The Committee on Tourism, Trade and Industry has called for the amendment of the Uganda Wildlife Act, 2019 to incorporate current dynamics in conservation areas resulting in compensation for damages caused by fires originating from protected areas.
The Committee also recommended that Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) fast-tracks the review of the compensation regulations and policy so as to operationalize the compensation scheme.
These recommendations were contained in a committee report presented by Deputy Chairperson, Hon. Catherine Lamwaka following an investigation into fires that gutted two lodges, Park View Safari Lodge and Mazike Lodge, both located in the vicinity of Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The committee observed that fire is prevalent in the grasslands, savannah and woodlands. The committee added calls for controlled bush burning in the months of July/August and January/February.
“We were informed that Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities in partnership with UWA have developed park-specific fire management plans to guide staff and other stakeholders in handling fires that threaten the integrity of protected areas,” Lamwaka said.
The report indicated that the fire that gutted Park View Safari Lodge was from protected areas of the park close to the lodge but the committee could not establish whether the fire originated from within the park or communities outside the park.
“Whereas all parties may be denying having started the fire, according to UWA fire management plan, burning is done between January/February and July/August which is about the same time, the fire gutted Park View Safari Lodge,” Lamwaka said.
On the fires at Mazike Lodge, the committee reported that Police did provided any formal report adding that lodge manager made contradictory statements to the committee during its investigation.
“The committee has reason to believe that the burning of Mazike Lodge was planned and should be not be linked to the controlled burning exercise in the park,” Lamwaka said.
The committee recommended that government should assess the loss value incurred by Park View Safari Lodge and share the losses between the lodge and UWA.
Among other recommendations are provision of funds to UWA to procure firefighting equipment in the vicinity of all national parks and installation of CCTV cameras to record activities within and around protected areas.
“Materials used in the construction of the facilities near the part should be laced with fire-resistant materials. Proprietors of tourism facilities must have all their facilities comprehensively insured,” Lamwaka added.
To curb human-wildlife conflicts, the committee recommended that UWA completes the construction of the electric fence in the Queen Elizabeth Conservation area within the next financial year.
The project was commissioned by the President in 2019 with 52.5km of the 134.4km of the Queen Elizabeth Conservation area being fenced off.
The Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Hon. Tom Butime said there is an allocation of Shs42 billion in 2022/2023 budget to cater for the electric fence project.
“This is a World Bank project and that money will be availed. There will be advertisements for bids so that companies can apply to do the work,” the Minister said.
He added that the funds will also cater for construction electric fences in the Murchison Falls protected area that covers districts of Nwoya and Oyam.
“Panyimur, Lake Mburo and other areas will be systematically covered with the electric fences,” Butime added.
Wakiso District Woman MP, Hon. Betty Ethel Naluyima said there is need to establish a toll free number to enable locals who cannot afford airtime to call UWA to respond to cases of human-wildlife conflicts.
Gweri County MP, Hon. Julius Ekudo said there is need for adequate investigations into the cause of fires that affect tourism facilities before they are compensated.
He called for the establishment of community policing programmes to improve on management of cases of wildfires and human-wildlife conflict.
Hon. Gerald Nangoli (NRM, Elgon North County) called on UWA to improve the remuneration of park rangers so that they can provide timely response to reports of wildfires and human-wildlife conflict.