Protection of wetlands is every citizen’s duty — Ms. Rosa Malango
As a young boy, Mr. Peter Dibele, the Arua Resident District Commissioner (RDC) and his peers, used to swim in River Enyau, the river that skirts around Arua Municipality.
Today, standing at the banks of the same river, the Mr. Dibele cannot imagine how a formerly raging river has been reduced to a small stream, faced with a threat of drying up due to massive degradation of the surrounding wetland.
“We used to swim here, but now you cannot swim because there is no water,” Mr. Dibele says, spreading his hands in the air in disbelief adding that when he was growing up, there were no houses around the river.
“Now, there are many illegal activities within the wetland, people have invaded it, have built houses and even planted eucalyptus trees,” he adds.
The RDC made the observations during a tour of the River Enyau catchment, where him and other Arua district officials showed dignitaries, including Ms. Rosa Malango, the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, and Hon. Gabriel Ajedra Aridru the Minister of State for Finance, how encroachment is threatening the existence of this vital river on which several livelihoods depend.
The tour which started in Niva village, Arua Municipality was part of the activities to mark World Wetlands Day 2018
The tour continued to Pajulu sub-county where residents wash cars, clothes, carpets and other utensils within the river as others draw water in jerrycans for domestic use.
In Pajulu, Ms. Malango and Minister Ajedra erected mark-stones to kick off the demarcation of the wetland boundaries process, and also planted trees to boost conservation in the area.
“It’s not a responsibility of the Ministry of Water and Environment alone, it not a responsibility of the local councils or Parliament. It is a shared responsibility for all of us,” Ms. Malango said while erecting the mark stone at Pajulu.
Construction for settlement, agricultural activity and cutting of trees have combined to reduce the volume of water in River Enyau, one of the main sources of water in Arua Municipality.
This has affected the local population and agencies like National Water and Sewerage Cooperation (NWSC) water whose operation capacity and efficiency has decreased due to reduced water levels and pollution, increasing the cost of the water purification process. The situation escalated in 2016, when the municipality suffered from an extended period of water shortage due to River Enyau drying up.
World Wetlands Day 2018 with the global theme ‘Wetlands for Sustainable Urban Future’ and the national theme, ‘Urban wetlands, prized land, not wasteland,’ focused on situations such as these.
Speaking at the Arua’s Boma ceremonial grounds where the final events for the day were held, Ms. Malango noted that as cities expand and demand for land increases, the tendency is to encroach on wetlands.
“This is a worrying trend especially in this era of climate change where extreme weather events such as storms, floods and delayed rainy seasons are on the increase,” she said.
She urged the locals to beware of this and be at the forefront of protecting their wetlands saying, “A wetland destroyed will not be good for your well-being, it is not good for your children and is not good for attracting investors,” she said.
Ms. Malango also thanked them for hosting refugees from South Sudan and other places and tasked them to carry the same message to them whenever they interacted.
Uganda’s Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, in remarks read on his behalf by Hon. Ajedra, emphasised the need for wetland protection saying that without wetlands, sustaining human life will be difficult.
He called on the locals to avoid disasters such as drying up of water sources which are created by wrong choices through restoring and protecting wetlands.
“Each one of you should be part of the solutions to protect these wetlands and support the efforts the Ministry of Water and Environment is spearheading with partners like UNDP,” Right Hon. Rugunda said in his remarks.
The Prime Minister added that restoration of degraded wetlands, securing the remaining wetlands and titling them, integration of wetlands into urban planning and provision of timely advice to investors are some of the measures government will undertake to protect the wetlands.
About Wetlands in Uganda
Wetlands cover 11 per cent of Uganda’s land area and can be found around some of the major lakes and rivers. According to the Ministry of Water and Environment, only a total of 516 wetlands has been protected but a majority remain under threat.
To address wetland degradation, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Government produced the National Wetlands Atlas which maps all the country’s wetlands, their current-status, and what can be done to restore the degraded ones.
UNDP is also working with the Ministry of Water and Environment on the new Building Resilient Communities, Wetland Ecosystems and Associated Catchments in Uganda project which aims to restore and sustainably manage wetlands in Uganda.
Text & Photos by: Henry Mukasa Nsubuga. Edited by: Doreen Kansiime, UNDP Uganda