Having been given a 21-day ultimatum to leave Namiiro wetland, residents of Division B in Entebbe municipality have vowed not to bow to the government’s directive unless an alternative settlement has been provided. Through a letter dated June 8, Tom Okurut the executive director for National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), ordered people who had settled in the swampy area, to demolish all structures that had been raised.
“You are therefore, ordered to comply with the environmental protection improvement orders, and have the wetland restored to its near original state,” read in part the order.
According to Nicholas Magara, the coordinator of wetlands in central region under the Ministry of Water and Environment, residents of Namiiro wetland were served with an Environmental restoration order, after going through all other processes.
Less than 10days to deadline, residents insist on not vacating the wetland. Winnie Gwokyalya a resident in Namiiro wetland said, she has occupied the land for more than ten years. “I derive my children’s sustenance from this area. Not only have we lost hope on where to go, we also don’t have any other work to do ever since the partial lock-down was announced,” added Gwokyalya.
Fred Ssemambo another resident blamed area leaders for “not standing with residents” when they’re being pushed out of their homes. “They are very fast to come looking for votes when it’s campaign time but they have decided to coil themselves when we happen to need them most,” complained Ssemambo.
Meanwhile, Paul Zikuliza the area chairperson refuted allegations that he appended his signature on agreements for buying/selling of plots in the wetland. “I knew from day one, that this was a wetland. Whoever claims that I signed for them, should adduce evidence,” Zikuliza lambasted.
Several politicians have been seen backing residents not to leave the wetland. However, Magara called them jokers. “Those people are joking, the environmental restoration order was served to them after we had gone through all the processes. We are just waiting for the 21 days to elapse, then we effect our order,” Magara shot back.
Wetlands in Uganda
Ministry of Water and Environment statistics show that Uganda has lost more than 30 percent of the wetlands in the last 23 years. This trend indicates the country’s increased risk and vulnerability to natural disasters and other effects of climate change. Section 36 of the National Environment Act provides for the protection of wetlands and prohibits reclamation, erection of illegal structures and empowers authorities to demolish any structure that is fixed in, on, under or above any wetland.
The Act also empowers local leaders in districts to manage wetlands within their jurisdictions and ensure that their boundaries are clearly demarcated so that even as water levels and wetland vegetation recedes, the communities are clear on where the boundaries are.