By Kimbowa Richard
Uganda through its Permanent Mission to the UN made a submission to the preparatory process for the Rio+20 conference, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.
Among the key statistics, the submission notes that:
-The unprecedented rise in population growth (at 3.2 per cent per annum - the third highest population growth rate in the world) and joblessness especially among the youth is a challenge to the future livelihoods and living standards.
-Uganda’s economy is heavily dependent on natural capital with a population largely youth constituting 70% of it and 85% being rural based
-It also notes that the share of land covered by forests though declined from 25% in 1990 to 18% in 2006.
-Performance in child and maternal health has been less impressive – Infant mortality declined marginally from 81 in 1995 to 76 in 2005, while maternal mortality reduced from 506 to 435 over the same period
I would also like to add that:
-Over 90% of the population is dependent on biomass as a source of energy and less that 7% can access modern forms of energy (electricity, solar, LPG)
-Uganda consumes 16-18 million tonnes of firewood annually mainly in rural areas. This is equivalent to annual per capita consumption of 0.6 tonnes of air-dried wood
-charcoal production is a major industry employing 200,00 people (Kayanja and Byarugaba 2001) and contributing US$ 20m/yr to rural incomes (Knopfle 2008)
-The Ministry of Water and Environment estimates that timber production from private owned forests will be exhausted by 2013.
-Most timber is currently procured from private lands (with 70% of the forest estate) using wasteful methods.
-The demand for timber is estimated at 750,000 m3/year (Kayanja and Byarugaba 2001) compared to the current sustainable timber harvesting levels of 53,000m3/year over the next 30 years from central forest reserves.
Uganda ‘concurs’ with UNEP understanding of a green economy and emphasises the promotion of green investment in agriculture, water, waste management, forestry, energy, tourism, transport and education. However there is no link between this and the above challenges in terms of what is needed and how this can be done. In addition, the submission does not show any priority starting point (like energy) to kick-start this transition to a ‘green economy’
For example, the current power outage in the country has increased from 2 to 3 hours a day in July to up rationing lasting up to 24 hours to date. This is affecting businesses and the efficient delivery of social services (schools, health centres and banking institutions) all over Uganda. One of the reasons for this is that Uganda’s main power supplier, Umeme, has been forced to institute a load shedding programme after private suppliers Aggreko, ElectroMax, and Jecobson switched off their thermal power supply to the national grid over lack of fuel to run these ‘mega’ generators.
In my view the implication of this is that energy is an inevitable entry point that Uganda should have highlighted as a clear candidate to the transition to a green development path. This is because it impacts on the above statistics in the negative way.
For example maternal health could significantly be deterred, if health centers are equipped with power to work throughout the day and night. Also provision of modern energy sources can reduce chances of children developing respiratory complications emerging from use of biomass energy for cooking and lighting. This is where international cooperation comes in and hence should be plainly be put on the Rio+20 ‘negotiation table’
The current high population growth rate and youth unemployment is a huge challenge for Uganda in social, economic, and environmental angles. The lack of job opportunities for example is driving many to exploit the dwindling forest cover at the expense of the wider ecosystem functions and hence affecting the rain-fed agriculture on which the country depends. How then can we make use of the transition to a green economy to create (green) jobs rather than lock out more unemployed youths in a the long run? Is there any technology transfer or capacity building possibility to support this?
Such linkages is what Uganda misses in its submission to Rio + 20 secretariat that can benefit from the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities