The risks of building in wetlands

Some people buy property and hide it from their spouses. This may have far reaching effects. Photo by Ismail Kezaala

What you need to know:

With the ever increasing population of people in Kampala today, many wetlands have been drained to pave way for development. Those who have gone ahead and developed those houses in such areas have been dealt with problems in the aftermath.

In 2005, Kampala Central Division chairperson Geofrey Nyakana’s house in Bugoloobi was demolished because it was erected in a wetland-Nakivubo channel to be exact. These happened in a move by NEMA to recover Wetland. A lot of wetlands are being drained today for purpose as settlement and industrialisation.
But before you go ahead and buy that plot of land that you have dreamed of, have you considered the fact that it’s on a wetland?

A consequence of poor planning
While the rest of the country joins in celebration for the rain, those settled in wetlands would curse instead. Christine Akello was ecstatic about setting up her house, more so given the luck she had in acquiring the plot at a relatively cheaper price. She rushed to a contractor she knew and he gave her a house plan and quoted for her prices and the costs she was going to incur. But her joy would not last as even before she moved in to the house, the foundation of the house had weakened and water could easily access the house. She decided to seek an expert opinion from an architect who told her she had built on a wetland and as such the foundation was not properly built.

Akello is just one of many other people out there who are suffering with poor planning as a result of setting up homes on a wetland. Peter Tuhairwe who built on the drainage in Kinawataka, a designated swamp complains of flooding around his house. Efforts to channel the water are sometimes futile as the water sometimes over powers the barricades built.

The associated risks
However, Catherine Muyinda an architect with KK Partnerships says most home owners are oblivious of the dangers of building on wetland gazetted areas. She says constructing on such areas comes with a lot of risks. “First of all, the cost of constructing on the areas more than doubles,” she says before explaining that its brought about as a result of the need for a lot of remedy effort. You will have to spend more on building the foundation using more robust materials. “You may end up using what you could have spent on the whole house on just building the foundation,” she warns.

She also says the soil in wetland areas is not the best for building because its structure is weak and mostly made of clay. A contractor will therefore realise the need to strengthen the foundation with gravel to make sure it’s not affected by water.
But more to this whole circus is the fact that what many people don’t get is that building on wetlands directly tampers with the natural flow of the environment by blocking the water passages which were naturally instituted by the free flow of the water.

Draining the swamp will not only block the natural water collection areas but also lead to flooding as the water will lack where to flow. The wetlands are usually drainage areas for the water but when they are misused causes flooding as the water tables rise because water struggles to find where to go. What are worse are even the provisional channels constructed once lacking clear designated destinations tend to fill up and also lead to flooding.

The right way to build in a wetland
However, with the right consultations and following an agreed pattern and code of conduct, all this can be avoided by simply seeking advice from the authorities. In which case National Environment Management Authority plays a big role in advising the intending developers follow the right procedures. Naome Karekaho the NEMA public relations officer says before one goes ahead with developing any structure on a wetland, they have to first apply to NEMA.

There are rules and regulations which guide and give procedures on how to go about it. She says the National Environment Lake shores, river banks and wetlands provides procedures that must be followed by all stake holders to get clearance and approval from NEMA. However, the activities which one intends to set up on the wetlands must be accepted.

There is a form which must be filled out by instructed stake holders. The NEMA on the ground team in that particular area will then survey the land give clearance. “This form will then finally be approved by NEMA before any developments be allowed to progress,” she says.

Wetlands are protected under clauses 37 and 38 of the National environment act of 1995. Without a written approval from NEMA, its an offence to reclaim or drain a wetland, erect, construct a structure that is fixed in or over any wetland.
Kampala for instance has an approximate size of 195 square kilometers of which 31 square kilometers is covered by wetlands according to the Uganda National wetlands and management program drafted in 1995, however most of these have been given off to pave way for development and accommodate the population pressure.