Ministry renews demands for special courts to handle environment cases

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Floods hit Butiaba in Buliisa District recently.

Following the persistent degradation of environment, the Ministry of Water and Environment has renewed demands for the establishment of special courts to handle environmental cases in the country.

The demand is in response to the many grave effects encroachers have caused due to environmental degradation.

Environment State Minister, Ms Beatrice Anywar, wonders that despite government’s efforts to protect the environment, many people have continued to encroach on wetlands, cultivating along shorelines and river banks and invading gazetted forest reserves.

She, thus, wants the ministry to be empowered with courts in order to deal with the encroachers.

The ministry of environment is currently on an assessment exercise on the effects of environmental degradation and flooding across the country.

Ms Anywar is unhappy that although the ministry is working hard to guard the environment against destruction, their efforts are being quashed by the ordinary court system where encroachers rush to as a safe haven for their acts.

“Although we intend to safeguard the environment from destruction, our efforts are being frustrated by the ordinary court system under which encroachers take refuge to justify their actions or win arbitrary awards against the government,” she says.

Depleted part of Budongo forest in Bunyoro

The minister is concerned about the rate at which the environment is being destroyed saying the best option is to set up specialised courts deployed with people interested in environmental protection.

“Our teams spent a lot of time in courts arguing cases which gives time to encroachers to continue destroying the environment,” she says.

Ms Anywar’s demands come in the wake of a High Court ruling which awarded DMW Uganda Limited, a sand mining and fish farming company Shs181b as compensation after government illegally cancelled their operation permit in Lwera wetland.

Despite this, the minister says the ministry of environment is going back to court and other line ministries to resume the discussions that had earlier been initiated by her predecessor, Ms Flavia Munaaba in 2015.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Executive Director, Dr Tom Okurut, says that they are also working out a programme to map out boundaries of all wetlands and forest reserves countrywide which will also support their efforts to preserve the environment. 

He also indicates that the current NEMA Act needs to be reinforced with a specialised court to enable it to effectively deal with current trends of destruction promptly.    

The Water and Environment Sector Performance Report for 2019 indicates that the country’s wetland coverage on the surface area had been reduced from 15.6% by 1994 to 8.9 percent, while the forest cover has also been gradually reducing from 24% to 12.4 percent; translating into 3.2 million hectares reducing to 2.5 million ha respectively.

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