Uganda celebrates World Wetlands Day while conservationists decry lip service and turning a blind eye by government

As the World Wetlands Day is being celebrated around the globe, Uganda has little to be proud of, considering the devastating report produced by the national biomass study, that the country has lost nearly 570.000 hectares of wetlands over the past two decades. Relentless encroachment, draining and complicity with often corrupt local and national officials has seen many key wetlands in particular in and around Kampala, Entebbe and Mukono being built over, and NEMA, the National Environmental Management Authority, has regularly turned a blind eye to reports of wetland destruction, with in particular the past Executive Director Dr. Aramanya Mugisha notorious for not responding to mails or messages left for him with details outlining locations and other details. The formation of an arm of the national police force to combat environmental crimes was also seen by many in the conservation fraternity as a pure appeasement move, as the unit largely exists on paper only with the main body of the Uganda Police focusing on other issues and not, as one senior cop recently said to this correspondent: we do not have resources and manpower and experts to allow us pursue reports about illegal logging in forests or wetland encroachment. Those responsible for managing such natural resources must uphold the law from their own end and when we are asked to support we do, but the environmental police unit is not able to act without scientists, equipment like labs and research facilities, vehicles and most important manpower.
It is understood that on the occasion of the World Wetlands Day a new demarcation exercise is to commence across the country, attempting to secure what is left and audit what has been lost compared to existing wetland maps produced in the past, but the sheer number of wetlands will make it difficult to achieve more than just a few show cases where examples are being made of individuals who encroached with impunity.
In Kampala several parts of the city are now prone to flooding after buildings were licensed to go up in what used to be drainage swamps and wetlands towards Lake Victoria and even the crucial highway to Entebbe has in the past repeatedly flooded as on both sides of it water could no longer drain and submerged buildings and offices at times for days. One of Africas most important bird transit wetlands, Lutembe Bay, a Ramsar Site, has been shrinking to a fraction of its original size, in the process decimating the number of the White Winged Black Terns, which used to come to Ugandas Lake Victoria shores to rest before continuing their annual journey.
As the saying goes, there is always hope but unless that hope is back up with concrete measures it is bound to falter and leave Uganda more exposed to the impact of climate change, as changed micro climates in the worst affected parts of the country already show, where the decimation of wetlands has brought about higher temperatures and reduced crop yields amongst other environmental fallout, a harbinger of things to come. World Wetlands Day a day to celebrate but also to take stock, not just a day for more lip service.

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