Monday, May 14, 2007

Uganda: Greed Eating Up Our Forests"

see this here"Uganda: Greed Eating Up Our Forests"

The Monitor (Kampala)
Moses Sserwanga
The row between the public and government over the forest giveaways, spilled over to the mobile telephone networks last week and has now reached the courts of law. Civil society organisations led by Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) have filed three major suits to save the environment.
Other stakeholders including the Uganda Land Alliance have intimated that they too will lodge in courts of law public interest suits.
But what is not known to the wider public is the fact that government has not enforced many court orders that have been issued in recent years to protect and promote a clean and health environment.
One such case is the long forgotten Butamira forest reserve in Jinja which has been destroyed by a private sugar company, Kakira Sugar Works. In 2004, Justice Rubby Aweri Opio, held inter alia that government's decision to issue a 50- year permit to Kakira to grow sugar cane in Butamira forest reserve was unconstitutional.
The judge's ruling was based on evidence adduced in court to the effect that no project brief and Environmental Impact Assessment were carried out by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and Kakira Sugar Works Ltd.
The lawyers who represented ACODE, the organisation that sued government and Nema, argued to the satisfaction of the judge that the government's decision to grant a permit to Kakira would significantly change the land use of the gazetted forest reserve and as a result violate the citizens' constitutional rights to a clean and healthy environment , as well as the protection of the country's natural resources.
Under the Constitution of Uganda vital natural resources such forests are managed by the government in trust for all the people of Uganda.
Court stated in the Butamira case that government has no authority to lease out or alienate the forest reserves. Government or a local governments can only grant concessions or licenses or permits for exploitation of natural resources with authority from parliament and with consent from the local communities.
In the Butamira case evidence was produced in court to show that the permit was issued to Kakira Sugar Works Ltd amidst protests from the local communities which formed a pressure group of over 1,500 people who depended on the reserve for their livelihood. The people living around the forest were engaged in agro-forestry and the forest was their source of water, fuel, medicine and other forms of sustenance.
Unfortunately, three years down the road government has not effected the court order to cancel the permi. The illegal activities of Kakira have continued and sadly now, almost the entire forest in Butamira has been wiped out.
The Ugandan people especially the communities around these resources deserve better. Government's deforestation for industrialisation policy should be halted.
Government seems hell bent on implementing the Victorian capitalists ideas that operate around Darwin's notion of 'survival of the fittest' That the fittest (read) the rich not only survive but prosper and that the measures to help the poor (in this case the communities that live around the forests) are wasteful.
Greed and the pursuit of wealth should not be at the expense of our national/ natural resources such as forests. The intergenerational environmental law principle calls for equity in the exploitation of environmental resources between generations.
The principle demands that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment are maintained for the benefit of present and future generations. The principle therefore, confers rights on future generations and imposes a correlative duty of good stewardship over environmental resources on present generations.
The International Court of Justice has already pronounced itself on this principle. The court has stated that the environment is not an abstraction but represents the living space, forests, water, the quality of life and the very health of humans, including generations unborn.

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