Authorities worry as refugees deplete forests in Adjumani

Jane Amatriyo, a mother of two fled from the Eastern Equatorial state of South Sudan and crossed into Uganda in October 2016.  She is a refugee in Agojo refugee settlement, one of the 18 settlements in Adjumani district.

Every morning, Amatriyo wakes up at the crack of dawn, to collect wood from forested areas near the camps. This, she uses to burn charcoal, which is now her main source of livelihood besides the aid from humanitarian agencies. She sells a sack of charcoal at 15,000 Shillings.

The nature of her work is carried out by hundreds of other settlers, in the district which has hosted refugees for the last 28-years. Over the years, the tree cover in the district has been fading due to indiscriminate cutting of trees for firewood and commercial charcoal production, bush burning and land opening.

District records show that more than 116 square kilometres of land, which were previously wooded areas, had to be cleared for the creation of refugee’s settlements in the district. Today, only 20 percent of the wooded areas still have trees, according to Adjumani District Natural Resources Officer Charles Giyaya.

He says that district has lost 15 million trees as a result of human activity by both refugees and aborigines.

At 110,000 people, the number of refugees is almost at par with the locals in the host community who are estimated to be 130, 000 people. All these are competing for wood, water and land within a very limited space.

Giyaya adds the settlement of refugees has stretched the general loss of vegetation cover, depletion of groundwater sources and land degradation.  According to Giyaya, more than 100 boreholes have been drilled in the district in order to meet the water needs of the growing population. This, he adds that drastically affected the water table in the area.

Giyaya adds that farmers in the district have experienced a change in the duration of the dry season, a development which is putting lives on the line because the majority of the population in the area entirely depends on farming.

“The people in the host communities are facing challenges because the environment has been destroyed as a result of hosting refugee settlements,” he observes.

However, initiatives to mitigate the outcomes of hosting refugees on the environment have been initiated in the district. Among them is the introduction of energy stoves, believed to be a better option compared to the traditional three-stone cooking method.

Charity Gume, a 32-year-old refugee from South Sudan says that the stoves use less firewood compared to the traditional method. “The stoves can use one piece of firewood to cook more than one thing. They are better because since they are closed, the heat from the firewood is trapped within the confines of the stove.”

In addition to using energy stoves, the district and the Office of the Prime Minister have embarked on a campaign to protect certain tree species, like shea-nut trees in the district.

Denish Odongo, the Livelihood and Environment Coordinator, Lutheran World Foundation, a relief NGO located in Adjumani says that they are carrying out tree planting activities in the district to replace the cut trees.

“We are working with the refugees and people in the host communities to replant trees. Both the settlements and host communities rely on wood a lot for everyday use.”

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights together with the Office of the Prime Minister has also planted at least one million trees on 860 acres of land in the district. The major species of trees that have been planted are the senna, eucalyptus, markhanmia, teak, gmelina, leucen, neem, melia, khaya, grandifoliolia, grafted fruits, thevetia and acacia macrothyrsus.