KAMPALA, UGANDA - Nearly 1,000 young people marched Friday in Kampala to protest land, forest and wetland degradation around the country.
Statistics from Uganda's forest authority show that between 1990 and 2015, the country's forest cover dropped by half — from 24 percent to 12.4 percent.
In addition, a 2015 report by the U.N. Development Program indicated that Uganda loses about 2 percent of its wetlands annually.
The protesting youth, accompanied by a matching band, carried placards that read, "Act Now for Climate Justice," "Stop Pollution" and "Stop Land Degradation and Deforestation."
Noah Osbert, a student of Kyambogo University, said world leaders need to listen to young people on issues that affect their future.
"It is incumbent upon them and upon us to show that we have that spirit of compassion to plant trees, to conserve nature for the future generation," Osbert said. "For example, we are looking up to having industrialization, how are we counter measuring for industrialization? Because it comes along with the negative side of it."
Research from Makerere University School of Public Health in May 2019 indicated 31,600 people die in Uganda from air pollution-related illnesses linked to dust and industrialization.
In addition, the researchers say Kampala's annual mean pollution levels are five times above the level recommended by the World Health Organization.
"I am going to get lung complications, just because the atmosphere is not safe," said Akello Harriet Hope, program manager for Climate Action Network Uganda. "Am going to go to the water sources, I consume water that is already contaminated. Because waste management is zero. We are getting health issues related to emissions from the preconditioned cars. So, we need justice now."
In February 2018, Kenya imposed a logging ban. In November, the government extended the logging ban for a year, to enforce reforms aimed at restoring forest cover. However, Uganda immediately became a source of charcoal in Kenya, leading to more logging in the country.
Working with the government, activist group Youth Go Green says it intends to plant 10 million trees in the next five years.
"Charcoal is being exported to Kenya, to Tanzania and other East African countries," said Edwin Muhumuza, the group's leader. "But, I think, we are going to put it before government to see that trade is stopped."
The protest march comes just a day before the first youth Climate Summit in New York, which will provide a platform for young leaders to showcase their solutions and engage with decision-makers.