UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative's remarks at the National World Environment Day celebrations in Kaliro district

05 Jun 2014

The Hon. Minister of Water and Environment,

The LC 5 Chairman Kaliro District,

The Area Member of Parliament,

The Resident District Commissioner, Kaliro district

Heads of government ministries, departments and agencies

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Water and Environment,

The Executive Director, National Environment Management Authority

Development partners, the media, ladies and gentlemen.

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It gives me great pleasure to join you on this occasion, and the rest of the world, to mark World Environment Day.

The 5th of June provides us with a great opportunity every year to raise awareness of the importance of the environment in our lives.

It is also a day to reflect on critical environment issues that concern us here in Uganda, and the communities across the globe in order to take corrective action.

The Global theme of this year’s World Environment Day is, ‘Raise your voice, not the sea level’. This theme is in support of the United Nations General Assembly designation of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The world’s small island nations, which are collectively home to more than 63 million people, play an important role in protecting the oceans and contribute enormously to our rich diversity.  Yet, many are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – from devastating storms to the threat of sea level rise.

Today, we join in solidarity, as part of the global coalition, to encourage greater understanding of the special needs of Small Island Developing States and mobilise action to protect them from the devastating effects of climate change.

Honourable Minister, ladies and gentlemen, whereas Uganda is not a Small Island State, the theme adopted  for this year’s National World Environment Day celebration is a call to action; to each and everyone to : “Raise your voice, (and) save Uganda’s fragile Ecosystems”. The National theme clearly reflects the importance that government attaches to the protection of these ecosystems.  The increasing devastating landslides, floods and prolonged dry periods have made communities to become more vulnerable to climate change, particularly those that are dependent on fragile mountainous and dryland ecosystems. 

The majority of Ugandans today, are dependent on subsistence and rain fed agriculture for their livelihoods. Over 90 percent of the population depends on wood fuel as a source of energy.  The combination of a high population, and low productivity subsistence farming practices is not only increasing soil degradation but also contributing to the loss of the country’s biodiversity.

There are few better ways to get a sense of these environmental challenges than in Kaliro district. Home to 194,265 people, Kaliro lies in a dry land, and experiences very low rainfall – between 300-700mm – which makes it a semi-arid area. Although largely dependent on farming and fishing as an economic activity, most of the forest reserves have been heavily encroached and degraded for wood fuel and charcoal. There is scarcity of clean water and a high infestation of crop pests. The district is also challenged by invasive weeds and many land-related conflicts.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to note that the district leaders have participated in community capacity building initiatives to address these challenges in a sustainable manner, with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), the UN and the Government of Norway.

Like elsewhere in the world, the overall assessment of the Millennium Development Goals Progress Report for Uganda (2013) shows MDG 7 on environmental sustainability off-track.  As well as being a goal on its own, improving environmental sustainability also makes important contribution to the achievement of other goals, all of which are collectively critical in promoting a better quality of life for all citizens and achieving vision 2040. While progress in some of the MDG7 indicators has significantly improved such as increasing access to safe drinking water, others like reversing the loss of biodiversity, are critically lagging behind. Considerable efforts will be needed to step-up the pace to achieve the MDG7 objectives by 2015.

The post-2015 global environmental sustainability consultations and the ongoing process of preparing a second National Development Plan provides an opportunity to make firm commitments towards reversing the trend of environmental degradation and building resilience to climate change.

Hon Minister, the decision by government to raise the protection status of mountainous forests (Bwindi, Rwenzori, Mgahinga, and Mt Elgon) to National Parks in 1991 was a major step in the right direction.  The recent decision by government to cancel all land titles that were issued on protected areas, including wetlands, reflects its commitment to prevent encroachment and reverse degradation of these vital resources. Indeed such bold steps are critical in reversing the current rate of deforestation which now stands at 92,000 hectares per year. 

To this end, I wish to commend the Government of Uganda for ratifying most of the United Nations Multilateral Agreements such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention to Combat Desertification and the Convention on Biological Diversity among others, to address major environmental threats facing the country and the world today.  

The UN System is proud to be a partner with government, local government, civil society and the public in developing a number of policies, legal and institutional frameworks that have been put in place to curb environmental degradation. These include, the National Biomass energy strategy, a rangelands and pastoralism policy, National biodiversity strategy and action plan, climate smart agriculture, a low emission development strategy for the country and review of the National Environment Management Policy.

In support of government efforts towards climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, the UN has facilitated the formulation of a National policy on disaster preparedness and management, including supporting government to set up the National Emergency Coordination and Operations Centre to improve the prediction and response to disasters and other natural catastrophes. The UN as a whole is also prioritizing clean energy access to households, schools and health centers in rural areas as part of support to government reducing demand for biomass energy sources which is a key driver to deforestation.

However, there is need to renew efforts to implement these important policies, plans and legal frameworks and weave environmental sustainability into the fabric of the country’s economic growth.

The United Nations family in Uganda pledges its continued commitment to support the Government to pursue sustainable development through responding to the priorities of its National Development Plan. We have already initiated engagement to support government to prepare the Second National Development Plan and to align our current and future support to the national development priorities, including mainstreaming climate adaptation into the development planning process at the district and national level.

As I conclude, let me re-echo the words of the United Nations Secretary General: “Planet Earth is our shared island, let us join forces to protect it”.

Hon. Minister, I would like to thank government, as well as your leadership for organizing this event to reflect, not just on the environmental challenges we face today, but on the many initiatives, small and large, that people are involved in to make sure that Uganda becomes a better, safer, and more equitable place for the present and future generation.

Working together, we can collectively raise our voices to save Uganda’s Fragile Ecosystems. I wish you all a very happy World Environment Day!  

Thank you all for listening.