City wetlands vanish as government looks on

Sunday October 3 2010

Encroaching on wetlands in Kyebando has interfered with the flow of sewage.

BLOCKED DRAINAGE: Encroaching on wetlands in Kyebando has interfered with the flow of sewage. PHOTOS BY ISAAC KASAMANI  

Ms Justine Nakaye was under siege for more than six hours. Her belongings were in ruins after floods devastated her house in the wee hours of the night. She held onto a floating timber until she was rescued in the morning. As Sunday
Monitor Team reports, there are many more people suffering just because most wetlands in Kampala have been grabbed by money-hungry investors:-

Although floods are usually considered acts of God, Ms Nakaye, a resident of Kawaala, a Kampala suburb, places blame on fellow humans. Settlers have built houses of all kinds in a nearby swamp, squeezing the marshland to half its original size and forcing water into neighbourhoods that previously were untouched.
“It’s unfortunate that people have sloppily encroached on wetlands forcing water to flood into our houses,” Ms Nakaye says.
Similar problems have become a familiar feature of life in Kampala, as economic expansion and population growth have set settlers scrambling for cheap land.
Mr Paul Mafabi, the commissioner in charge of wetlands at the Ministry of Water and Environment, estimates that the total area of wetlands has dropped by more than half, as developers have filled them with all sorts of waste and murrum to build human settlements, agriculture and industrial parks.

Government powerless?
In the face of this onslaught, the government seems powerless to act. Indeed, some critics say the government is a big part of the problem.
“Degradation of wetlands is by the government itself; it is either [by people who] are working for government, a project supported by government or government officials involved in wetland degradation like construction of factories,” says Frank Muramuzi, the Executive Director of National Association of Professional Environmentalist (NAPE).
Whatever the cause, the consequences of wetland degradation are many. Experts say reduced wetlands have much less capacity to store water and filter nutrients and pollutants. As a result, filth has collected where water from Kampala pours into Lake Victoria. The National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) has been forced to shift its intake points deeper into the lake. Pollution has more than doubled NWSC’s costs for treating water, and greatly contributed to the decline of fish stocks in the lake, he adds.

Tourism threatened
Closer to home, more than 62 fish and bird species that used to attract tourists are threatened in Lubigi wetland, which stretches from Kanyanya, Makerere-Mulago, Kalerwe, Bwaise, Kawaala, Nsooba and Nansana before pouring into River Mayanja. Divided by the Northern Bypass, it is one of the largest remaining papyrus wetland, but it is rapidly being converted into car-washing places, gardens of maize and yams as well as mushrooming houses.
Mr Patrick Turyatunga, the environment officer at A ROCHA-Uganda, a Christian environment NGO, says the wetland has dropped to 285 hectares from 498 in just five years. “If no quick efforts are stepped up, the wetland will be extinct by 2015,” Mr Turyatunga warns.
Other effects may be less dramatic but equally troublesome. As wetlands have lost their potential to serve as “granaries for water,” specialists say water tables have risen, contributing significantly to the poor state of city roads. And, although nobody has tried to measure the impact, flooding seems to take an increasing toll. Back in Kawaala, Mr Charles Nyanzi, a resident, looking out at a heap of red bricks piled at the edge of the swamp, observes: “We normally lose a person whenever it rains.”
Even the encroachers have problems, as water frequently invades their homes and damages their property. Ms Norah Namakambo, a principle wetlands officer at the wetlands department, says inhabiting in a wetland is like living in a septic tank.
“The problem with people who develop in wetlands think that once they destroy the plantation cover and fill it with soil it’s the end of the wetland, forgetting that they cannot change the ecology,” says the environmentalist.
All this might seem surprising, considering that Uganda adopted a wetland policy in July 1994 and established a number of agencies purposely to swamplands. But the simple fact is authorities have failed to enforce rules designed to protect wetlands.
When members of the Natural Resources Committee of Parliament recently toured wetlands in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts, a group of residents, NGO officials and environmentalists accused Kampala City Council (KCC) and Uganda Land Commission (ULC) of issuing illegal land titles. They also charged that Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) have improperly issued operational permits for the wetlands.
During the tour, KCC and NEMA officials even accused each other of illegally leasing and issuing permits and land titles for wetlands.
The Constitution says the government should hold wetlands and other natural resource in trust for all citizens. But State Minister for Environment Jessica Eriyo says district land boards and ULC frustrate this goal by illegally issuing leases and land titles for wetlands.
The minister adds that land boards have deliberately ignored recommendations that they consult environment officers before issuing land titles. “Land Boards are also supposed to have visiting committees, which make feasibility studies. But in most cases members on those committees are local people who don’t understand wetland issues,” Ms Eriyo explains. “And at times they are bribed.”
She adds: “It’s unfortunate that many people have continued to take wetlands for granted, and only realise their full extent and importance when calamities such as floods and drought befall them.”

Reversing titles
Once land titles are granted, correcting the problem becomes extremely difficult. “When people are issued with land titles, they abuse the resource and become defiant to laws and guidelines,” Ms Eriyo says.
Last year, NEMA introduced a “name and shame” programme to expose environment degraders, but it has not yielded expected fruits. Instead of vacating the marshes, at least some of the named people continue to reclaim more wetlands.
Ms Beatrice Anywar, Environment Shadow Minister, accuses NEMA of double standards. She says Nema approves wetlands encroachment of wealthy people and harasses the poor.
Dr Aryamanya Mugisha, Nema Executive Director, attributes rapid encroachments to lack of political will and the absence of a strong force that can encounter armed offenders.
“People who think they are ‘untouchable’ and seem not to respect any law normally invade the wetlands at night, fence them off and hire armed men to guard the area. Evicting them becomes hard since our inspectors are not armed,” Dr Mugisha explains.
The government last year endorsed the establishment of an Environment Police that would backup agencies mandated to protect the environment.
However, the force is yet to start because it lacks operational guidelines.
The government even has trouble drawing boundaries to show where wetlands are. In many places, people deny officials access to wetland boundaries.
And in others, like Nakivubo, where the government managed to plant markers that show wetland borders, people built over them, thwarting plans to install pillars as is commonly done on roads.
“Some people have jumped to the conclusion that they will be affected if they let us open the boundaries so they end up stopping us,” says Commissioner Mafabi.
NEMA has sought court intervention, but rulings always take ages, according to the commissioner.

Simple punishment
Even if the government enforcement became more effective, penalties are too weak to prevent many people from degrading bogs. According to the Environment Act, a person or an organisation found guilty of encroaching on the wetland pays a fine of only Shs3 million.
That is less than the price of a city plot. So it is actually cheaper to build on a wetland and pay a fine than to build elsewhere.
The government promises to get tougher, however. Minister Eriyo says people should voluntarily leave the marshlands before they are forced out.
“Uganda has laws and no one is above them. If people refuse to vacate places they encroached on through dialogue, the law will take its course,” she warns.
“The ministry is currently seeking a legal opinion from the Attorney General, Dr Khiddu Makubuya, to cancel all land titles that were obtained irregularly in wetlands after the enactment of the 1995 Constitution,” she adds. In Kampala alone, there are 182 titles to lands in wetland areas.
Moreover, Dr Mugisha says soon, the Environment Police will start operations after Parliament passed its budget.
“The additional manpower will help us in surveillance and recovering what has been lost. We will start with Kampala’s hotspots,” he says.
Meanwhile, Mr Mafabi calls for cooperation between all stakeholders to restore the resources.
That will be no small job, though. He estimates the cost of restoring wetlands at $100 billion.
And even if encroachment can be halted and reversed, wetlands face other threats. Increased settlement on hill tops has led to the run off of soil that collects in wetlands, curtailing water flow and clogging them.
All this leaves long-time Kampala residents with a feeling of hopelessness. Ms Tawuusi Nambogo, a 50-year-old resident of Bwaise III, says 20 years ago, the area was largely a swamp covered by papyrus.
“Most of the houses here were semi permanent or mud and wattle. There was little flooding although we used to plant yams. But with this increasing modern construction, well-to-do people – especially those building brick houses – have eaten up the marshland, causing constant flooding,” says Ms Nambogo.
“Leaders used to warn us against dangers of developing the wetland,” she recalls. “But due to pressure of development, leaders have since ceased their work.”

Reported by Joseph Miti, Zahra Abigaba & Juliet Kigongo

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NEMA’s list of wetland encroachers

  1. Mukalazi David
  2. Sylvia Awori
  3. Speke Resort and Country Lodge
  4. Rosebud Limited
  5. Rosebud ll
  6. Victoria View Apartments
  7. Playaza Enterprises Ltd
  8. Patrick Mwehire Mansions
  9. Hwan Sung Resort Beach
  10. Abby Lutaaya
  11. Akright Projects
  12. Yakubu Taganza
  13. SWT Leather
  14. Maan Investments Ug Ltd
  15. Henvale Developments Ltd
  16. Nterefune General Enterprises
  17. Bbosa Ndege
  18. Anne Rwaboogo
  19. Godfrey Nyakana
  20. Yusufu
  21. Peter Oboma
  22. Mwekambe
  23. Jeff Kagonyera
  24. Mrs Katongole
  25. Musange
  26. Esther Tushabe
  27. Alex Kazora
  28. Royal Suits
  29. Ambrosoli International School
  30. Akampulira Patricia
  31. Jane Nabukeera
  32. Mr Patrick Dungu
  33. Ms Caroline Mugeni
  34. TAR Investments Ltd
  35. KUK Investments
  36. Kiwawu Enterprises Ltd
  37. Maersk Uganda Limited
  38. John Imaniraguha
  39. Shumuk Investments Ltd
  40. M/s Alam Groups Ltd
  41. MGS International Ltd
  42. M/s Bigstar clothing company
  43. Property Services Ltd
  44. Ntinda Apartments
  45. Spenkon
  46. Kitula Farm House
  47. Graphics systems Ltd
  48. Uganda Meat Industry
  49. Shumuk Investments Ltd
  50. Shumuk Investments
  51. Nationwide Properties Ltd
  52. Mr Bitature (Simba Telcom)
  53. Mukwano Industries Ltd
  54. Islamic University in Uganda
  55. Godfrey Nyakana
  56. Christine Kyalimpa
  57. David Daniel Mukama
  58. Maliza Nakanwagi
  59. Sarafina Nalumansi
  60. Shree Cutchi Leva
  61. Megha Industries
  62. Eurofelx Limited
  63. PSCO Uganda Ltd
  64. Quality Polybag Uganda Ltd
  65. Bakery Ntake
  66. Mr Fred Segujja Muwanga
  67. Kidawalime Bakery Ltd
  68. Kikata
  69. Kagodo
  70. Mutima
  71. Nguvu
  72. Appointed harvest west end church
  73. Jesus Worship centre
  74. Francis Matovu
  75. NSSF
  76. COIN Ltd
  77. Jinesh Kumar Shantilal Majithia
  78. Bijing Steel Industry
  79. Longhi
  80. Industry and Commerce Manufactures
  81. Hi-Tech Metal Industries Ltd
  82. St John’s College School Wakiso
  83. Hi-Tech Metal Industries Ltd
  84. St John’s Collage School Wakiso
  85. Kawanda Secondary School
  86. George Robert Onaba
  87. Joseph Akol
  88. Kalanzi Muhamad
  89. Hwan Sung Resort Beach
  90. Charles Haba Gushumba
  91. Katabazi Geofrey 
  92. National lake rescue institute
  93. Ngege Limited
  94. Skyfat Tannery Company Limited
  95. Rain bow International School
  96. M/S Josephine Nantaaya
  97. Formula feeds Limited 
  98. MP Harrier
  99. Uganda clays Limited
  100. Mukasa Geofrey
  101. Pearls Oils Uganda Limited
  102. Paramount Dairies Limited
  103. Playaza Enterprises Limited 
  104. L. Victoria Shoreline
  105. Patrick Mwehire
  106. Munyonyo Mansions L. Victoria

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