Impacts of Conflict on Land Use and Land Cover in the Imatong Mountain Region of South Sudan and Northern Uganda

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The Imatong Mountain region of South Sudan makes up the northern most part of the Afromontane conservation `biodiversity hotspot' due to the numerous species of plants and animals found here, some of which are endemic. At the same time, this area (including the nearby Dongotana Hills and the Agoro-Agu region of northern Uganda) has witnessed decades of armed conflict resulting from the Sudan Civil War and the presence of the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The objective of my research was to investigate the impact of war on land use and land cover using a combination of satellite remote sensing data and semi-structured interviews with local informants. Specifically, I sought to 1) assess and compare changes in forest cover and location during both war and peace; 2) compare trends in fire activity with human population patterns; and 3) investigate the underlying causes influencing land use patterns related to war. I did this by using a Disturbance Index (DI), which isolates un-vegetated spectral signatures associated with deforestation, on Landsat TM and ETM+ data in order to compare changes in forest cover during conflict and post-conflict years, mapping the location and frequency of fires in subsets of the greater study area using MODIS active fire data, and by analyzing and summarizing information derived from interviews with key informants. I found that the rate of forest recovery was significantly higher than the rate of disturbance both during and after wartime in and around the Imatong Central Forest Reserve (ICFR) and that change in net forest cover remained largely unchanged for the two time periods. In contrast, the nearby Dongotana Hills experienced relatively high rates of disturbance during both periods; however, post war period losses were largely offset by gains in forest cover, potentially indicating opposing patterns in human population movements and land use activities within these two areas. For the Agoro-Agu Forest Reserve (AFR) region northern Uganda, the rate of forest recovery was much higher during the second period, coinciding with the time people began leaving overcrowded Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. I also found that fire activity largely corresponded to coarse-scale human population trends on the South Sudan and northern Uganda side of the border in that post-war fire activity decreased for all areas in South Sudan and northern Uganda except for areas near the larger towns and villages of South Sudan, where people have begun to resettle. Fires occurred most frequently in woodlands on the South Sudan side, while the greatest increase in post-war, northern Ugandan fires occurred in croplands and the forested area around the Agoro-Agu reserve, Interviews with key informants revealed that while some people fled the area during the war, many others remained in the forest to hide; however, their impact on the forests during and after the conflict has been minimal; in contrast, those interviewed believed that wildlife has been largely depleted due to the widespread access to firearms and lack of regulations and enforcement. This study demonstrates the utility of using a multi-disciplinary approach to examine aspects of forest dynamics and fire activity related to human activities and conflict and as such contributes to the nascent but growing body of research on armed conflict and the environment.