Bwindi-Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA) with support from International Gorilla Conservation Program(IGCP) this month hosted the three Districts of Kabale, Kanungu and Kisoro with the parent ministries to discuss the experiences, issues and challenges of implementation of physicals plans in the district local governments.
In 2005, the Kanungu District Local Government together with Uganda Wildlife AuthorityWA- BMCA approached International Gorilla Conservation programme (IGCP) to develop a physical plan for Buhoma tourism area. IGCP obtained funding from USAID to develop the Buhoma Physical and Landscape plans that to do date had not been approved by the national authority and are apparently not implemented.
The workshop was primarily convened to impress upon the local governments and the national planning technical arm to implement the physical plans of areas surrounding the BMCA. It had been observed that there were many haphazard developments cropping up with many slum sights that had become an eye sore to the good tourism of Bwindi. The gorilla health as a result had been threatened by these unbecoming developments as a result.
The BMCA- Area Manager Mr. Pontious Ezuma made a presentation to the stakeholders on how these developments had endangered and affected the tourism growth and good health of the gorillas. In attendance was the three districts' technical staff that included Local concil V chairmen, the respective Chief Administrative Officers, District Planners and sub county chiefs whose counties boarder the parks. The other guests from the ministry were Commissioner Lands and Urban Planning and Commissioner Local Government.
The respective districts in turn made presentations and discussed the challenges they find themselves in and reasons why these plans have delayed to be implemented. Gorilla tourism in Uganda being the biggest attraction for foreign tourists, it earns more than 45 million dollars to the national economy annually and contributes significant revenue to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
It was noted that the gorilla trackers who travel to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) amongst other things seek pristine locations and tranquility. With the boom of economic opportunity presented by gorilla tourism around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in South Western Uganda, the private sector has invested a lot of money in lodges, hotels, hostels and transportation.
The tourism has also been contributed to socio-economic developments in these areas too. These opportunities have attracted considerable number of immigrants and other businesses and services that have caused mushrooming of unplanned physical developments at these otherwise pristine locations. For example, in Buhoma an area of about 4sq km, there are about 12 middle range and high end tourist lodges, let alone lower accommodation facilities that cater for the low income earners.
All these employment and economic opportunities can easily be laid to waste if developments in the area are not well planned and controlled. BMCA management thus noted that tourism when properly planned and managed, has an immense potential to contribute to the development of national and local economy thus contributing to Government programs of poverty reduction or alleviation.
Haphazard tourism development around natural areas has in most cases led to the degradation of the sites, destroying the very tourism that is being promoted. In order to promote sustainable tourism, physical planning and implementation of these plans is fundamentally important to ensure that developments do not exceed the carrying capacity of tourism destinations.
In 2009, UWA opened two other gorilla tracking sites around Bwindi. One site, Ruhija is in Kabale district and another, Rushaga/ Rubuguli in Kisoro district. The Kabale and Kisoro districts and UWA again approached IGCP for support for physical planning of these tourism sites. IGCP raised funds from the Royal Dutch Embassy to fund these physical plans. These physical plans were completed in 2010 and approved by the respective district councils in 2011.
Unfortunately, to date it appears that the three local governments are finding it difficult to implement the structural plans purportedly for various reasons including lack of financial resources to undertake the detailed plans and develop basic infrastructure e.g. opening roads. BMCA noted that the challenge was that while Local governments continued to lament about the lack of resources, haphazard development in these very important tourism sites continued every day to grow unabated. It was feared that soon, these sights would culminate into a slum like situation that would compromise tourism at these sites.
At the end the workshop, local governments resolved to surmount the challenges and pledged to enforce implementation of the physical plans to have guided developments around the CA. The central government through the parent ministries pledged their support and said they would handle issues pertaining the plans around the CA expeditiously.