Arua district and city receive 38,000 USD Enyau river buffer zone re-demarcation project
todayJanuary 21, 2023
By Godwin Abedican
The ministry of water and environment has launched a 38,000 USD project towards the re-demarcation of River Enyau buffer zone in Arua district and Arua city. The project named “Reducing climate change vulnerability of local communities to climate change through Ecosystems based adaptation of wetlands and forest systems” is being funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) with the ministry of water and environment as the implementing agent. Project whose components among others include restoration with tree planting, grass planting and sensitization will be carried covering a distance of about 30 Kilometers from the source of the river that runs from Arua district through the city before reaching other districts. In the project implementation there will be a 30 meters stretch from the river measured on both sides to create a buffer zone so as to prevent human activities in the zones that have led to depleting of the river.
During the launch of the activity on January 18th 2023 in Arua district stake holders raised concern on the effectiveness of the project given challenges in the previous implementations of projects geared towards the same. Ezama Felix the chairperson LC1, Ombu cell in whose area many people carry out activities within the buffer zone says previous attempts to have such a project failed since the project was not stream lined. He adds that people still believe that for them to leave buffer zones, they are supposed to be paid which frustrated the first project that commenced in 2017. Osuga Rasul the speaker Arua central division says the city needs to stream line garbage management so that the project is not affected. According to him as a result of laxity in the city about garbage management, many people use the river as a dumping ground for garbage.
According to Mark Afedra, the director center for development cooperation the success of the project will depend on the planning stages. “Let us think properly and plan properly before we go to the community so that we tell them what will make the project succeed. Whether it will be painful to them or not, those things will subside later. The situation on ground is very complex, which means we have to analyze it well, we plan well we go to tell them what we are going to stand by until they understand the right thing,” he said. Marlon Avutia the mayor Ayivu division appeals for an extension of the project to other districts especially given that the river flows to other districts including refugee hosting districts. He says following the recent floods many people lost houses and animals a case he notes can be avoided if the project is well implemented. However, the deputy mayor central division Jackson Dratibi faults the ministry of water and environment over inequalities in policy implementation “Whereas we are supposed to implement environmental laws through the relevant authorities, many times we have tried to give recommendations to that effect to avert the activities but in vain. There is complacency in the implementation of environmental laws and selective application of environmental laws in relation to protecting river banks and wetlands. In Kampala we hear of storeyed houses which are built in wetlands being destroyed, paradoxically, some storeyed houses stand in wetlands in Kampala. Here in Arua we have permanent houses built very close to the river and nothing happens. Who is supposed to do what in the implementation of the environmental laws?” Dratibi Asserted.
Alfred Okuonzi the district chairperson warned against politicizing of the project noting that enforcement gaps need to be filled “We need to have a concerted effort. One person can’t do this, the truth is that we have low levels of civic competence in our district, we need community policing. Most of our problems are caused by the enforcement and I appeal that the number of enforcement officers need to be stepped up in this region. The laws are there, the regulations are there but we have very low levels of adherence to the regulations. For us the political leaders when we talk about enforcement so much, they say, okay you are the one talking about enforcement, we shall see ourselves in 2026.
Responding to some of the queries, Joseph Ongol Assistant commissioner wetlands management in the ministry of water and environment, quoting the land act section 44 says the law is clear on the use of wetland and will be followed in the implementation of the project and all land titles obtained in wetlands after 1998 are null and void and no activities will be allowed in the zones.
Jimmy pule the project manager appeals for cooperation from the leaders and their subjects as the project takes shape adding that in the first phase of the project there will be dialogues with the occupants of the buffer zones to enable them understand the need to protect the environment and the river such that the project is not forced on to the people. The project among other districts is being implemented in Sironko, Bulambuli, Kamwenge, Kitabwenda, Ibanda, Isingiro, Mbarara districts. According to theNational Environment act 2019 section 26, district and urban councils are responsible for the environment and natural resources and subsection two permits them to come up with ordinances and bi-laws for enforcement, while section 27 permits them to constitute an environment and natural resources committee to protect the environment and section 28 spells out their functions, with subsection F directing the councils to monitor activities ensuring they don’t have any negative impact on the environment. Section 54 sub section 2 of the acts also prevents the government from giving out any wetlands and no titles are allowed to be issued.