ENTEBBE. Local leaders in Entebbe Municipality, Wakiso District, have accused National Forestry Authority (NFA) of being responsible for the continued destruction of Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve.
Other forest reserves are Mabira in Mukono District, Zika in Wakiso District and Mpanga in Mpigi District.
Recently, part of Kitubulu forest was fenced off to allow construction of cottages and lodges for revellers.
There is also a football pitch occupying part of the forest.
Deep inside the same forest; there is also a bar, which was supposedly sanctioned by NFA.
Local leaders claim they lack the political clout to stop destruction of the forest since the encroachers claim to have clearance from NFA.
Mr Ronald Kalema, the mayor Katabi Town Council, says he has also on several occasions received complaints from residents regarding encroachment on forests in the area, but there is nothing he can do to help the situation.
“One time, I received a letter from residents who were complaining about soldiers who were cutting trees in Zika Forest which belongs to Uganda Virus Research Institute,” Mr Kalema said.
“ I personally arrested one of the men who were cutting the trees in Zika forest and handed him over to police, but he was set free on the orders of NFA officials,” he added.
Mr Henry Semakula, the Katabi Town Council town clerk, explains that some individuals who possess permits to cut trees in central forest reserves sometimes go against the set rules and end up cutting down trees they are not supposed to remove.
“How do you expect a local council leader to confront a high-ranking government official when he turns up with a permit from NFA authorizing him to cut trees in a forest reserve?” Mr Semakula wonders.
In 2013, NFA sanctioned a private investor to cut down some trees at Kitubulu claiming that they had become old and were a danger to people living near the forest and those using the Entebbe-Kampala highway.
A total of 433.895 cubic metres of trees were cut and NFA raised Shs35.5m from this deal.
According to 83-year-old Zebideo Katongole, one of the elders residing near Kitubulu forest, the forest cover in Entebbe was impressive in the past three decades, which added to the town’s beautiful serenity, but all this is gradually disappearing.
“In the past, we used to have a very big forest cover stretching from Kigungu to Kitubulu and several swamps, which attracted different bird species, but we are today seeing houses and hotels,” Mr Katongole said.
Infrastructural development plus other human activities, are both blamed for the vanishing green cover.
However, Entebbe Division chairperson, Mr Mike Mutebi, blames the wanton destruction of forests and wetlands on breakdown in law enforcement and corruption.
“Unless the powers that be, walks the talk and punish corrupt officials in government, we will lose everything as country. Majority of the people who destroy our forests are in government, but nothing is done to them,” he said.
No cause for alarm?
Ms Florence Najjuma, the Entebbe Municipal Council environment officer, defended the erection of cottages and other structures in Kitubulu forest, saying they are among the projects set up to promote ‘eco-diversity’.
Ms Najjuma says working with NFA, they have come up with a campaign to plant more than a million trees in different parks and streets in Entebbe to restore the area’s depleted forest cover.
When contacted, the NFA spokesperson, Ms Aisha Alibhai, said the current state of Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve is not alarming as depicted by some local leaders.
She also denied reports that NFA is hatching a plan to degazette Kitubulu forest and replant a new one in Mukono District.
The National Forestry and Tree Planting Act , 2003 mandates NFA to manage all central forest reserves on a sustainable basis and to supply high quality forestry-related products and services to government, local communities and the private sector. However, over the recent years, large tracts of government forest reserves have been cleared.