High population threatens Uganda wetlands
By Hope Mafaranga August 22, 2011
Uganda has extensive wetland coverage, although information on the exact size and distribution is yet to be documented.
Current estimates put the total area of wetlands at 33,000 Km2; about 13% of the country’s total area. Uganda’s wetlands are faced with threats of degradation especially resulting from population pressure and economic development.
The Kabarole district natural resources officer Sam Mugume says that wetlands throughout the country are increasingly being encroached upon and reclaimed mainly for agriculture and settlements.
Mugume says that the impact of human activities is far-reaching and threatens the integrity and sustainability of the vital wetland resources.
He explained that the current and potential impacts include increased floods, shortage of building and crafts materials and reduction in fish productivity, decline in water quantity and quality, reduced ground water recharge and decline in the water table as exemplified by the disappearance of springs and non-functionality of shallow wells.
“Changing climatic conditions has also forced people to look for wetter and cooler areas for their crops during dry spells,” he said.
He noted that the situation in Kabarole district is not any different from the national scenario, wetlands are continuously being degraded through various ways despite the availability of regulations and policies at national and district level.
He said that encroachment and destruction of wetlands due to a growing population looking for more agricultural land, settlement, excavation for construction materials; and pollution by slaughter slabs, pit latrines, car washing bays and markets, remains a big in wetland protection.
Findings and current status
Mugume said that wetlands in Kabarole district are home to a number of endemic species of both flora and fauna, adding that wetlands are also a source of medicinal plants and human food nutrients like fish and small game.
The bird species include the ibis, egrets, crested cranes, hornbills, herons, and guinea fowls among other many various type of small and bigger ones.
“Fauna found in these wetlands are among the leading tourist attractions in the district. These include Colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys, bushbucks, baboons, porcupines, sitatunga, bush pigs, duikers and edible rats,” he explained.
The 2011 wetland inventory established the following regarding the wetlands in the district: the major dominant vegetation in most wetlands is papyrus (60%), water reeds (25%) and sedges (15%).
He said that most of the wetlands had all the three aquatic plants and a few were being invaded by invasive shrubs but it is also evident that those being invaded by shrubs have also been heavily silted.
The other activities recorded included, sand mining, fish farming, collection of firewood, collection of handcraft materials, recreational activities and settlement.
“Subsistence farming and animal husbandry were the most significantly dominant activities around and inside wetlands,” he remarked.
Despite the knowledge among community members that there is need to conserve wetlands, communities are not aware about ownership of wetlands and water bodies.
Interventions to end the current situation by district
Mugume said that the district has enacted the production and environment ordinance which has specific sections for wetland management.
He added that they have established environment committees and trained environmental monitors at a community level to serve environmental restoration orders and notices.
He explained that they also supported one community wetland management plan, to mobilize the community and create awareness on environmental related activities.
He however explained that despite the efforts by government and her partners, degradation of wetlands still goes on, unless a strategy is intensified and changed to involve the community as much as possible so as to take up responsibility of their resources; then there won’t be positive results.
Mugume said that supporting community wetland management system through development and implementing of wetland management action plans, providing alternatives for best utilization of wetlands, sensitization and support to community policing, restoration of the degraded wetlands, law enforcement and strong dedication of government in conserving and protecting wetlands from depletion.
He however, the 2010 wetland inventory for Burahya County and Fort Portal municipality in Kabarole district recommended the need to restore wetlands and gazette the inventoried wetlands as provided under the wetland and riverbank management regulations.
“There must be a deliberate effort by government and her development partners to promote community wetland management and policing through the administration at sub county level,” he said.
He said that the community should do a day to day monitoring of wetlands and regularly submitting a list of degraders to the sub county and the district for legal prosecution.