Depletion of Uganda's Wetlands



Contents



What are Wetlands?

A wetland is a vegetated area of land that is flooded either permanently or seasonally. In Uganda, wetlands are normally referred to as swamps. The most common vegetation in Uganda's wetlands is papyrus but other wetlands include bogs, flood plains and swamp forests. In Uganda, wetlands occupy about 13% of the country's total area. They are mostly located in the central region of the country. Some are found in the West, Eastern and southern areas. Wetlands are mostly found boundaring rivers and lakes.

Every one in one way or another derives his livelihood from wetlands. Therefore wetlands should be conserved for own use and for future generations.

Why Should We Conserve Our Wetlands?

Wetlands should be conserved that they may provide for our different needs. Conservation of wetlands is any assurance of income, health and safety of the people who live near them. Wetlands clean, purify and store water. Most of the wetlands especially the papyrus swamps retain sediments and absorb harmful substances in water. The sediments help bury any pollutants and the natural decay of plant material helps to convert the toxic substances into harmless ones. Therefore the wetlands ensure that the water leaving it is free from pollutants and is clean enough for human consumption.

Wetlands are well known for storing water. This is due to the fact that they have the special ability to retain water and release it gradually. This water can be used for several purposes like in industries, households, irrigation and animal consumption during times of drought. Their ability to retain water has enabled them to control floods by storing the collected water hence the more reason to protect them.

Wetlands also help in formation of conventional rainfall. Water from the wetlands is released in form of water vapor into the atmosphere. This later condenses to fall as rain and it's associated advantages. Some wetlands maintain the flow of rivers throughout the year as well ensuring the constant flow of water from boreholes and wells. The wetlands act as water reserves thus ensuring a continued supply of water.

Wetlands can be used to provide food to the population both near and far away from them. Agriculture may be practiced along their banks, which are good sites for agriculture. Crops such as sugarcane, rice and some vegetables do well along the banks of wetlands. In addition to this, wetlands provide fish which is a high quality source of protein. This is evidenced by the different fish species as the catfish and lungfish which are found in most wetlands. This source of protein should be conserved for future generations.

The economic prospect that can be derived from carefully using our wetlands can not all be mentioned. They include fishing, material for manufacture of art and crafts, providing building materials, providing plants of different medicinal values, agriculture, brick making and many others.

The wetlands provide a habitat for several different species of plants and animals. Thus, their depletion will greatly affect in terms of population the different species. The animals found in the wetlands include the Nile crocodile, the Hippopotamus and the Monitor lizard. The plant species constitute of different types of palms and papyrus. Wetlands provide a winter home and a resting-place to many millions of migratory birds as marsh harriers, northern ducks and European storks. These and many other species of birds migrate to tropical African wetlands during the winter season in Europe. The Crested crane, Uganda's national bird breeds exclusively in seasonal grass wetlands.

If these wetlands are conserved, therefore, the country's tourism industry will grow since wetlands are a natural habitat for many different animals and plant species. This increases foreign exchange for the country.

Factors That Have Led to the Depletion of Wetlands

In spite of the obvious advantages accruing from the presence wetlands in the country, they are being increasingly put under threat both in the developed and under developed areas of the country. Wetlands have been reclaimed so as to provide land on which industries are being built every other day. Government has entirely ignored the importance of wetlands at the cost of earning extra revenue. This has already or is in the process of creating severe changes in climatic conditions now and in the near future.

The growth of industries has resulted into increased amounts of waste being given off by industries. These wastes are being deposited into former wetlands as the garbage dumping areas in Kololo and Wakaliga near Natete. This has definitely polluted these areas not forgetting the foul odor accruing from the waste.

Urbanisation has greatly been responsible for wetland depletion since the wetlands have been turned into economically viable areas. There has been rapid development in the country which has led to growth of towns, construction of infrastructure and migrations all of which need a great deal of land to be fully developed.

The wetlands are fertile and this has attracted many people to carry out agriculture. Crops such as yams, sugarcane, maize and sweet potatoes do well in wetlands. This results in over-cultivation of the wetlands due to desire for high yields, hence high rate of their depletion. The increased desire for utilization of the natural resources in the wetlands such as the aquatic life, water for domestic use, hunting and many others lead to increased population growth around the wetlands. This will leave people with no alternative but to encroach on the wetlands so as to enable each and every one to satisfy their diverse needs.

Brick making is one of the most serious threats to wetlands in Uganda today. This leaves behind big holes, which greatly hinder movement and communication. It is also associated with the clearing of vegetation around the wetlands so as to provide fuel with which to make them. Fires that are both natural and those started by man destroy the fertility of the wetlands. The fertility that had accumulated over the years in the soil is lost during the burning of the existing vegetation. These fires are caused by prolonged drought or clearing land for human activity.

With improvement in science and technology, there is bound to be an increase in food production and advancement in the medical field, which will result in an increase in the human population. This will result in an increase of basic needs like land for settlement, water and food.

A Case Study: Kampala

Background

Kampala is the capital city of Uganda and it is located in the central region of the country. It has an area of about 238 square kilometers, a big part of which was once a wetland. Geographically Kampala is referred to as a city of seven hills separated by valleys with swamps and streams also called wetlands. Today the wetlands in this area is on the verge of extinction as they are being threatened by the increasing population in the city.

Kampala's wetlands are mostly located on the shores thus their waters are collected and poured in the lakes like Victoria which is the largest in East Africa. What has remained of these places is the drainage channels which have diverted the flow of water out of these wetlands. The expansion of the city from its old self to the current location has greatly lead to the depletion of wetlands around it.

Historically, Kampala's wetlands go back before 1900 when they belonged to the Kabaka (king) of Buganda.(Buganda was one of the ancient kingdoms in Uganda). Under the colonial rule, these wetlands were turned to the Queen of Britain in the name of crownland and were supervised by the colonial governors. No person during that time was allowed to encroach on these wetlands.

With the exit of colonial masters after independence, these wetlands suffered from conflicts over their ownership. The cultural leaders and new politicians mismanaged these areas and the wetlands were destroyed totally.

In Kampala, the city and its immediate environment is managed and administered by the City Council of Kampala. This government body has greatly fostered destruction of these treasured areas. The city council has neglected the laws set up to protect the wetlands. Under section 74 of the Public Health Act, one who interferes with the land around the city should be sued in court but, due to corruption, Kampala City Council has sold off these areas to "money hungry" people who have reclaimed these areas to an extent of extinction.

The Government of Uganda has conflicting ideologies over environmental protection with respect to economic growth and so, no real supervision is done over the authorities in charge of wetland conservation. The call for modernisation of Kampala's areas and industrialization by politicians and other leaders today, we fear that Kampala's wetlands will not survive.

Areas of Wetland Depletion in Kampala

The wetlands in Kampala are continuously being depleted in-spite of the numerous calls by the different environmental bodies such as National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), Ministry of Natural Resources and different wildlife clubs.

Initially the areas of Wakaliga (between Rubaga and Natete), the dumping grounds of Kololo were viable wetlands for different purposes. However, the Kampala City Council, licenced by Government, used these areas as dumping grounds for waste. This situation was worsened by the licencing of private firms into rubbish disposal industry which used the same grounds for disposal of waste. Not only has this polluted the wetlands but it has rendered these areas unsuitable for human settlement.

The area occupied by the Mukwano industries, Lugogo trade show grounds, Kitante golf club, Nakawa industrial area, Owino Market area, Luzira-Bugolobi and until recently Munyonyo recreation grounds were all wetlands. These wetlands have been abused greatly and turned into industrial, recreation and trading areas.

Due to the high poverty level in the country, there has been a tremendous increase in slums. These slums such as kibuye, Makerere-kivulu and kisenyi which were once wetlands are now being used for human settlement.

Wetland depletion has also been associated with floods. Wetlands are known to have been able to store water but since they have all been destroyed, there is no way water run-offs can be controlled. This has resulted into increased floods around the clock-tower area, Nsambya, Bugolobi, Jinja-road and Nakawa. These floods have greatly hindered movement within the city and around the affected areas.

In addition, the floods have increased the number of people suffering from waterborne diseases. Areas mostly affected by these epidemics were formally wetlands which were depleted. An example of such epidemics include the most recent cholera epidemic which killed a large number of people in areas of Kisenyi, Mulago, Kivulu, Kibuye and many others. To add on, the streets of Kampala now have a bad stench due to the garbage deposited on its streets by these floods.

Kampala city was recently raided by the infamous Marabou Storks which earlier had their homes in the surrounding wetlands. When these areas were destroyed, the storks turned to the city and now live on top of buildings and constantly dirty the city's streets and roads.

(Note: We expect to get more information concerning:

Sources of information:

Effects of Depletion of Wetlands

As mentioned above, the main case study is Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. Most of these effects can be shown by what is happening in Kampala today. Of recent, because of poor drainage systems in Kampala and pollution of the existing drainage channels like the Nakivubo channel, Kampala is experiencing a problem of flooding when it rains. The flooding is mainly because of man's interference with the existing wetlands around Kampala city. In Kampala today, flood water is a problem in many parts formerly occupied by water.

Another effect of exploitation of the wetlands is the destruction of natural habitats. Many kinds of animals and plants inhibit the wetlands of which fish, papyrus and crocodiles are examples. These species have been displaced and this has affected both the species and the Ugandan tourism industry.

The wetlands are characterized by fertile soils, like the acidic soils of bogs which are suitable for agriculture. Repeated cultivation of these areas has led to problems like soil erosion and soil exhaustion. This in turn has affected the people staying around the wetlands. These wetlands also harbor dangerous animals and insects like mosquitoes and Nairobi flies which has rendered these areas unsuitable for human development.

Since drainage of wetlands in Uganda is mainly by digging channels, it lowers the water table of the area and this leads to the drying up of uplands (highlands) around the affected areas. The fish in the wetlands have been displaced by either over fishing or destruction of the wetlands especially in the swamps. This exploitation of the wetlands has led to scarcity of fish. Many wetlands have been extensively drained especially the swamps to create more land for cultivation. Wells and streams have dried up and this has resulted in a serious water shortage for the people and animals as well. The drained areas have become semi-arid which has led to desertification.

There has been a major change in climatic regimes especially in relation to rainfall totals. This is because land reclamation directly affects the rate of evaportranspiration, a process which adds water to the atmosphere. This partly explains why areas formerly occupied by wetlands which used to be among the coldest parts of Uganda are gradually becoming warm.

Considering the level of income of some Ugandans, swamps are a major source of building materials such as papyrus for thatching and making ropes.

We hope to visit some of the affected areas (like areas which usually flood in Kampala) to see what is on the ground and to find out more about these effects.

Solutions to Wetland Depletion

The best solution to wetland depletion is massive education and local campaigning to the people. It's important to note too, that high demand for land for settlement in urban centers like Kampala has also tended to endanger the existing wetlands e.g. Nakawa, Industrial area, Nalukolongo and Bwaise. No wonder that today most of these areas are affected by frequent flooding, especially when it rains heavily. This education and campaign can be done through meetings with their local councils and through publication of different environmental sectors.

More so, alternative sources of income generation may be the best alternative instead of exploiting the wetlands. People are encouraged to take strong measures in their activities in order to avoid the natural casualties. Instead of displacing some of these animals, one can instead preserve and protect them thereby earning income through the tourist industry. Political stability is one of the main factors whereby if not considered, everything is left in pieces. Some of these places, for example the swamps and forests, have turned out to be battlefields. If considered, this will help in the smooth running of some industries, for example the tourism industry.

In addition to the above, environmental bodies should be formed like the National Environmental Management Authority so that these bodies aid in wetland conservation. Clubs like the Uganda Wildlife which assist in the sensitization of the masses about conservation of both the flora and the fauna. The government should legislate against swamps and wetland reclamation. Swamps must be allowed to re-grow. The government in this case should put rules that people must follow in that before one goes on with the reclamation of wetlands, one must get proper documentation from the government. Government should be prepared to act when confronted with cases of unnecessary wetland and swamp reclamation.

As mentioned before, overpopulation has been noted as one of the problems in these wetlands. A number of measures can be taken to avoid all this. One major one could be, controlling population growth rate through adopting better family planning programs. This aims at minimizing excess demand for land which tends to force people to encroach on these wetlands.

This, though it goes without saying, is another method of reducing on wetland reclamation; encouragement of excess population by the government to migrate to areas of sparse population outside their home areas. There has been destruction of marine animals in form of pollution of their natural habitats. Given the case of the Lugogo area in Kampala where the present Uganda Manufacturers Association build showground stands where some animal habitats are limited.

The only solution to urban reclamation of wetlands in this case is the encouragement of vertical rather than horizontal expansion .

Finally, the education of urban dwellers and developers on the disadvantages of encroaching on the existing wetlands can also help minimize on the land problem.

Copyright - The 21st Century Schoolhouse 1997