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UWA Protecting Charcoal Burners In Queen Elizabeth NP

UWA Protecting Charcoal Burners In Queen Elizabeth NP

A rift has erupted among tour operators, residents, and community members engaged in charcoal burning activities in Katunguru sub-county, Rubirizi District in Western Uganda.

According to the tour operators, the unregulated charcoal burning activities in the communities living at the fringes of Queen Elizabeth National Park have posed a serious threat to the tourism sector and members of the community who choke on smoke.

Registered with the government, a cross-section of residents are allowed to burn wood they get from the national park after it has been uprooted by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) as invasive weed. The weed turned wood, is burned to produce charcoal for fuel.
Speaking to the our reporter on Friday, Mr Anthony Rubeihayo, the proprietor of Irungu Forest Safari Lodge, said the unregulated charcoal activities have, together with churches and bars, become a threat to the business because they scare away tourists. 

“We have struggled with this unregulated activity for a long time. We asked the government through UWA to relocate these people to another place, but nothing productive has come out of our continued requests. It is a mistake for UWA to allow people to burn charcoal in the park but fail to provide guidance on how to do it better for the smooth running of other businesses. Instead, it is UWA guarding the charcoal business,” he told the Monitor.

On Friday, armed UWA rangers were seen by this reporter guarding the charcoal dealers as trucks ferried wood from the park and dealers went about their business.
Mr Hannington Musaali, the Songbird Safari Lodge director, added that their oral and written requests to the government have remained unattended to.

“This smoke is suffocating our business and the lives of community members. Here, we have a health centre, schools, and other community members living here. They are all affected. We ask the responsible authorities to address this matter as soon as possible,” Mr. Musaali noted.
The Kigabo Zone LC1 Chairperson, Mr Gonzaga Kabagambe, argued that the charcoal burning activities are facilitated by some local leaders and officials attached to UWA.

“UWA itself provides security to these people suffocating our lives here. We have been silent about it, but it is time for us to speak out. Recently, my committee member complained that his children are already affected by the smoke,” said Mr Kabagambe.
Ms Agnes Kyokushaba, the secretary of the Kyangabukama Charcoal Making Group, a group involved in the business, said that they resorted to charcoal as an alternative livelihood option and have done what they can to minimise pollution.
When contacted about the matter on Saturday, Mr Pontius Onzima, the Chief Warden of Queen Elizabeth National Park, denied the reports and accused the reporter of tarnishing UWA’s image.
“You must be having hidden intentions of tarnishing the name of UWA. What you are saying is a lie,” he said, adding that charcoal burning has not been the business of UWA.

“What UWA deals with is invasive species, and this is where our agreement starts and stops. We don’t protect charcoal burners. It is the community members that want to get value out of the wood, and they get where to burn it from. I recently got a call from one of the hoteliers. They should work with local leaders to get a place where charcoal can be burned,” he said.
The United Nations Environment Programme says air quality across the globe continues to deteriorate due to increasing emissions, threatening human health and contributing to climate change.

According to the World Health Organization, 99 percent of the global population breathes unclean air, and air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths per year.

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