To destroy Uganda, destroy wetlands -- Govt official

February 28, 2022

Image: Wetlands in Eastern Uganda.

An attack on wetlands is an attack on our natural heritage. The thirteenth and fifteenth Sustainable Development Goals encourage us to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts to   protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss. Achieving this requires our collective commitment and action against wetland encroachment.

Image: Hon. Sam Cheptoris (centre), Minister for Water and Environment, Uganda.

"Carbon is building up everyday in the atmosphere causing global warming, drought, floods and many diseases as we have recently witnessed with the flooding of Lake Victoria. Unless we commit ourselves and channel all our efforts towards restoration of Uganda’s wetlands, the future is very oblique for us," said Sam Cheptoris, Minister for Water and Environment, Uganda during the 2nd February 2022, World Wetlands Day held at Gayaza playgrounds, Kimanya – Kabonera Division in Masaka City.

This year’s World Wetlands Day was observed under the theme “Wetlands Action for People and Nature” which require both state and non-state actors to invest more financial, human, and political capital to save the world’s wetlands from disappearing and to restore those that have been degraded.

In line with the theme, the minister ordered for the immediate restoration of Katonga swamp in Masaka. It is in the catchment area of Lake Victoria and is designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention and provides a spawning ground for mudfish and lungfish, as well as supports globally threatened bird species and the endangered Sitatunga.

In 2019, The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) stopped Zetong Bang Limited, Chinese Company, from carrying out any activity in Katonga wetland. This followed reports that the company had violated the conditions of the user permit which had been granted to them. The illegal activities of the company were exposed by the then Masaka LC V Chairperson, Jude Mbabali.

Also in attendance was the UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Ms. Sheila Ngatia who represented the United Nations in Uganda among other dignitaries.

She urged all citizens and indeed all stakeholders in Uganda to collectively support efforts geared towards halting further degradation of Uganda’s wetlands, which have a direct impact on the quality and quantity of water across the country.

She also expressed delight at the Wetlands Atlas by Government in partnership with the United Nations Development programme (UNDP) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and “has played an essential role in informing policy makers and the public to take action on several wetland demarcation and restoration activities.”

She further commended the Government of Uganda for drafting a Ten-Year Action Plan for restoration of environmental and natural resources (2021 to 2030) and a decision to cancel illegal land titles located in critical urban wetlands.

Image: A youth participates during demarcation of Komorototo wetland in Butebo district.

The World Wetlands Day provides the opportunity for us to take stock of our actions towards wetland conservation and raise awareness about the value of wetlands for humanity and the planet.

The commemorative activities for this year’s celebration include seminars, nature walks, restoration of degraded wetlands, planting of trees and exhibitions.

The United Nations General Assembly on 30th August 2021 proclaimed the 2nd day of February as World Wetlands Day to raise awareness of the twin urgency of reversing the accelerating loss of wetlands and to promote the conservation and restoration of wetlands. Wetland action has two main aims, promoting ecologically sustainable management of wetland resources to meet social – economic needs and maintain ecosystem services and integrating socially sensitive wetland management strategies for the long-term enhancement of livelihoods and poverty reduction.

Image: Ms. Sheila Ngatia, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative.

Role of wetlands to the environment.

Wetlands play vital ecological and socio-economic functions such as flood mitigation, water purification, erosion prevention, moderation of extreme flows of water, maintenance of water tables in surrounding lands, and providing habitat for numerous species of animals and plants that contribute to a rich biodiversity. Wetlands are also essential for food, medicines, water supply, fisheries, dry season grazing for livestock, nutrient retention, elimination of toxins, tourism, and recreational use among other benefits.

Yet despite the myriad benefits they provide, wetlands are among the ecosystems with the highest rates of decline, loss, and degradation. Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests and are Earth’s most threatened ecosystem.

In Uganda, wetlands continue to be degraded and the current area of wetlands across the country is below that recorded in the 1990s. In the urban areas, there is indiscriminate encroachment for expansion of human settlements while in the rural areas there is steady conversion of wetlands for agricultural use. According to the Uganda Wetlands Atlas Volume II, developed by the Government  in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the national area of wetlands declined by 30 per cent between 1994 and 2008. And although between 2008 and 2014, there was an increase in area under wetlands, this has been a paltry 0.03 per cent increase: from 26,307km2 in 2008 to 26,315 km2 in 2014 (MWE, 2014).

“Now more than ever government of Uganda is committed to financing and enforcing wetlands management through stake holder engagements, creating innovative land scape mmanagement practices and providing alternative livelihood options. Wetlands are home to a variety of natural creatures, they offer alternative livelihoods, mitigate floods, filtrate water bodies and harbor papyrus a raw material for basket weaving. If we want to destroy Uganda lets destroy wetlands,” Said Mr. Alfred Okot Okidi, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Water and Environment.

UNDP’s role in wetland restoration

UNDP is working with the Government of Uganda, through the Ministry of Water and Environment to restore wetlands across the country and improve their management. The “Building Resilient Communities Wetland Ecosystems and Associated Catchments in Uganda”, an initiative of the Government of Uganda, UNDP, and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is supporting the restoration and management of wetlands facing severe encroachment in 24 districts in eastern and western Uganda. 

Image: Part of the restored Kyenjogera musheshe wetland system in Buhweju district recovering.

The project is building the capacity of wetlands adjacent communities to implement livelihood and economic activities that support sustainable wetlands conservation. This is not only important in enabling Uganda to meet her obligations of reducing carbon emissions but also will increase the appreciation of wetlands as an important resource for socio-economic transformation of communities and landscapes that house important wetlands.

Recently, the Austrian Development Agency partnered with UNDP and the Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Water and Environment to extend wetland restoration activities in five districts of Kaliro, Kibuku, Butaleja, Namutumba and Budaka. These interventions are aligned to and support Government of Uganda aspirations on wetlands management and ecosystems restoration, environment, and natural resource conversation as enshrined in the Uganda Vision 2040 and the third National Development Plan (NDPIII) 2020-2025.

The United Nations in Uganda is working with the government on several initiatives geared towards protecting wetlands as nature-based solutions for tackling climate change and realization of SDGs.