Hitherto scarcely known Buliisa district, is now days a household name. The discovery of oil resources and Balaalo crisis have put this district which is located in great Albertine Graben region in spotlight. For starters, the beauty of Buliisa district is amazing; Buliisa is a gargantuan indelible gift of nature. It has to say the least the whole lot depending on which side of context you emerge from. From the rift valley gorges and escarpment to the even grazing land, Budongo forest, the Murchison falls national park and the Lake Albert; you are presented with a curvature of picturesque beauty and a resource studded sachet that civilized, uncivilized and Byzantine empires would fight for control. Buliisa enjoins rivers and lakes with a host of fish and other aquatic species, forests, wildlife colonies, vast expanses of savanna and minerals such as sand, oil and gas. To cut the story short, these fights or you may call them skirmishes have already been witnessed in the last two years of discovering the Buliisa treasure! Buliisa is now a land of wet politics.
The leaders and indigenous citizens of Buliisa are up from ostensible slumber. Buliisians are ready to protect and defend what belongs to them. They have now moved fast to stealthily codify their land of historicity, of new discoveries and increasingly embattled from real and presumed forces, whether internal or external-period! They are now working on an environmental ordinance which will be possibly the only, if not the most elaborate in the history of local governments in Uganda. Two months ago, the Buliisa district administration sourced Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), a regional think tank on environment and development which is supported by PRIME West/USAID to facilitate a forum for dialogue and consultation on a multiplicity of issues and generate ideas that are necessary for the development of a District Environment and Natural Resources Ordinance. The district environment Ordinance is a subsidiary legislation deriving powers from the Local Government Act, section 39. This ordinance must conform to the existing constitutional and legislative framework and general principles of law applicable to Uganda and its utility is the deepening of the legislative machinery to lower local settings to enable legislation to better capture local and peculiar environmental issues in a specific district or lower local government setting. We all hope that this ordinance will work and will be supported by all stakeholders. We also hope that it will not join the myriad cum catalogue of other important environmental laws and policies that have gathered dust in district and national book /files stores.
What then will this ordinance mitigate? The Buliisa administration will use the organically generated ordinance to ensure that land degradation stops by curbing overgrazing and maintaining cattle that conform to the holding capacity of the district. Forestry resources will be protected through outlawing of charcoal burning and unregulated extraction of forest products. Threat to wildlife will be arrested by containing rampant poaching of hippos and cobs in Bugungu. Buliisa leadership projects that oil exploration and exploitation will potentially cause pollution of water bodies and the atmosphere and could further diminish fish resources in the Lake Albert. The prospect of oil spills and other related disasters demand contingent plans to address attendant environmental reversals through impact assessment and mitigation measures.
The ordinance will also mitigate apparent destruction of catchments and riverine forests, unregulated sinking of bores holes and discharge of untreated effluent and molasses into water bodies and non observance of lakes and river buffer zones. In Buliisa, the fish resources are on a steady decline, precipitated by population explosion, increasing numbers of un regulated fishing villages, illegal activities such as use of illegal nets and fishing methods, fishing in breeding grounds and over dependence on fishing as an occupation. Yet administrative and management structures (BMU) at most landing sites are either non existent or inadequate. There nascent rapid sprouting of urban centers in the district with out well planned drainage systems, no toilets, and careless disposal of Kaveera in towns, gardens, farms will if not checked befall a catastrophe on the district.
I have argued before, that such environmental initiative should involve farmers at all stages. This is because; farmers interact on a daily basis with the environment. This therefore means that farmers can be the best protectors and custodians of environment if they are sensitized and given capacity to sustainably utilize environmental resources. If farmers are relegated to the periphery, they can be unfortunately the worst culprits of environmental destruction. I believe Buliisa is setting a timely example that other local governments in Uganda should benchmark. Let’s keep our ears on to the ground while auditing the strides of this celebrity district.
Resident Consultant and Manager for Policy Research and Advocacy
Uganda National Farmers Federation