperson, Jessica Ababiku sought the opinion of the officials on the increasing demand from sections of the public and politicians to degazette some forests due to the increased population and human activity.

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Minister Oleru appealed to the committee to stand firm on the issue of forests and recommend to parliament that there should be no more forests degazetted in order to protect the environment.

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Maj. Gen. Henry Matsiko, the UPDF representative in Parliament supported the Minister’s statement saying that degazetting should not be allowed and also re-gazette in critical situations.

Benjamin Kamukama, the Ruhaama East MP said that parliament should only think of gazetting more areas.

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Article 209 (b) of the Constitution requires the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) to cooperate with the civilian authority in emergency situations and in cases of natural disasters.

 Some of the UPDF disaster interventions in the past include the March 2010 Bududa landslides, the perennial River Nyamwamba floods in Kasese district, the 2018 Elegu floods in Amuru district, and others.

The National Policy for Disaster Preparedness and Management also provides that 20 percent of the UPDF soldiers in every unit should be trained in disaster management but this has not been achieved according to Minister Oleru due to budgetary challenges.

The committee learned that to date, only 5 percent of the UPDF units have attained some training in disaster preparedness and management, particularly in the field of Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Warfare (NBCW) with regard to handling hazardous materials.

The officials recommended to the committee a dedicated budgetary provision for disaster preparedness and response operations.