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Rivers, lakes dry up as population figures soar

With the population growing by about 1.2 million people per year, Uganda is vulnerable to more adverse effects of global warming, the latest report on the country’s population has warned.

The 2009 State of Uganda Population Report released last week by the Population Secretariat says that Uganda whose population increased by 1 million last year, hitting the 31 million mark, will suffer more effects of climatic change due to increasing human activities.

The report, for example, reveals that there has been an increase on the encroachment on wetlands that has posed a threat to water bodies such as River Rwizi in Mbarara, River Nyamwamba in Kasese, Lake Kyoga and Lake Victoria.

Speaking during the launch of the report at Sheraton Kampala Hotel last Thursday, the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Syda Bbumba, applauded the report for its timely release.

“Our people are increasingly encroaching on wetlands and cutting down trees for fuel and to use in construction and opening up more land to eke a living. Their numbers are also growing at a very high rate. We need to do something about this if we are to achieve economic development,” she said.

She added: “The increasing population pressure on the limited resources is taking a serious toll on the environment. Every year we add about 1.2 million people to our population. How best we manage our population remains a challenge for government and every Ugandan.”

Bbumba, however, appeared to be at odds with President Yoweri Museveni who often urges Ugandans to produce more children because the burden of educating them has been taken over by the government through free primary and secondary education.

Museveni, a strong believer in big populations, says the country needs more people to create a big market for local products. But according to Bbumba, Uganda loses about 2% of its forest cover annually due to increasing human activity. In 1900, Uganda had about 3 million hectares of land under forest cover but due to population pressure, it lost 26% of this between 1990 and 2005.

“If this trend continues, we shall have no forests left by the year 2050. Already, we are experiencing extreme weather conditions like floods, drought and famine due to changes in climate resulting from human activity,” Bbumba said.

The report reveals that climate change in the coming century has the potential to halt or reverse the country’s development path. It projects that Uganda is one of the countries likely to experience significant losses in agricultural productivity, estimated at between 15-25%.

This will worsen food insecurity, which saw food price related inflation rise to 15.8% in 2008 compared to a decline of 3.8% in 2007, according to UBOS statistical abstract, 2009.

“It will be the poor and vulnerable who feel these impacts the hardest, though climate change has serious implications for the nation’s economy, with for example, a shift in the viability of coffee growing areas potentially wiping out $265.8 million or 40% of export revenue,” the report says.

The weakness of the food system in Uganda has severally been exposed with scenarios where some parts of the country have an abundance of food while others suffer from famine. The report further reveals that by exacerbating poverty and triggering migration, as well as heightened competition over water resources, climate change could lead to regional insecurity.

“Ugandans should be bracing for more disruptive patterns of climatic events in the future and as a nation we need to initiate and speed up adaptive responses to cope with such disruptions which have proved capable of severely disrupting our already fragile food system, and triggering widespread local and international migrations,” the report reads in part.

Failure to contain these disruptions, the report warns, could result in severe damage to the existing national infrastructure, agriculture production capacity, environment and ecosystems –putting pressure on natural resources like water bodies and forest resources which risks reversing the economic gain from the last two decades.


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