KAMPALA/WAKISO- As the morning breeze wafted through Lubigi wetland on Tuesday, several environment law enforcement officers descended onto the wetland.
Armed with guns, pangas, hoes and sticks, the officers stamping the soggy ground with gumboots, were out to enforce an environment restoration order for the degraded wetland, in the north -west of Kampala.
Homeless residents had settled here and built structures that could pass off as houses and planted gardens of several food and cash crops.
According to officials of the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), such activities in the wetland lead to flooding and affects the eco-system of the area negatively.
By late afternoon, the environment compliance enforcers had mowed down the gardens which had flourishing; maize, cassava and yam gardens plus sugarcane plantations.
The dwellers were given notices to vacate the houses built in the wetland, if not, at the expiry of the ultimatum, get forcefully evicted.
As the men slashing down crops advanced in their numbers, Ms Rehema Namujjuka, one of the affected settlers, thought dialogue would save her paddy of yams. She pleaded for more time but the rules could not be bent.
“I bought this land and I have a land title. Do not cut my yams,” Ms Namujjuka pleaded in vain.
Another encroacher, who could only be identified as George, looked on from a distance in disbelief as his tomato and maize garden was cut.
“I have been spending Shs60,000 every week to spray these tomatoes but all is gone,” he said.
Nema information officer Bob Nuwagira said the operation to restore the badly damaged wetland, which started two months ago, will go on.
“We have so far cleared 300 acres of illegal plantations. People were given notices on radio and through their local council (village) leaders to leave the wetland,” he said, adding: “We hope in the next three months, this must be a wetland or near to it. We have to allow the natural wetland flora and fauna to grow.”
During the dry season, hundreds of people invaded the wetland, burnt down the vegetation cover, constructed structures where they resided and set up gardens.
Mr Patrick Wamala, the chairperson of Busega LC1 who witnessed the restoration, pledged to support Nema efforts, saying the encroachment had worsened flooding whenever it rains.
“It is also our duty (as residents) to protect the environment. The people cultivating in this wetland are not from these areas but come from as far as Nalukolongo and they are very hostile,” Mr Wamala complained.
Last week, a morning downpour left a two-year old baby dead in Elisa Zone, Kyebando, a city suburb after the area heavily flooded.
Importance of wetlands
The director of environment in the Ministry of Water and Environment, Mr Paul Mafabi, says wetlands are a vital component of the eco-system.
“The function of wetlands is to store and regulate flow of the water and when that is destroyed, there will be flooding, silting of water bodies and that is what we are seeing,” Mr Mafabi said.
According to United Nations Environment Programme, wetlands contribute to water purification, de-nitrification and detoxification, waste water treatment, and provision of food like fish.