Uganda: Government Names 7 Most Degraded Wetlands

Government has unveiled a list of the most degraded wetlands in the country and warned that if no serious action is taken, all wetlands will be depleted by 2046.

The list is contained in the 2018-2019 National Environment Management Authority (Nema) report titled The National State of Environment Report, which was released yesterday.

The 112-page report indicates that the most degraded wetlands in the country include Lake Kyoga where 42 per cent of its coverage has been devastated, Lake Edward (34 per cent), Lake Victoria (29 per cent) and Lake Albert (28 per cent).

"The high degradation in the Kyoga basin is attributed to the ever increasing conversion of intact wetlands for subsistence cultivation of mainly rice, sugarcane and maize. The Edward basin wetlands have also been converted to farmlands," the Nema report reads.

The report also states that the major threat to wetlands in the Lake Victoria basin is the ever increasing demand for land for urbanisation.

Other degraded wetlands include Victoria Nile (27 per cent), Albert Nile (20 per cent), Aswa (1 per cent) and Kidepo (1 per cent).

"Each year, Uganda has been losing on average 791 square kilometres of its wetlands," the report reads.

There has been a sharp decline in wetland coverage from 15.5 per cent in 1994 to 13 per cent in 2017 and of the remaining wetlands, 4.1 per cent is degraded, according to the report.

The report is based on field visits to places experiencing noticeable environmental changes and assessing relevant reports from different sectors and universities, according to Nema.

Dr Tom Okurut, the executive director of Nema, said there was a slight improvement in the state of national environment from 54 per cent in 2020 to 56 per cent this year.

Turn around bid

Dr Okurut said the improvements were due to the Covid-19 induced lockdown, which caused a reduction in air pollution through restricting movement of motorised transport last year.

"The floods also contributed to the improvement in the general state of the environment in the country by making people, who were residing in conservation areas, move away by themselves," he said.

In the report, restricting the issuance of wetland use permits and certificates, demarcating and gazetting wetlands and increasing sensitisation of the public about importance of wetland conservation were the key recommendations to curb loss of wetland cover.

The country representative of the World Wildlife Fund, Mr David Duli, asked government to strengthen enforcement of laws to save the remaining wetlands in the country from depletion.

"We are a country that relies on natural resources and we must conserve and add value to nature," he said.

The report also indicated that between 2011 and 2019, at least 4,487 hectares of wetland cover across the country were restored.

Pollution

The country is also experiencing high levels of air and water pollution which is leaving huge public health effects and affecting the economy through the death of fish in water bodies such as Lake Victoria, according to the report.

"Particulate matter (PM2.5) in Kampala City ranges from 36 cubic micrograms to 80 cubic micrograms (24-hour mean), which is above the World Health Organisation tolerable limit of 25 cubic microgram," the report reads further.

Particulate matter (PM) is the sum of all solid and liquid particles suspended in air, many of which are hazardous to human health. PM2.5 are the fine inhalable particles.

This, according to the report, has led to rising burden of respiratory diseases in the country with pneumonia cough and cold came second after malaria at 26.9 per cent of all out-patient department attendances in 2017/2018.

The report indicated that water pollution in the country is majorly caused by urban wastes, pollutants in air dissolving in water and large volumes of plastics dumped in water annually.

Mr Duli said the country is on the verge of losing River Rwizi in western Uganda and River Nywamwamba due to limited action by government to halt plastic pollutions.

"Biodiversity in River Rwizi is threatened with extinction in the next 30 years. The river is chocking up with plastic pollution and medical wastes," he said.

Wildlife

There has been a general increase in wildlife populations across the country between 1960s and 2017 following the increased promotion of wildlife conservation and management by government, according to the report.

A number of protected area systems have been gazetted and this comprise 10 national parks, ten reserves, seven wildlife sanctuaries and 13 community wildlife areas, which collectively cover around 48,398 square kilometres.

Notable species that increased were mountain gorillas from 292 in 1995 to 400 in 2017, elephants increased from 2000 to 5,808 and Buffalos bloomed from 18,000 to 37,054 within the same time points.

Forest cover

The report revealed that although there has been a strong decline in forest cover over the years, plantations registered an increment from three per cent in 2010 to eight per cent in 2017.

"Overall decline in forest cover has been halted and, for the first time since 1990, a net forest gain has been recorded," the report reads.

Mr Alfred Okidi, the permanent secretary at Ministry of Water and Environment, said the forest cover rose from 9.9 per cent in 1990 to the current 12 per cent which is contributed by increased tree plantation in the country and conservation sites.

However, in the report, refugees are the major drivers of tree loss in the country as a result of encroaching on forests for food production and other livelihood activities.

The report also indicated that there has been a general decline in soil fertility in the country, due to rising pressure on land which is resulting from increase in human population.

Oil and gas

The report cited oil and gas exploration and exploitation as the ticking bomb for environmental degradation if not well managed.

According to the report, environmental degradation can be occasioned by land-use changes, vegetation clearance, occurrence of oil spills and other emissions.

Dr Tom Okurut, the executive director of Nema, said the agency is monitoring these activities to ensure rehabilitation of these areas.

Source: The Monitor

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