As Ugandans joined the world to mark World Water Day on March 22, the public was reminded yet again of the contradiction in government policies regarding protection of the environment especially forests as natural water factories, as well as its many commitments to provide access to safe water to at least 90% of Ugandans.
The ongoing destruction of a big part of the Bugoma natural forest in Hoima district of Western Uganda by Hoima Sugar Limited, is considered a major blow to Uganda’s ambition to protect the environment that is essential for making rain.
Conservationists who have spoken exclusively to The Sunrise, say that the government-backed, Hoima Sugar Limited has cleared at least 3 square miles of the forest using a highly contested Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) that was given to the company to grow sugarcane by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).
Reliable data shows that Bugoma central forest reserve is the source of water for thousands of people who depend on at least four of the rivers that emanate from it.
The forest reserve is drained by four small rivers that include River Bubwa, River Wake, River Sonso and River Waisoke that pour their water into Lake Albert.
Bugoma Forest Reserve is therefore considered a real biodiversity hotspot whose services attract thousands of bird species, primates likes chimpanzees and is also used as a migratory path for elephants crossing from bigger parks like Queen Elizabeth to Murchison falls National parks.
As a result of its huge biodiversity, Bugoma has attracted tourism investors who have set up ecological lodges that host hundreds of tourists, who in turn spend vital foreign exchange that is badly needed by the country.
The ongoing destruction of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve also betrays the president’s own pledge he made to the people of Bunyoro recently to protest Bugoma Forest.
Bashir Twesigye, the Executive Director Civic Response on Environment and Development told The Sunrise has credible information indicating that Hoima Sugar Limitee has so destroyed all the natural green cover in at least three square miles of the forest despite the spirited efforts by conservationists, including protests by the government’s own Ministry of Water, to stop the destruction.
Twesigye says that Hoima Sugar factory is taking advantage of the EIA, given to them by NEMA.
“We have lost finally to Hoima sugar. It’s on ground cutting the forest. The last time we checked through satellite imaginary…..which information was corroborated by National Forestry Authority (NFA) Hoima Sugar had so far cut down 3 square miles,” Twesigye revealed.
“According to the certificate that NEMA gave the Sugar Factory, out of the 23 square miles on which the forest sits, they were permitted to cut down 9 square miles. The tractors had stopped on the 23rd of December 2020 probably because of Christmas but I think after the holidays they have resumed,” Twesigye added.
Twesigye worries that the continued degradation of Bugoma Forest will have far reaching impacts on the broader environment in the region by emboldening other people to raze more natural forests.
Twesigye worries that: “The forest is responsible for rain making in the area, the neighboring communities are primarily peasants tilling their land, they depend on the natural environment for their agriculture to prosper, it (Bugoma) is a source of water, many rivers come from this forest so when you cut it down it means that you are making it even more complicated for the area that is already water scarce.”
“If you allow Hoima Sugar to destroy square miles of natural forest, it means you are inviting other people…because Hoima Sugar are not the only mafias. We have other mafias around. You are opening the doors for others to also grab the little remaining part of the forest…so if this forest destruction is not stopped, it means the entire forest will go and not only Bugoma but also the other forests in the region,” Twesgye adds.