World Environment Day - Statement by Ms. Nwanne Vwede-Obahor, UNDP Resident Representative

UNDP's Journey Toward Sustainable Land and Ecosystem Conservation in Uganda

June 5, 2024

On the auspicious occasion of World Environment Day, I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the Government of Uganda and the resilient people of this beautiful nation. Today, as we commemorate this global event with a focus on land restoration, conservation, and resilience under the slogan "Our land. Our future. We are #GenerationRestoration," we collectively reaffirm our commitment to safeguarding our planet and preserving its invaluable ecosystems for present and future generations.

Uganda, endowed with a diverse land cover spanning over 241,000 square kilometres, harbours diverse ecosystems crucial for its socio-economic prosperity. One of Uganda's key land types is wetlands. Wetlands are transitional between dry land and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The water table is usually at or near the surface, or the land is covered by shallow water, thus permanently or seasonally saturated with water. Wetlands cover about 10 percent of Uganda's total land surface area.

Wetlands provide a range of benefits for communities and the economy. The tangible market benefits of wetlands include water for domestic use and livestock, support for dry-season agriculture, provision of handicrafts, building materials, and food resources such as fish, yams, vegetables, wild game, and medicine. The non-market benefits include flood control, water purification, water table maintenance, micro-climate moderation, storm protection and carbon sequestration. Wetlands also serve as habitats for important flora and fauna.

However, wetlands are under severe threat from human-induced pressures including draining the wetlands for farming, over-exploitation of fish, poaching, and unsustainable extraction of reeds. Some communities are searching for this land since soils on the dryland and hillsides are becoming increasingly infertile due to over utilization and soil erosion. Moreover, the destruction of the wetlands’ catchment areas due to agriculture and animal husbandry grossly affects their sustainability. These human stressors result in direct effects and changes in the wetlands that impede their ability to provide critical services. 

As a result, wetland ecosystems have lost their capacity to retain their flood regulation, water storage and water purification functions.  This impacts water access for surrounding communities and increases the risk of flooding. In addition, the ability of these wetland ecosystems to adapt to climate change and variability impacts is also grossly compromised including maintaining the microclimate.

Also, wetland degradation disproportionately affects women due to their greater dependency on these ecosystems. In Uganda, about 72 percent of farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture are women. Therefore, the loss of wetlands' water regulation function directly impacts their livelihood. Moreover, the responsibility of water collection disproportionately falls on women and girls. As wetlands diminish, they are compelled to traverse greater distances in pursuit of water, thereby exacerbating their susceptibility to instances of sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

The restoration of these ecosystems is paramount not only for environmental conservation but also for securing human rights and ensuring equity across generations. By fostering improved environmental, social, and corporate governance, sustainable land restoration initiatives promote partnerships and contribute to peace building within local communities.

Addressing sustainability challenges requires a holistic approach to land use, essential for conserving biodiversity, strengthening climate resilience, ensuring food security, alleviating poverty, promoting sustainable energy, and fostering alternative livelihoods. Embracing indigenous vegetation resilient to climate variability and investments in small-scale rural infrastructure and farming best practices accelerates the restoration process and revitalizes wetland ecosystems, benefiting local communities.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is working with the Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Water and Environment to support the government’s efforts restore and improve the management of wetlands across the country. 

Since 2017, UNDP with funding from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) embarked on a transformative journey to restore degraded wetlands and associated catchments, primarily in Eastern and Western Uganda. The "Building Resilient Communities Wetland Ecosystems and Associated Catchments in Uganda" initiative, which is implemented by the Government of Uganda and UNDP is supporting the restoration and management of wetlands facing severe encroachment in 24 districts in Eastern and Western Uganda. 

The districts include Mbale, Budaka, Bukedea, Butebo, Butaleja, Kibuku, Tororo, Namutumba, Kaliro, Ngora, Kumi, and Pallisa in Eastern Uganda and Sheema, Rubirizi, Rukungiri, Buhweju, Kanungu, Bushenyi, Ntungamo, Mitooma, Rubanda, Kisoro, Kabale, Rukiga in Western Uganda. This initiative has not only enhanced agricultural practices and fostered alternative livelihoods but also fortified climate resilience through improved access to early warning information. As a result, remarkable rejuvenation of over 51,000 hectares of degraded wetlands and associated catchment-restored areas, has uplifted the livelihoods of over 13,000 households, resulting in a 74 percent increase in household incomes. Such initiatives underscore the profound benefits derived from sustainable ecosystem management. 

Additionally, The Austrian Development Cooperation (ADA) partnered with UNDP and the Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Water and Environment to extend wetland restoration activities in five districts: Kaliro, Kibuku, Butaleja, Namutumba, and Budaka – benefiting over 9,300 households. These interventions have increased agricultural productivity, improved water quality and enhanced biodiversity, highlighting the substantial benefits of ecosystem preservation. 

Furthermore, UNDP has spearheaded efforts to conserve the Katosi Bay Catchment, vital for supplying water to the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area (GKMA), by revising and enhancing the Katosi Bay Catchment Management Plan (KCMP). These revisions include stricter water usage regulations, increased water quality monitoring, and introducing sustainable farming practices in the catchment area. These initiatives aim to ensure access to clean water, reduce water treatment costs, and preserve natural ecosystems essential for societal well-being.

Recognizing the pivotal role of land in securing food and water resources, UNDP has also implemented initiatives in the Karamoja sub-region. The initiatives include promoting climate smart farming practices in largescale production systems, proper post-harvest handling and food storage systems which enhance productivity and foster resilience for food security.

Despite notable achievements, Uganda's land restoration journey faces funding shortages and socio-cultural factors. However, these challenges underscore the crucial role of partnerships and innovative funding mechanisms, such as public-private partnerships, crowdfunding, and carbon offsetting, in scaling sustainable land restoration efforts.

Finally, on behalf of the UNDP, I extend heartfelt gratitude to the Government of Uganda for launching the Uganda Wetlands Gazette. This is a significant milestone towards preserving and sustainably managing Uganda's wetlands. The Gazette's enforcement in rural and urban areas will directly benefit biodiversity and local communities. 

UNDP is proud to be associated with efforts to sustainably manage Uganda's natural resources, particularly for the social and economic prosperity of Ugandans, including women and vulnerable communities. Together with the government of Uganda, we are laying the groundwork for a future where people and ecosystems thrive in harmony by harnessing nature-based solutions and fostering inclusive partnerships.

Ms. Nwanne Vwede-Obahor
UNDP Resident Representative