SOUTHERN Africa Resource Watch country coordinator Edward Lange says giving an ultimatum to illegal settlers in Mwekera Forestry area is not an answer to the problem of forestry encroachment.
According to a press statement issued on Wednesday, Lange said a more reasonable approach should be adopted that would bring to an end illegal settling in the forest reserve area.
"We wish to appeal to the government of the Republic of Zambia to find a well calculated and long-lasting solution to the issue of illegal settlers in most of the forestry reserves in the country. We wish to further remind the government that in the year 2007, His Excellency President Levy Mwanawasa signed a statutory instrument to degazette some forest reserves with the aim of establishing some resettlement schemes. To date this exercise has not been completed and in most cases the land has been shared among the elite, while the intended beneficiaries continue to be called squatters in their own land," he stated.
Lange called call for more practical political will in the issue of illegal settlers in protected areas in the country. He advised the government to put in place measures that would ensure access, ownership and security of land among smallholder householdings especially on the Copperbelt, the most affected area, due to the land tenure system practiced in the area, which has no communal land ownership safeguards. "The time to preserve our forest is now and if politicians cannot take the lead, who will? The unfortunate part is that some of these reserves are the water catchment areas for important national source of water such as the Kafue and human habitation is a threat to the water table," he said.
The Ministry of Tourism has given a four-month ultimatum to over 4,000 illegal settlers in Mwekera forestry area in Kaniki to vacate the area. The illegal settlers in a catchment area of about 28,000 hectares have been told to relocate before they are chased from the forest. The ministry has given the residents up to October 31 to leave the forest before they are forced out.