Conservationists call for protection of wetlands to spur development 

A Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) patrol team at Lwampanga Landing Site on Lake Kyoga in Nakasongola District. 

What you need to know:

  • Uganda joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Wetlands Day, denoting the date of the selection of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971 on the theme: “Wetlands and Human well-being” which highlights the critical need for human stewardship of the world’s wetlands.

Government and conservationists have called on the public to make a contribution towards conserving wetlands considering their value that they provide for development.

They say that wetlands are delicate resources that need to be protected to save the country from the negative impacts of climate change.

Conservationists also attribute the changing colour of water along Lake Victoria shores and most water sources to destruction of wetlands which is the sequester of 30 percent of the World’s carbon.

National Coordinator at the Climate Action Network Uganda (CAN-U), Mr Anthony Wolimbwa attributes to the decline in the wetlands to poor governance of wetland resources coupled with lack of separate legislation for wetlands.

“We do not have a direct wetland law and the government is using the National Environment Management (NEMA) Act which is a framework law, Failure to have a specific law to regulate wetlands is a very big challenge,” he says.

Wolimbwa says that most of the wetlands are being given to investors by the very government; “So the government prefers the investors to destroy wetlands because they think investors bring in ready cash and they do not seem to see any value that wetlands provide.”

He accuses the government, especially the investment bodies,  of looking more into having more investors thinking that they can provide more jobs, taxes and more cash to the economy but at the expense of wetland protection.

For instance on Kampala – Gulu road, more than 90 percent of the factories are located in areas considered to be either permanent or temporary wetlands, he claims.

He adds that the people who are giving licenses to the developers are violating the very laws that they are supposed to protect

“In urban areas, the physical planning approves plans to construct in wetland areas which is very problematic; “Why would you approve a plan for construction of a factory on three acres of a wetland? Why do you give them a building permit?,” he wonders.

About land titles issued in wetlands, Wolimbwa attributed them to the loopholes in the laws which allow validity of titles issued in wetlands by 1995 and backwards saying that encroachers are using it to destroy wetlands

He says such laws need to urgently be rectified either by reversing them and or by government providing compensation to the lawful occupants of areas which constitute wetlands.

On the issue of encroachers who have resisted and or violated the eviction efforts of government, Wolimbwa attributes them bribery to the enforcement officers who keep a blind eye while destruction continues.

On effects, Wolimbwa states that with disasters affecting urban areas across the country, there is clear impact of climate change but more so related to the destruction of wetlands. For instance persistent flooding in Kampala and Mbale. And with the changing climate, there is a direct link between disasters and destruction of resources.

He appeals to government to enact a specific law to regulate wetlands to address some of the legal challenges in the management and protection of wetlands.

Joint effort

“Work with all sectors such as urban planners, Ministry of Lands, investment bodies among others for an integrated approach to enable consideration of the conservation objective,” adds Wolimbwa saying, a multisectoral approach is required to address the persistent degradation of the wetlands and any other resources.

Where it requires the government to deliberately buy off people in some critical wetlands, Wolimbwa says government must do it considering the higher benefits compared to the person holding onto the land.

He also appeals to the government to find alternative source of income for people who derive their livelihood from wetlands as well as behaviour change approach.   

Samuel Cheptoris, the Minister of Water and Environment calls for the focus on the wise use of the wetlands to ensure that they can fully deliver their valuable role in supporting human well-being and biological diversity because people and wetlands need each other.

“Make conscious choices to stop polluting wetlands; wetlands for the multiple benefits and nature-based solutions they provide for human well-being and a healthy planet,” said the minister in a statement ahead of the commemoration of World Wetlands Day on February 2 this year.

Last week,, Uganda joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Wetlands Day, denoting the date of the selection of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971 on the theme: “Wetlands and Human well-being” which highlights the critical need for human stewardship of the world’s wetlands.

The minister says despite the numerous benefits that humans receive from wetlands and concerted efforts by the government to conserve wetlands, every day wetlands are damaged by human beings.

He says that wetlands are being destroyed by unsustainable agricultural practices which are a primary cause of wetland loss through drainage and infilling.

“Wetlands and people are life interlaced. Wetlands are central to our wellbeing. Wetlands deliver a wide range of ecosystem services that contribute to human well-being such as fish, water supply, water purification, climate regulation, flood regulation, recreational opportunities, and increasingly tourism. Communities particularly those living near wetlands, are highly dependent on these services and are directly harmed by their degradation,” says Cheptoris.

The decline recorded between 1994 and 2015, were 6,146.6 of wetlands was lost; 2.5 percent of Uganda’s total coverage of wetlands.

Cheptoris says that the decline caused concern and that drastic measures had to be undertaken to avert further decline.

He says that the government has made timely concerted effort over the last 30 years at various national levels to ensure the conservation and wise use of wetland resources.

This year Government has taken further decisions to scale up actions on wetland conservation that includes but not limited to cancelling of wetland titles, restoration of degraded wetlands, strengthening of compliance monitoring and enforcement and provision of alternative livelihood to wetland users to bring the process of wetland conversion under control.

Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) Executive Director, Dickens Kamugisha says that while Uganda joins the rest of the world to mark World Wetlands Day, conservationists remain worried.

He complains that important wetlands such as the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Ramsar site that support biodiversity conservation and the Lake Albert fisheries have been affected by oil activities in Murchison Falls National Park.’

“The Ugandan government should show commitment to conserving wetlands by desisting from licensing oil and other risky activities that affect wetlands and other critical ecosystems,” says Kamugisha.