KAMPALA —When floods swept through and submerged all homes in the shores of Lake Victoria and other wetlands between April and July this year, the affected residents were quick to blame their misery on corruption by National Environment Management Authority (Nema) officials.
The residents lamented that they were duped by property developers who sold them land in lake showers and wetland areas.
The floods affected the landing sites and markets at Port Bell, also known as Luzira and Ggaba-Mulungu in Kampala and other parts of the country, including Wakiso, Masaka, Mukono, Kasese, Bundibugyo, among others.
Experts, however, argue that the recent flooding experienced in shores of Lake Victoria and other parts of the country are largely due to human encroachment on wetlands and warned of serious consequences, if the National Policy for the Conservation and Management of Wetland Policy isn’t revised and a new one approved immediately to suit the current environment dynamics.
“Since 1995, Uganda has lost more than 6% of its total wetland area from about 13% to currently 8.4% (205,212 square kilometres). The loss has been more significant around Kampala, Wakiso, and Mukono posting a loss of 9,661 ha per annum between 1995 and 2010 that represents 14% decline,” says Anthony Wolimbwa, the Head of programmes at Christian Ecological Organisation (ECO), an indigenous, Organization working towards realization of sustained livelihoods.
Wolimbwa notes that a population bulge and the resultant scarcity of land for agriculture has led *to* a huge loss of wetlands and their benefits.
For example, he adds, the loss of wetlands around Lake Victoria costs more than UGX 38 billion annually in water purification alone due to loss of in buffering and filtration capacity.
At this rate, experts from Care international in Uganda, Partners for resilience, Wetlands international, and Cordaid who have been reviewing Uganda’s existing policies and laws on wetlands, predict that Uganda’s wetlands will be completely lost by the year 2100 and the country will be highly vulnerable to climate change induced disasters affecting the most poor and rolling back any gained development efforts.
“It should be noted that a functioning economy depends on strong biodiversity, and ecosystem services. Loss of wetlands has been attributed to lack of a strong legal regime on wetlands, weak policy environment, expansion of urban developments, rapid industrialization, expansion of agricultural land, invasive species, mining operations especially sand and clay, air and water pollution, climate change, land ownership, and tenure challenges,” Wolimbwa argues.
In the rain season, Ugandans in lowlands especially in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono have been living under the fear of floods.
Bridges have been swept away, houses submerged and roads become unnavigable.
The imminent danger of floods has become worse in the past one month, prompting NEMA and Ministry of Disaster Preparedness to issue a warning to Ugandans living near rivers to move.
If policy and legislative action are not urgently taken to conserve wetlands, these experts warn that dire consequences are likely from accelerated loss and damage to wetlands ecosystems.
Key among others,
Uganda will not meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets especially climate action but also risks increased vulnerability of poor small holder farm households due to climate change impacts and disasters.
Others are increased food insecurity as a result of degraded ecosystem, increased cost of water and sewerage treatment, degradation and complete loss of wetlands ecosystems with dire ecological consequences such as disasters and loss of medicinal sources as much of the traditional medicines are from wetlands and forests.
Racheal Kyozira Kaleebi, the Cordaid Uganda Program Manager Resilience says wetlands are amongst the most productive of the world’s ecosystems providing essential services such as water, food, construction materials, transport, and coastline protection, as well as important opportunities for tourism and recreation, which are also defined as ecosystem services.
“The current rate of wetland degradation in Uganda calls for fast-tracking the wetlands policy, paying attention to; climate change adaptation, ecosystem management, restoration, and disaster risk reduction while putting people at the center,” she notes.
If left undisturbed, however, wetlands are able to clean rain water when it runs downstream, contribute significantly to offsetting impacts of climate change through flood control, water retention and recharge and store more soil carbon than forests.
The experts now want government to key among others urgently pass a new law that will enable the Wetlands Department to carry out enforcement and compliance in the conservation and management of wetlands.
They also want the authorities to build capacity for integrated risk management as an adaptive management approach that promotes co-existence between wetlands and development and addresses emerging challenges of climate change and industrialization but also promote private sector investment along the green growth, pathway and social equity mainstreaming in wetland management.
Others demands include incentives (carbon credits, payment for ecosystem services, polluter pay principle) for sustainable wetland management activities in Uganda, review the 200 meters buffer around wetlands based on on-site bio-physical characteristics
Prioritize and consider wetlands as a key natural resource in the fight against climate change and key ingredient in the industrialization drive.