Assessment of forest degradation and fragmentation in the refugee hosting landscape of Kikuube District, Western Uganda
Kegere, Martin Mwodi
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There have been growing concerns over the increasing impact of refugees on sustainable natural resource management surrounding refugee settlements within the various countries hosting large refugee populations such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Uganda. However, there is still limited information on such impacts and particularly the nature and extent of forest degradation and fragmentation around refugee settlements. This study aimed at quantifying the nature and extent of forest degradation and fragmentation around Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in Western Uganda in addition to assessing the perceived drivers of forest degradation and fragmentation from 1990-2020. Remote sensing techniques were used to assess the nature and extent of forest degradation and fragmentation using Satellite imagery in ArcGIS software. Semi-structured interviews, Key informant interviews and Focus group discussions were conducted to acquire data on the perceived drivers of forest degradation and fragmentation in the refugee settlement. Qualitative data analysis including narrative and thematic analysis as well as descriptive statistics including Chi-square tests were utilized in understanding the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. Results showed that land for settlement increased by 2.6% between 1990 and 2020 while farmlands increased by about 18.2% in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement over the same study period. Woodlands, grasslands and wetlands decreased by 3.4%, 12.3%, and 1.8% respectively. There was a noticeable reduction in Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) implying that Kyangwali Refugee Settlement and its surroundings experienced forest degradation. The increase in both the Shannon’s Diversity Index (SHDI) value, Patch Density (PD) value, Mean Perimeter Area Ratio (PARA_MN) value, and the Mean Euclidean Nearest-Neighbour Distance (ENN_MN) signified increases in the number and diversity of patches, increased forest isolation, reduced forest size and fragmentation in the study area. Reductions in the Largest Patch Index (LPI) and Mean Contiguity Index (CONTIG_MN) indicated the loss of interconnectedness of large patches. Perceived drivers of forest degradation and fragmentation around Kyangwali Refugee Settlement included charcoal burning, firewood collection, harvesting of construction poles, clearing of forests for housing and agricultural purposes. It is concluded that the refugee hosting landscape of Kikuube District experienced forest degradation and fragmentation in the period 1990-2020 mainly due to exploitation of forest resources to meet the needs of refugees. It is therefore recommended that appropriate policies be put in place in addition to availing alternatives to forest products among refugee communities so as to promote proper management of forests thus avoiding forest degradation and fragmentation.