YUMBE. Several pleas have been made to refugees living in Bidibidi settlement in Yumbe district about the need to plant trees to conserve the environment.

Speaking during the international world refugee day celebration at the camp on Thursday, Gen Moses Ali, the first deputy Prime Minister of Uganda noted that firewood is a requirement for the refugees to cook food and that trees are being cut on a daily basis by the refugees as a result, but without anybody stopping them.

He said when refugees are asked to plant trees before they go back to South Sudan, it will be difficult, a reason they need to act now.

“We are asking our people to offer more land to embrace this program of tree planting. The trees must be planted because when the refugees go back, the trees cut will automatically be replaced by the new ones planted," Ali advised.

"I haven't seen any United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) partner among the many Agencies for environment sector here but most of the agencies have congested themselves in Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) program yet we wanted them to take the issue of the environment so seriously," he added.

But Mr Michael Nabugere, the settlement commandant in the office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said a lot of investments have been done in Bidibidi refugee settlement despite the high demand.

"Though we have livelihood intervention in the settlement, it is not sufficient. This year's world refugee day celebration talks about environment protection, but how can the environment be protected when the numerous livelihood interventions have not been provided?” he asked.

"At the end of the day, a mother has to cut trees to feed the children. If we are to solve the problem of the environment, then we need to solve livelihood and energy problems in the settlement first," Nabugere stressed.

Meanwhile, Mr Gerald Menya, the commissioner for refugees in OPM said the refugee population has increased from 8,000, 79 years ago to 1,253,000 in the country and all of them are being settled in 13 refugee settlements with 5 per cent of them in urban centres.

"A recent study carried out has shown that where the refugees have been settled, 58 per cent of the vegetation cover is destroyed. So we call upon the community to plant trees if the environment is to be protected," Menya said.

He observed that because of the influx of the refugees, a total of over 160 implementing partners have come to support the government of Uganda to manage the numbers.

Mr Joel Boutrue, the UNHCR country representative said they are grateful to the host community for generously accepting to live with the refugees.

"The situation in the settlements is not badly off though we achieved a lot in other sectors. Education has remained a very worrying sector in Early Childhood Development (ECD), primary and secondary levels. We know, we are trying our best in supporting the refugees and the host community but it is still not enough," he said.

He equally encouraged people to plant trees every day, adding that education, protection and environment sectors are among their top priorities in the settlements and the host communities.

Man 21 06 19A man looks at a pit in a deforested part of Bidibidi refugee settlement camp recently. PHOTO BY ANDREW COHEN AMVESI