By Patrick Edema
I was watching the launch of Uganda’s National Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) roadmap 2021-2025 on September 15, 2021 that was presided over by the Rt. Hon. Prime minister Robina Nabanja.
The five-year SDGs roadmap is intended to support development and social transformation, offering options to reframe economic policies and practices around sustainability for inclusive, diversified and job-intensive economic development, promoting access to and utilization of basic social and protection services that advances human rights and well-being of Ugandans.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development since its adoption in 2015 has provided a roadmap for countries to live in a sustainable world where people are prospering, peaceful and mindful of the planet. Government started implementation of this agenda through national planning, budgeting and implementation systems and frameworks.
However, achieving the 17 SDGs may not be reached especially at the time when the government is continuously investing in activities and projects that are undermining the implementation of all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the country committed to prioritize. These have worsened the challenges of environmental degradation, climate change and effects on livelihoods especially for vulnerable groups such as women, youth, rural communities and others.
Indeed, mindful of our individual and collective responsibility as citizens, we recognize the efforts of the government to address development challenges in the country but we remind the government that there is need to recognize and protect critical biodiversity areas across the country. These areas must at all costs be protected from all destructive activities including sugarcane projects, oil and gas, biomass production and others to enable the Uganda achieve the national Sustainable Development Goals aspirations. Such activities include;
Destruction of protected biodiversity: It is noted that Uganda losses about 100,000 hectares of forest cover every year as a result of destructive human activities and according to the USAID’s Uganda Biodiversity and Tropical Forest Assessment report, “approximately 25 million tons of wood are consumed annually in Uganda with the majority of that wood being used as household firewood (65%), charcoal (16%) and commercial and industrial firewood (14%).”
The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) report 2020 also indicates that at least 70.9 per cent of Ugandans were still using wood fuel, which is comprised of firewood and charcoal which has result from reducing the country’s forest cover from 24 per cent in the 1990s to just 8 per cent.
Among the protected biodiversity being destroyed from destructive activities such as sugarcane growing, timber logging and others is Bugoma forest in Bunyoro region. The conversion of Bugoma forest into a sugarcane plantation or any other land use that does not promote conservation undermines the implementation of all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other international conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) among others which Uganda has ratified.
Investing in Oil and Gas developments: Under SDG 13 that calls for urgent action on climate change and its impacts, the ongoing petroleum activities in Uganda have created negative impacts and even more impacts are expected. Already, many communities have lost their land to oil developers. In addition, oil activities are taking place in and around Murchison Falls National Park, Budongo forest, River Nile, Lake Albert and other critical ecosystems.
In addition, the oil activities are expected to increase climate change through increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For instance, the three oil developments including Tilenga, Kingfisher and EACOP are expected to generate about 102 million metric tons of carbon gases per year. There is also fear that oil activities will affect the water sources that will undermine SDGs 3, 6, 14 and 15.
Shrinking operating civic space: The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 16) focusses on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels but the government of Uganda continues to deter freedom of expressions, assembly and awareness, intimidation of Civil Society Organizations that monitor and oversee government projects and developments through illegally raiding their offices, shutting them down and arresting them.
We believe that the government of Uganda may not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals targets unless such challenges faced by the Civil society actors in Uganda are addressed.
High levels of poverty and breakdown of families: Further, in 2012, the government of Uganda compulsorily acquired over 29sq. km land in Hoima district to pave way for the construction of the oil refinery. The acquisition affected 13 villages, 1,221 households and 7,118 people. Although the government made a number of commitments including adhering to national legislation and international best practices on land acquisition, to date many of the oil refinery affected people remain landless, others live in camps, family break-ups increased, children were forced out of schools and others.
In addition, the government is also in the process of acquiring land for the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) where an estimated 14,000 households, 20,000 people in Uganda have lost their land as a result of the oil pipeline. It is clear that hundreds of people will be resettled and thousands more will be affected by the associated oil development projects. Moreover, the people displaced from their land are facing challenges of fair, prompt and adequate compensation by the government. With the experience from the oil refinery affected people, where many people are landless, have no access to quality services including health, education, water and others, such cases limit the realization of the national Sustainable Development Goals in the country.
Immense threats to water resources: The oil and gas developments including Tilenga, Kingfisher and EACOP are located in sensitive ecosystems in the country such as wildlife rich regions, water sources, national parks, wetlands and others. For instance, the Kingfisher oil project is located at the shores of lake Albert where over 200,000 people especially the youth depend on the lake for fishing. Further, the EACOP project will also directly impact several Ramsar Wetlands, including the Murchison Falls, Albert Delta Wetland System and a number of Ramsar sites lying just west of Lake Victoria, including the Lake Nabugabo System, the Nabajjuzi System, and the Sango Bay on Musambwa Island yet such ecosystems are a source of water and livelihoods to many Ugandans. Therefore, any oil spill from the above oil and gas projects poses a particularly worrying risk of further devastating human impacts as well of falling short of reaching the expected targets of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals especially goal 11, 13, 14 and 15.
Gender inequality: It is clear that gender equality is an enabler and accelerator for all the Sustainable Development Goals in the country and the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers an opportunity to achieve not only SDG 5 (gender equality), but to contribute to progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals in Uganda.
The gender equality is critical to achieving a wide range of objectives pertaining to sustainable development in Uganda including promoting economic growth and labor productivity, reducing poverty, enhancing human capital through health and education, attaining food security, addressing climate change impacts and strengthening resilience to disasters, and ensuring more peaceful and inclusive communities.
Therefore, the following should be done;
Increase investment in renewable energy to achieve the SDG 7 of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Stop all destructive activities taking place in Bugoma central forest reserve to achieve SDG 15 of protecting, restoring and promoting use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
Government should stop exploring oil and gas from sensitive biodiversity including national parks, water sources, and others.
Government should stop intimidating civil society actors that are undertaking their oversight and monitoring work on the Ugandans’ projects. This will enable the country to achieve SDG 16 of Peace, Justice and Strong institutions.
Patrick Edema is an Environmental Engineer &Programs Assistant at AFIEGO