KAMPALA – The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has said the high rate of deforestation and wetland encroachment in refugee host districts is contributing to climate-related risks characterized by prolonged dry spells, unpredicted rainfall or heavy rains which result in flooding of rivers and streams.
In their Corporate Report for 2017/18, NEMA says in the West Nile districts of Yumbe, Moyo and Adjumani where most refugees are being hosted have suffered massive loss of forest cover and clearing of swamps for household wood fuel, settlement and poles for construction materials by refugees.
“Deforestation is the main risk confronting environment management in the refugee settlements. Encroachments, over-exploitation of forest products – clearing of trees for household wood fuel, settlement and poles for construction materials by refugees and host communities, a devastating impact on the environment as the biophysical environment gets depleted,” the report released on Monday, November 18, 2019, reads in part.
NEMA adds that wetlands such as Tritri, Leju, Ibizi and Poporo will continue to experience reduced vegetation cover and little water for production and domestic use notwithstanding the degradation of other ecosystem values and services which are essential for both environmental integrity (sustainability) and human survival.
The Authority says the problem is compounded by a rise in population in the area.
“The high population growth rate of 5.5% among nationals in the district compared to national population growth rate of 3.4%, coupled with the refugee population will most likely strain the already-stretched natural resources base. Lastly, the main commonality between refugees and host communities is the high level of poverty, resource constraints and socio-economic vulnerability,” the report adds.
NEMA says poor waste management is another threat to health and sanitation of the communities in the refugee settlement areas.
“The situation is worsened by lack of proper waste disposal facilities for both human and domestic wastes, and poor disposal of non-biodegradable wastes such as plastic materials, bottles and heavy metals,” the report says.
NEMA says all partners in refugee protection services should involve both District and Lower Local
Governments at all levels of interventions (planning/designing, implementation, monitoring,
evaluation and review).
“Institutional coordination mechanisms at both national and local government levels should be maintained and sustained while involving all the key stakeholders including NEMA to ensure environmental integrity and sustainability in the refugee settlement areas,” the report reads in part.
NEMA urges the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to acquire land, gazette and carry out physical planning and strategic environmental impact assessment specifically for refugee protection services.
It also says environmental concerns and values should be integrated in all refugee protection projects with full participation of all the key stakeholders.
NEMA says OPM should facilitate the environmental audit of all current refugee protection projects to ensure environmental integrity and sustainability, while the district local governments should carry out environmental screening to inform the audit process.
It urges District Local Governments to establish tree planting targets like number of trees per household, ha per villages and number of species to ensure massive tree planting in both refugee and host settlement areas.
“There is a need for an integrated model for environment, water resources and energy conservation and utilization within the refugee and host communities to ensure sustainable use of these resources,” the report adds.