Fort Portal Town losing wetlands to developers

A degraded wetland in Fort Portal Municipality last week. PHOTO BY ALEX ASHABA

KABAROLE- Fort Portal Municipality leaders are struggling to save wetlands in the area from encroachers who continue to put up illegal structures.

The municipal laws state that any development must be implemented at least 100 metres away from any water body or wetland.

However, residents are freely claiming wetlands in Kitembe, Butagwa in West Division and are building on river banks in broad day light. Most buildings have been established near swamps where soil has been heaped to create plots of land. Other activities in the wetlands include brick laying, car washing bays.

The mayor, Rev Kintu Willy Muhanga, says more structures are being established on the banks of River Mpanga and its tributary, Mugunu.

As a result, Rev Muhanga says, the town that was originally known as the greenest in the country is now changing because of wetland encroachment.
“We are now in a struggle as leaders to see that we restore our town to order. I am not going to sit in office and our wetlands continue being encroached on. I will not mind about my next term of office but I want to save wetlands,” he says.

In less than five years, wetland encroachment in the municipality has risen as the town expands, with Kitembe, Rwengoma and Butangwa wetlands in West Division the most affected. Other gazetted wetlands facing encroachment include Nyakimya and Nyadoi in West Division and Kalamaga in East Division.

Residents say as a result, the weather pattern in the area has changed drastically in the last five years. The area used to experience fog from morning up to midday and a lot of rain throughout the year but this is no more as climate change takes its toll due to destruction of wetlands.

Rev Muhanga, however, says the municipal council has established a committee that will be responsible for monitoring all wetlands in the town. Headed by the mayor, the team will scrutinise all developers’ building plans see if they were approved by relevant authorities.

Last year, the municipal natural resources officer, Ms Gladys Natungoza, launched an operation of cutting all trees in the wetlands.

“We gave notices to all people who are encroaching on wetlands and those with eucalyptus trees to cut them and now we are going back. If we find anybody not complying with the law, we shall take them to court,” Ms Natungoza says.
She added that the law requires for any development to take place in the wetland, one has to have a permit and to leave specified metres.

“At River Mpanga, we recommend 100 metres, on River Mugunu 30 metres while on other wetlands, we recommend 15 metres,” she says.

“We have given out notices to all people with illegal activities in the wetlands to be removed or be evicted,” Ms Natungoza says.

This month, Fort Portal town launched the development physical plan that aims at earmarking different places for future development and gazette wetland areas in the town. The plan has started in West Division.