19 May 2005

Uganda: Over 100,000 People Living in Forest Reserves

Kampala — OVER 100,000 people occupy forest reserves and the number might rise to 150,000 soon, state minister for environment Lt. Gen. Jeje Odong has said.

Odong was on Saturday launching a tree planting campaign in Rakai district at Kakuuto county headquarters. He said the data was based on a recent census by the ministry.

Flanked by state minister for water Maria Mutagamba, Odong said Rakai, Moyo, Arua, Nebbi and Masindi districts and 10 others faced a growing problem of forest encroachers.

"Government keeps these forest reserves for the people of Uganda, therefore we shall solve the problem without hurting our people," he said.

He said it was wrong to degazette forest reserves for people to settle, saying this would not solve the problem of land scarcity due to the increasing population.

Odong said there were 4.9m hectares of land with trees, which is only 24% of Uganda's land surface area, compared to 70 per cent tree-cover 30 years ago.

Rakai LC5 chairman Vincent Semakula's complained that over 80,000 people were to be evicted from forest reserves.

He said the residents should be given tree seedlings to plant other than evicting them.

"It is very dangerous especially at this time of transition from Movement to multiparty system because we are likely to lose a big number of supporters," he said.

Odong accused forest managers for mismanaging the forests for their selfish interests, resulting into the current situation.

He said some managers got money by allowing people to settle in forest reserves, creating a problem to the Government and the squatters.

Mutagamba urged cattle keepers to look at the economic instead of the numerical value of their animals.

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