Wetlands in Uganda have been consistently destroyed. The sharp decline in wetland coverage from 15.5 per cent in 1994 to 13 per cent in 2017 is now being felt with the adverse weather patterns and conditions.
And the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) says of the remaining wetlands, 4.1 per cent is degraded. The destruction on wetlands – that function as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, groundwater and flood waters – has been relentless.
Farmers in search of land to expand their gardens run to wetlands; connected individuals looking for land to build homes target the same wetlands, and so are investors looking for land to set up industries.
All this happens on the watch of corrupt government officials looking for ways of making quick money.
So the announcement by Cabinet this week that investigations are going to be carried out to identify officials that have been issuing land titles in wetlands and forest reserves is a welcome move.
According to Lands minister Judith Nabakooba, Cabinet approved the cancellation of at least 420 land titles that were issued in wetlands, especially in the districts of Wakiso and Mukono.
But we can only hope that the government walks the talk this time round. President Museveni has previously made such pronouncements, calling for people to be evicted from wetlands, but with practical action on the ground.
In the meantime, the destruction of wetlands continues and we are now feeling the effects with the changing weather patterns and conditions that have led to increased rainfall, causing lakes and rivers to swell.
For the second consecutive year, Lake Kyoga has burst its banks following heavy rain, displacing more than 5,000 households in Nakasongola District.
Only two weeks ago, residents of 30 villages in five sub-counties in Kasese District were left stranded after Nyamwamba, Nyamugasani and Mubuku rivers burst their banks, cutting off roads. These are just a few of the examples that made national news headlines in the past few days.
For Uganda to turn the tide on the destruction of wetlands, the laws need to be applied to everyone, and all those that break it should be held accountable.
It speaks of double standards for small-scale farmers growing food for subsistence to be evicted from wetlands yet some investors are being given licences to destroy the same.
Finally, the corrupt officials who fraudulently issue land titles in wetlands need to be investigated and punished accordingly. For in the end, Ugandans will pay for the greed of a few people, because if we do not change course, we will have no wetlands to speak of to moderate our weather patterns and conditions by 2046.