Friday March 7 2014

Enforce wetland title directive

In a positive move, the Attorney General has instructed the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and the Ministry of Water and Environment to recall all land titles that were issued on protected areas for cancellation. This move, though belated, is nevertheless a useful departure from past cosmetic promises.

The general state of the environment in this country is worrying. Various reports highlight a troubling fact: the country is losing direction on environment protection. A 2009 Biomass Study paints a grim picture. Uganda, says the report, has in the last 15 years (as of December 2009), lost 569,021 hectares of wetlands in various parts of the country. Four years down the road, with marked increase in wetland encroachment, the general outlook could be far worse.

In Kampala alone, practically all wetlands have been taken over by private developers who claim to have valid land titles, which is dubious because wetlands should not be allocated for development purposes. The situation in parts of the country is equally worrying, if not worse. The Biomass Study ranked Bundibugyo as the district with highest wetland loss, having lost 72,000 hectares between 1990 and 2005. Nakapiripirit has lost more than 42,000 hectares in the same period while Mubende lost 23,000 hectares and Amuria lost 19,000 hectares.

While a few districts – Kiruhura, Masaka, Nakasongola and Bushenyi – have made gains in wetland size, wetland loss exceeds gains in many parts of the country. The positive ecological functions of wetlands – water purification and flood protection, among others – are far too crucial for a country like Uganda where access to clean water is still inadequate; as well as a flood-prone city like Kampala.

Now that Cabinet has instructed Nema and the Environment ministry to recall all land titles issued on protected areas, immediate action should be taken. Beyond asking Nema and the ministry to implement this directive, Ugandans deserve to know why they did not act when it was issued, given that the deputy Attorney General, Mr Freddie Ruhindi, was equally perplexed that the directive was not operational.

Nema and the Environment ministry should immediately cancel the land titles in question and begin an open process of evicting wetland encroachers. Consequently, environmental agencies should begin a deliberate effort to restore and preserve wetlands countrywide.