She intimated that there must be a formidable reaction to the state of conservation for change to take place. “We need to get angry, agitated, and passionate about environmental degradation if this program is to bear fruit,” Anywar said.
The launch was also attended by LCV, the RDCs, the CAO, the technical staff of the beneficiary districts, and the national stakeholders including the Ministry of Water and Environment, UNHCR, and the donors.
The European Union Action to run for four years up to 2024, aimed at addressing the impacts of displaced populations on the environment, natural resources, and the livelihoods of the hosting communities, is being implemented by two consortia comprising, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Nature Uganda (NU), and Ecological Christian Organisation (ECO), and ENABEL, the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), and the Joint Energy and Environment Projects (JEEP).
The project is intended to mitigate risks to forests, woodlands, wetlands, and riverine ecosystems and improve the livelihoods of refugee host communities. The project also aims to restore degraded ecosystems, improve environmental planning, support Sustainable Land Management practices such as Climate Smart Agriculture, soil, and water conservation measures, and build the capacity of governmental and non-governmental institutions responsible for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation.
This project responds to problems stemming from, among other stressors, increased population pressure with the attendant demand for natural resources. Uganda is host to refugees from South Sudan, DR Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, and other countries. These displaced persons are hosted by communities in West Nile, the Albertine Rift, and other areas of Uganda. Because of the high populations hosted, there is unsustainable use of natural resources, which has led to degradation of woodlands, forests, and wetlands. The local populations, both indigenous and refugee, are aggravating the degradation.
The EU Head of Cooperation, Caroline Adriaensen, noted that the country hosts many refugees in areas that need support, which such projects will aid. “The fact is, the ongoing refugee influx into Uganda has led to the establishment of some of the world’s largest refugee settlements in Northern and Western Uganda,” she said.
The project supports restoration, strengthens protection, while mobilizing local action to support and maintain the restoration efforts. It supports development of methodology for selection of new refugee settlements, develops Wetlands Management Action Plans, and supports implementation of mitigation measures and monitoring. This is expected to enhance flow of ecosystem services and goods and build collective responsibility toward sustainable management of the natural resources.
It would also mobilise and support different non-state actors and Local Governments to deliver livelihoods and resilience action to reduce and eventually stop environmental degradation. This will strengthen government capacity and coordination in climate change interventions.
Representing the Rt. Hon Prime Minister, the State Minister for Environment, Hon. Beatrice Anywar reiterated the need for collaboration in conservation efforts, stating that: “The pressure on the environment is by all of us, both Ugandans, host communities and refugees. As Government of Uganda, we cannot address it in totality, we are happy that partners have joined us in these efforts.”
She also informed the national attendance that the Ministry of Water and Environment is responsible for planning and coordinating the sectors’ response in addressing the challenges related to the influx of displaced persons. In line with this, the ministry has in place a Comprehensive Refugee Response Plan to guide the ministry’s efforts in coordinating all interventions falling within its mandate.
In his speech read by the Director of Environment, Ministry of Water and Environment, Mr. Collins Oloya, the Honourable Minister Sam Cheptoris stated that although human rights are universal and individual and displaced persons need dignified life while in Uganda, this should not be to the detriment of host communities and the country. “There is competition for food, building materials, and wood fuel, leading to further encroachment on fragile ecosystems like wetlands, riverbanks, and woodlands. Additional risks such as confrontations over land, like what is happening in Kikuube district are emerging.” He added that if the situation is not addressed, the country could lose most of its natural ecosystems, and therefore its rich biodiversity. “The consequences on our environment, and economic development, especially tourism, would be catastrophic,” he said.
Ms. Juliet Kyokunda, the Executive Director of Uganda Biodiversity Fund, pointed out that it is the responsibility of everyone to participate in the cause of ecosystem restoration, stating that all communities, local and refugee, contribute to the state of degradation Uganda is facing. She echoed that Uganda “should treat degradation as a national problem and all Ugandans must join hands in dealing with it.”
The Country Director of Save the Children Uganda Dragana Strinic said, “We recognize that climate change directly affects children and is the greatest threat to their survival, learning, and protection”. She urged everyone to support the project since it has a ripple effect and will better the livelihoods of communities in the long term.
Ultimately, the project directly contributes to the Goal of the National Development Plan (NDP) 3: “To Increase Average Household Incomes and Improve the Quality of Life of Ugandans”, and contributes to the Climate Change, Natural Resources, Environment, and Water Management Program that aims to stop and reverse the degradation of the environment and natural resources as well as the effects of Climate Change on economic growth and livelihood security; and Community Mobilisation and Mindset Program that aims to empower families, communities and citizens to embrace national values and actively participate in sustainable development.