ARUA. David Dara, a refugee from Ofua III in Rhino camp settlement hails from a family of nine; they have to spend more than Shs5000 on firewood and charcoal if the family is to cook all their day’s meals.
Their alternative just like many other refugees is to exchange part of the food rations given by the world food program (WFP) for firewood and charcoal with the local communities.
“In 2018 by such a time, we used to spend about sh.2000 on firewood and sh.3500 on a basin of charcoal but that has since changed”, Dara narrates.
Fast forward year later, the prices had increased to more than shs3000 for that same bunch of firewood and shs5000 for that same basin of charcoal.
“We have to find a way of coping with the price changes; we get some of the food rations given to us so that we can get firewood and charcoal”, Dara further says.
The family he says, receives five and a half litres of cooking oil, 3kg of beans per person and 12kg of maize grain per person monthly.
Indeed at one of the visits by West Nile Web to a centre at Ofua III settlement, a buzz of activity welcomes you to this centre women and men alike busy selling charcoal and firewood.
I come here every day to sell charcoal and each sack goes for sh.25, 000 and a basin at sh. 5000”, says Mr Gilbert Enzamaku who has to travel for more than 4km daily from Odroa village in Uriama Sub County to this centre.
Just like Enzamaku, the people selling charcoal and firewood in this centre have a strong belief that crops can no longer do well in their gardens on the account of the ever scorching heat in the place.
“I burn charcoal so that I can fend for me and the children, my husband doesn’t help me and yet our place is so dry that you can’t get good yields from the garden”, Says Ms Teddy Onutiru who confesses to have dealt in charcoal business for over a year.
However, for this group of firewood and charcoal sellers, the daily money they get from refugees doesn’t come easy anymore.
“We now have to travel long distances to get the good quality trees that can get good charcoal because most of the quality that we want is now finished in our immediate neighbourhood”, Onutiru complains.
Asked whether they as host communities have received any seedlings to plant so as to replace the lost vegetation cover, Onutiru while admitting receipt of seedlings has reservations on whether the trees can survive.
“We were given trees like Mangoes, Jack fruits, Tick and Eucalyptus but I am not sure if any of the trees will survive because this place has a lot of sunshine and is naturally dry”, Onutiru complains.
Illegal activities by natives complicating the problem
Mr Alex William Lobure, the refugee welfare council (RWC) I of Ofua III settlement admits the problem gets worse by the day despite the cordial relationship between the refugees and their hosts.
“We are happy because of the relationship we have with the natives, we do what we call barter trade because a certain bundle of firewood costs a certain amount of beans, maize or money,” Lobure says.
“If you want to sell what you get from the World Food Program and get some money, that is yours, but if you want to exchange directly with firewood or charcoal, that is also up to you”, he says.
However, Lobure says the biggest surprise to him is the ‘blanket’ blame put on refugees for being the sole destroyers of the environment.
“Out there in the media, they always say that refugees have destroyed all our trees, is that true? Because they don’t come down on the ground to find out what is happening”.
“We always see Lorries of vehicles ferrying firewood and not even a single refugee is doing any business of firewood, Uriama Sub County is our witness”, Lobure says.
Indeed in a recent interview with Mr Lonzino Itrima, the LC III chairman of Uriama Sub County, he admitted that many people were using refugees as scapegoats to cause untold destruction to mother nature.
“We are basing everything on refugees which is not true, you find people are ferrying logs and carrying to Kampala, are those refugees? There are those carrying charcoal to the town in Lorries, are they refugees?” A tough speaking Etrima asked adding;
“People are using refugees as a tool and I will not concur with that, let everybody stand up and fight this problem because we are the ones contributing more to environmental destruction”.
In 2016, Arua district council slapped a ban on the commercial dealing in Charcoal after realisation that loads of traders from other districts had flooded the district thereby necessitating the red flag.
The process of enacting a Charcoal and wood fuel ordinance was soon started but the ordinance is yet to be released let alone the challenges of distribution and implementation.
Distributed seedlings many a time go to waste due to bush burning, drought, poor attitudes in a list of many challenges.
Just between April and June 2019 alone, Arua district received over 600,000 seedlings that were distributed to different groups and individuals according to Mr Robert Asiku, the district forest officer.
Without any radicle change in the status quo, the majority of the trees are expected to die exerting more pressure on the few surviving ones.
According to the ministry of water and environment, Uganda’s forest cover reduced from 24% in 1990 to just 9% in 2015.