Available statistics show that wetland coverage in Uganda has dropped from 37,346.3 Sq. Km in 1994 (15.5 percent) to 21,526.3 Sq.Km which is an 8.9 percent decrease. There is also a projection indicating that if the destruction trends are not checked, Uganda will be left with only 1.6 percent of wetlands cover by 2040.
With increasing flooding being experienced across the country, change in
seasons and prolonged droughts, Ugandans are slowly being forced to pay for their destruction
of the environment and coming face to face with climate change.
Unfortunately, information obtained from the environment and natural resources
officers mainly in the western and central parts of the country indicates that
efforts to remedy the situation have been stifled by political interference.
Evas Asiimwe, the Kabale Senior Environment officer, says wetlands and swamps
top the list of the most vulnerable ecosystems which continue to disappear in
her district and neighboring areas.
Asiimwe says their efforts to conserve and restore wetlands are in vain as
violators have always been protected by politicians playing cheap politics to
please the encroachers in the name of development and job creation.
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Asiimwe points out that although Kabale districts had laid strategies to
conserve and restore the encroached banks and catchment area of River Kiruruma,
politicians in the area backed encroachers telling them not to
Emmanuel Bwenje, Isingiro District Natural Resources Officer says most of the people encroaching on wetlands on a large scale have
the backing of big shots with some using law enforcement officers like police
and the army to guard the encroached areas.
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A similar experience is cited in the destruction of Lwera wetland Antonio
Kalyango, the Executive Director, Biodiversity Conservation Foundation - BCF says, despite resistance from the locals who had not tempered with the site for
years save those growing simple sweet potatoes and crying out some fishing.
Kalyango says in a short time local politicians led by a someone who later became a cabinet minister, championed large-scale rice growing and sand mining in the area.
“This happened at the time when leaders in Masaka, Gomba, Mpigi, Butambala, and
Kalungu districts pledged to conserve eco-system and its catchment area, but now the Lwera and Nabugabo eco-systems will soon disappear,”
In Wakiso district the situation is worse as the wetland coverage has
reportedly dwindled from 11 percent to seven percent in the past six years with
the biggest chunk of these natural systems being annexed by factories, sand
mining, real estate developments among other developments.
In a recent interview, Matia Lwanga Bwanika, the Wakiso LCV Chairperson pointed
out that their district being metropolitan, it’s mainly bigwigs in the central
government that are backing encroachers.
“Locally we all agree that people should have vacated the wetland by yesterday, but there is no political will in the central government to enforce this as we
fight people off the wetlands while some powers that be backing their operations,” Bwanika says. "Who is fooling who then?"
Richard Lumu, a resident of Namuyumba, accuses authorities both political and
technocrats of applying environmental laws selectively. He says that many times
local community members are targeted while big chunks of wetlands are allocated
to loaded people and foreigners.
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Besides the political interference, environment officers also decry limited
funding and uncoordinated enforcement by lead agents as other challenges to
their efforts. Stella Nalumansi, Nansana municipal environment officer, says
that encroachers usually explore these weaknesses in the enforcement to
encroach on wetlands.
“It has been said that there is weak enforcement," says Nalumansi. "This arises from the untimely
release of adequate funds. The encroachers in urban areas act fast. We always
get enforcement funds when they have already caused damage to the wetlands.”
Available statistics show that
wetland coverage in Uganda has dropped from 37,346.3 Sq. Km in 1994 (15.5
percent) to 21,526.3 Sq.Km which is an 8.9 percent decrease. There is also a
projection indicating that if the destruction trends are not checked, Uganda
will be left with only 1.6 percent of wetlands cover by 2040.
To arrest the situation, the cabinet issued a directive stopping the issuance
of new permits to wetlands as one of the ways to reduce pressure on these
ecosystems, build the government's capacity to regulate activities in these
areas, and help in the restoration programmes.
Tony Achidria, National Environment Management Authority-NEMA spokesperson,
says that despite the said directive, many developers continue to attack
wetlands with impunity. Achidria adds that many people seek permits from NEMA
and fail to comply with the conditions given.
Achidria says that NEMA together with the local environment and natural
resources officers are trying their level best to save wetlands in a
countrywide programme intended to review and audit the use of wetlands and also
engage communities before enforcement is carried out.
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Conversely, the Ministry of Water and Environment is implementing an integrated
wetland restoration project titled “Building Resilient Communities, Wetland
Ecosystems and Associated Catchments in Uganda.”
According to reports seen by our reporter, the National Wetlands Restoration
Programme has a target of raising funding of at least US$200 million to
undertake a countrywide restoration of degraded wetlands over 15 to 20 years
with restoration of one hectare costing 1.45 million shillings