Community Members and Leaders Empowered to Protect the Environment
Mzee Muswa Bishala is not your typical 70 year old man; he walks tall and proud without a cane or the slightest hint of a slow gait characteristic of most men of his age. It is with this same pride that the village elder in Panymur Sub County in Nebbi District shows off his fields, blooming with cassava, simsim and maize among other crops. He says life is better now that he is farming enough to feed and sustain his large family. It has, however, not always been that way.
In January 2014, while Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED) was conducting a research study in the districts of Hoima, Buliisa and Nebbi, residents of Panymur reported that Total E&P Uganda which had been unsuccessful in finding oil in the sub county had exited and left behind abandoned wells, camps and access roads with huge deposits of murrum and concrete. Further to that, the company had not adequately compensated the land owners for use of their land and had instead exited without restoring these areas. “Of course, the access roads were useful to us but the abandoned wells were only destructive and hindered agricultural activity” Mzee Muswa says. He adds that “When Total E&P Uganda came here, they started conducting their searches, they cleared land and bushes and filled some areas with murrum and set up camp and even though they later registered us all, they initially used my land without my permission which angered me.”
In response to the issues raised CRED organized a civic clinic in March 2014 during which they were discussed. The meeting congregated over 50 district leaders including the district technical team, sub county leaders from Panymur and Packwach, the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) and the Local Council (LC) V vice chairperson. In further follow up, CRED organized a community meeting in Panymur town in March 2014 where the issues of inadequate compensation and abandoned oil wells were further discussed among stakeholders in attendance including local leadership and media. From these engagements, consensus was reached to address these issues especially the restoration of the abandoned oil wells. Thereafter the leaders approached Total E&P Uganda on the resolution of these matters. The engagements between local leadership and Total E&P Uganda were successful and during subsequent follow up community meetings in the sub county in June 2014, community members revealed that Total E&P Uganda had responded to the raised issues and restored the sites.
Mzee Muswa narrates that most residents like him were compensated and their land restored to its original state to allow them utilize it for farming. An interesting outcome of this campaign was communities’ awareness on the need to take responsibility for protecting the environment. They have since committed to plant trees in some of the restored lands, an activity which they have wholesomely assumed with the support of National Forestry Authority (NFA).
After restoring the land, CRED encouraged community members to support such reforestation as a way of further restoration and environmental conservation. “I am now able to grow my maize, simsim and cassava and will have food for my family; I only wish CRED would continue sensitizing the community on environmental protection.” Mzee Muswa says.