The minister of Water and Environment says Ugandans should to stop complaining about the devastating effects of floods because they encroached on the wetlands which would have acted as water catchment areas.
Mr Sam Cheptoris told journalists at the Media Centre in Kampala that several Ugandans have interfered with the echo system and degraded the wetlands that should have minimized the impact of floods especially in Kampala city.
“When I hear people complaining that our houses are being washed away by floods, I wonder! Floods have no eyes that when they are moving, they are looking for their homes. We are experiencing frequent flooding and loss of property, prolonged drought, drying of springs and wells because we have degraded our wetlands,” Mr Cheptoris said.
He added: “When we interfered with Namanve, you can see, the roads are flooded whenever it rains. Before, the water would just flow away and we would have peace.”
According to him, one of the ministry’s major challenges was court injunctions secured by encroachers seeking to block evictions.
The adage, “never bite the hand that feeds you” seems meaningless to residents of Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts.
Wetlands are biodiversity havens, acting as breeding grounds and habitat for aquatic animals including birds, fish, papyrus used for craft industry, tourism purposes and other wildlife.
There is more to these marshes though; “the most important function of wetlands, especially in these areas are filtering water from pollutants, control flooding and stores it,” Mr Paul Mafabi, the director of Environment in the ministry of Water and Environment, says.
Despite such uses, a study by the Ministry of Water and Environment entitled: The Wetland Atlas for Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono, indicates disconsolate future, not only for the aquatic life but the country at large.
The report lists more thna 30 wetlands facing excruciating pressure that may result into extinction if encroachers are not stopped soonest.
The wetlands, according to the report, are under constant threat from encroachers looking for land for settlement, industrial, agriculture and putting up social amenities like roads among others.
Some of the wetlands are listed below;
Lubigi wetland one of the many wetlands facing extinction despite their critical role of filtering, retaining and controlling floods.
This expansive wetland has for long been a soft target for encroachers who reclaim it for settlement, setting up gardens, bricklaying, washing bays or other activities.
Although it shields parts of Kampala as well as Wakiso District from flooding, in 2011 people claiming to be army veterans attempted to settle there but were stopped.
Again in 2013, a group of traders under Uganda Patriotic Voluntary Organisation (UPAVO) descended on the same wetland and started constructing stalls, claiming they had authorisation from State House.
Recently, officials from the National Environment Management Authority, (Nema) warned that should this wetland disappear, the entire Central Cattle Corridor, which includes Luweero, Nakasongola, Nakaseke, among other districts will not have water.
Apart from encroachers, the wetland has seen mega projects that constructed in it decimating it further, thereby limiting its ability to filter and store water.
These projects include the Kampala-Entebbe Express Highway, the National Water and Sewerage Corporation treatment plant among others.
Covering 5.29 square kilometers and permanently water logged, this is the biggest wetland in Kampala.
It covers most parts of Nakawa, Bugolobi, Mpanga and Muyenga hills carrying and filtering all water from the hinterland into Lake Victoria.
Apart from being home to endangered bird species such as Crested Cranes, Nakivubo wetland hosts Bugolobi Sewerage Treatment Plant managed by National Water and Sewerage Corporation.
But what started as a small land encroachment on the wetland mainly for rudimental agriculture in 2000, the report says 10 years later, settlements and industries have been built in Wakaliga valley, Namuwongo, Kitintale, Mpanga valley, Bugolobi and Kitintale decimating the wetland’s ability to filter water.
The immediate effect of this wetland has been alga blooms in the inner Murchison Bay, meters to the Lake Victoria.
Another important wetland is Kintate. It was, however, modified to serve as both a wetland and a green corridor for recreation. The beautiful looking Kitante is house the Kampala Golf Course.
The report, however ,says course is contributing to wetland destruction as large amounts of fertilisers and other chemicals are used to maintain the lush and attractive greens. The pollution from these fertilisers goes to Lake Victoria, the main source of water for the city and neighbouring dwellers.
The Inner Murchison Bay wetlands
By all standards, this is one of the most important wetland in Kampala. It plays a critical role as a sole recipient of water regardless of the quality from Nakivubo channel before draining it into Lake Victoria.
But the shoreline of the wetland is filled up with industries that continue to discharge waste water into the lake. Some of the industries located in the area are; Mukwano industries, City Abattoir, Peacock paint factory and fabrics factory-Phoenix Logistics.
With a population of 395,276 in Makindye Division according to the 2014 Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the biggest wetland Kyetinda in division is facing unprecedented reclamation pressures for settlers.
The once 1.43 square kilometers, is currently, according to the Atlas report says “It is not easy to recognise the upstream area… since the surrounding hills have almost all been occupied by settlements and human pressure extents to the wetlands”
Originally, another wetland in Makindye Division Kansanga wetland covered a 4.54 square kilometers and until 2008 when people started filling it with murrum for either settlement or agriculture.
Currently, the Atlas report indicates that, the wetland has been “constricted to a narrow channel in the upstream area” as more settlers extend to the Ggaba road one of the hinterland of Lake Victoria.
Nalukolongo wetland before 2002 once covered over 0.91sq kms of the total area of Rubaga Sub-county, according to the report. Its size, however, characterised by both permanent and seasonal swamps is occupying a shallow valley between Mutundwe, Rubaga, Lungujja and Busega hills before draining into Mayanja Kaato wetland system.
Factories and human settlement have now taken up the area occupied by water and other aquatic animals which has come with high costs of flooding according to report. The flooding water leads to “mixing of sewage from pit latrines with wetland water which has implications on the health of the community since the wetland is a source of water for domestic use”, the report notes.
Mukono District wetlands
Namanve wetland located in Nama Sub-country, Mukono District
The destruction of this particular wetland dates as far as 1928 when the government turned the wetland, which was part of a forest, into a eucalyptus trees growing area mainly to get fuel wood. In 1997, about 1,000.6 hactares of the forest reserve and the wetland was degazetted and turned it into an industrial park.
Its destruction means that all the dirty water coming from the park runs straight into Lake Victoria.
RIVER SEZIBWA SYSTEM
This is a seasonal wetland, located in Mukono Municipality. It can be reached via Mukono- Nakabugo. The Njogezi Wetland lies between Njogezi and Lwajjali rivers and the neighbouring villages include Nakabago, Nasuti, Kanga and Ntaawo in Mukono District.
In 2000, the report says, the wetland had swamp forest, shrubs, reeds; woodland and natural grasslands but the expanding Mukono town has diminished the wetland for settlement, sand mining, agriculture among others. This has resulted into silting of the said rivers which finally drains in River Ssezibwa.
Mbalala wetland (Nakawolole)
Mbalala wetland is permanently waterlogged and covers an expansive part of Mukono District, including areas like Ngandu, Kigombya, Lyanyonyi, Mbalala, Kasenge, Namawojolo and Walusubi before pouring its water into River Ssezibwa near Namawojolo.
The wetland is, however, facing continuous degradation from cultivators, including for sugar cane production by Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL).
Other developments on the wetland include mushrooming schools, human settlements, factories such Abacus pharmaceuticals, Raj Developers, Sterling Materials Yard, Tiang Tiang Group, Comfoam, Unistrong industries, Global Paper Product Industries, EON Investments CCLE Tyre and Lubricants, Lida Packaging and Grow More Seeds.
Others are Riley Packaging Industry, Quality plastics, Kato Aromatics, Seeta High School, Mukono among others.
These are found east of Mukono District at the border with Kayunga District. They stretch over 2KMs in many places. Wetlands in Namayumba in Ntunda Sub-county and Kakukuulu in Kasawo Sub-county are like other wetlands in the region. Fringes of wetlands are cultivated until the depth of the water becomes prohibitive.
What is unique about this wetland is that it increased tremendously and can be seen as patches of open water in two places. One is at the junction of wetlands north of Namayuba Parish Ntunda Sub-county and the other water body in form of a river is in the wetland on the western side of Namayuba Parish.
This is a permanent wetland located in Ntenjeru Sub-county. It can be accessed through the Mukono- Ssanga road. It drains into Zirimiti swamp and finally into Lake Victoria through a wide flat valley that slopes gradually. Current land use includes thatching materials, cultivation and hunting. The surrounding area is under subsistence agriculture, brick burning and human settlement.
The major threats are brick burning deforestation vegetation burning and soil erosion.
WAKISO DISTRICT WETLANDS
This wetland originates from Makindye Ssabagabo in Wakiso District. The report says in earlier years, it used to run from Wankulukuku in Rubaga Division across Entebbe Road through Makindye Ssabagabo and then pours its water pour into Lake Victoria at Munyonyo.
But this has since changed relegating the once beautiful wetland to “a meager trickle’’ as more people descend on it from all corners for agriculture, settlement, industrialisation, among others. Most of the catchment areas for this wetland, including Kaliddubi, Gangu, Buziga, Ndikuttamada and Luwafu have been decimated.
Lufuka wetland in Makindye Sub-county was by 1996 intact and providing a perfection filtration for lake water. But now, according to the report, settlements, hotels and prison farms are decimating the wetland shared between Mutungo and Kigo on the shores of Lake Victoria. By 2014, the report says, half of the wetland had been converted to land and is likely to disappear soon.
Kinawataka wetland forms part of Lake Victoria System and covers 1.5 square kilometers in both Wakiso and Kampala. This wetland provides key ecological functions to the inner Murchison bay including slowing down rain water runoff, controlling up stream flooding and filtering poisonous chemicals from industries before the water enters L. Victoria.
This wetland occupies a huge valley running from Ntinda- Banda -Kyambogo Kireka, Mbuya and Mutungo hills and before draining into Lake Victoria.
But since 2004, the report says as of 2014, almost the entire wetland is overrun with settlements especially in Buye, Wankolokolo, Kinawataka slum, Kasokoso. Mutungo Zone 3 Kirombe village and Banda valley.
The immediate effect of this wetland destruction is severe flooding around Kyambogo and Kireka whenever it rains.
Kasa mabamba wetland
This permanent wetland is located in Mabamba Bay, West of Entebbe International Airport in Kasanje Sub-county.
It is approximated at 9km south west of Kasanje Trading Center in Entebbe. Its location is Mabamba Bay, a home to over 300 birds species, including endangered shoebill, blue swallow, papyrus yellow warbler and gull billed tern among others.
The destruction of this wetland means killing the budding tourism sector that is employing thousands of people and bringing billions of shillings in revenue as tourists come to watch these birds.
Lutembe wetland Ramsar site
Lutembe bay wetland land has been so controversial that up now, there are court cases between government and private developers.
Also called Kachindo swamp, the wetland is a Ramsar site located on the shores of Lake Victoria, 16 km along Entebbe road. The villages in the vicinity include Bwerenga, Namulanda and Dewe.
This site is the most important area for the conservation of water birds in Uganda. However, this breeding sanctuary of migratory birds is being threatened by human activity. The wetlands have been encroached by horticultural and real estate industries, flower farms and residential buildings.
Ms Naomi Karikaho, the Nema spokesperson says the agency is working on how to implement the 2014 Cabinet directive of cancelling all titles in wetland.
But as immediate response, Nema is restoring several wetlands across the country on top of carrying sensitisation of the public about the importance of these wetlands.
“If we do not manage wetlands judiciously, the future is not certain for the coming generation. With climate change, we shall continue having more and more rain and this water must have where to go. The people degrading the wetlands are Ugandans. Somebody thinks putting up a 1B structure is more important than the wetland. That building will only benefit a few,” he said.
The minister said whereas they have a directive from the president to evict those on wetlands, there are considerations for alternative sources of livelihoods like establishing fish ponds in the periphery of the wetlands as seen in Pallisa and other simple irrigation schemes.
Kampala- Residents scramble to cross the road by a meticulously makeshift wooden bridge planted over a large stinking pool of water in Bwaise III Zone, Kawempe Division.
Marabou storks timidly hover as some bare-chested children wade through the stagnant water to collect scrap for sale. The pool of water emerged just a couple of days ago after the skies furiously opened, causing untold damage.
Bwaise, which slightly lies above the drainage channel on the Northern Bypass, has always been an area prone to flooding.
The ramshackled housing units around this place always fall prey to the brunt of this natural calamity whenever there is a heavy downpour.
“I have lived in this place for one decade now and this is how the situation has been like despite pledges by authorities to improve the situation. The situation becomes worse when water spills in the house, leaving us stranded the whole night,” recounts Ms Caroline Nabagala.
The emotive single mother of two says she would have relocated to a better place but she is constrained by money. The harrowing tales of other residents in the vicinity are eye-popping.
Bwaise is just a tip of the iceberg of the places affected by persistent flooding in Kampala, putting authorities in the spotlight for failing to address the issue.
During the rainy season, traders, motorists and other city residents are not spared either, causing financial losses.
City suburbs such as Kasubi, Katanga, Kisenyi, Nalukolongo, Kabuusu, Katwe, Namungoona, and Kinawataka among others are some of the most affected places.
Other flooding-prone areas in the city include Queen’s Way, Ssebaana Kizito Road (Former Nakivubo Mews), Kabuusu junction, Jinja Road roundabout and Kyambogo-Banda, among others.
The previous floods have left dozens dead.
Since its establishment in 2011, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) has upgraded a number of drainage channels to divert floods. However, the problem seems far from over.
Dr Najib Lukooya Bateganya, the KCCA director for environment and sanitation, says although there are primary drainage channels in place, these need to be complemented with secondary drainages to reduce the volume of water that is accommodated by the former.
“The problem is that we have the main drainages, which are at times overpowered by the heavy run-off waters. These main channels such as Nakivubo ought to be helped by the small drainages to ease the flow. What we are now doing is upgrading more drainages to help the main ones, so that we can get rid of the problem of persistent flooding,” he says.
However, Dr Bateganya notes that the public has always let down KCCA in its bid to fight flooding because they dump waste in the drainages, which triggers backflow of water.
“That has been our biggest challenge as authorities because the public hasn’t complied with regulations. For instance, when you walk around, you will see plastics and other waste dumped in drainages, which is very absurd,” he says.
He says they are engaging city leaders to sensitise people about keeping drainages free of waste.
Dr Bateganya further attributes the flooding challenges in Kampala to encroachment on wetlands, which, he says, are supposed to be catchment areas.
Currently, many factories and houses have been built in wetlands despite the existing law. But authorities at times just look on because some developers wield much influence and are connected to the powers that be.
But Mr Emmanuel Sserunjogi, the Kawempe Division mayor, says although KCCA contracted concessioners to manage waste in Kampala, they do not have the capacity to do so because of the high number of tonnes of garbage produced in the entire city.
A statutory audit report released by Mr Moses Bwire, the KCCA director for internal audit, poked holes in the operations of the contracted garbage collection companies over incompetence.
This implies that residents are compelled to dump garbage anywhere because the services are hardly accessible.
To reduce flooding, Mr Sserunjogi reveals that he has embarked on a campaign in the entire division to clean all the drainage channels to allow easy flow of water during the rainy season.
“This is a big problem which we must collectively fight because it tarnishes the image of Kampala city. The situation is always appalling shortly after the downpour, hence exposing residents to danger. I call upon my fellow leaders to mobile, sensitise and take part in cleaning all places that block water flow,” he says.
The lowland areas of Kampala, coupled with the poor quality soils to absorb water, Dr Bateganya says, make the city susceptible to flooding.
Dr Amin Tamale Kiggundu, a lecturer of planning and urban development at Makerere University, says flooding is linked to climate change and changing weather patterns.
But he attributes flooding in the city to most settlements that have been established in areas that were once wetlands or swamps. Flooding becomes inevitable whenever it rains. To mitigate this calamity, Dr Kiggundu says Kampala needs a good storm water management system, which should focus on preserving critical green spaces such as Centenary Park, protecting the wetlands from encroachment and fostering plans that aim to harvest rain water.
“The building laws in the city need to change by forcing developers to leave some portion of their land unpaved so that water can just be absorbed without necessarily flowing,” he says.
While addressing journalists on the status of city roads last week, Mr Andrew Kitaka, the KCCA director of engineering and technical services, revealed that upgrading of Kampala’s drainage channels is yet to start.
“The study for updating of the drainage master plan for Kampala was completed in 2017. This study has provided valuable information for the planning of the required improvement of Kampala’s drainage system, the locations and extents flood prone areas as well as guidance on mitigation measures for reduction of surface run off among others,” Eng Kitaka said.
He noted that the upgrade of these drainage channels had stalled because there was no any study on which KCCA would base on to commence construction works.
Currently, KCCA is constructing city roads and upgrading drainage channels in all the five divisions to improve urban mobility and reduce flooding. The five-year project is being funded by the World Bank.
This, he said would ensure that the wetlands continue to serve their purpose of water purification among others in the biodiversity system.
Wetland coverage in Uganda has reduced from 13 percent in 1994 to the current 8.9 per cent. The degradations have mainly occurred in central Uganda especially in Kampala and Wakiso districts, according to ministry officials.
Whereas over 8,000 hectares of wetlands have been reversed countrywide, close to 40,000 hectares have been lost since 1994.
The ministry demands that more is done at all stakeholder levels to meet the 2040 National Development Plan target of having 12 percent wetland coverage to respond to ongoing threats and pressures especially of climate change.
Uganda has a unique type of wetland called Peat lands which stores up to 30 percent of land based carbon. It can help in mitigating increased global warming and has been known to store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined.