By Simon Mone
It seems we have got ourselves into a period when ownership of government property is first becoming a right.
The recent mad rush by ‘powerful’ individuals to grab forests, wetlands, wildlife reserves, etc. only amplifies this notion. When people get hold of acres forest space, they later claim to have rightfully acquired from ‘relatives’.
Ask if relatives had the right to own a wetland then you see how these all point us towards a direction of lawlessness. I am not sure if the rest of Ugandans get awed anymore by grabbing acts of gazetted property by some of us.
For these episodes do not bother people anymore today. People are busy going about their daily routines in order to make ends meet. So they are not too troubled by some local leaders’ actions to possess forests.
Or take a wetland, whose usefulness, we can vaguely explain. But in the long-term, we will find out how usefulness a wetland is. Like, it ensures that ground water levels don’t decline. It also protects low-lying areas from impacts of floods by absorbing and storing excess waters.
Wetlands are like sponge. They absorb water and later recharge the ground, thereby maintaining the water table. Despite preaching after preaching, the message always seems to fall on deaf ears. There has been wide-spread depletion of wetland cover through unplanned developments. It has altered the natural environment.
Concreting wetland blocks water path and so water cannot be absorbed any more by the ground. It causes flooding. And so water gets its way to houses.
So now, we see a trend where water levels are reducing quite fast, with no hope of reversing any time soon. Yet communities that don’t have piped water rely on wells and water springs. But these have become unreliable as the wells do not store ground water for long any more.
They dry up when the dry seasons approach. They dry up during construction activities where the wetlands get filled up to deprive it of this treasure of nature. So, wet lands are essential for the well-being of humanity (you see!).
No statistics are available to reveal the damage being caused to wetlands. However, suspicion has it that a significant amount of wetlands has given way to developments. We see this every day.
We will not adapt to the changing climate anymore because waters running to wetlands cannot be preserved. So there is water shortage and flooding that are caused by several factors among which wetland destruction plays a key role.
In the absence of stringent enforcement, we are going to struggle to keep up with illegal wetland encroachment. And we cannot ascertain the number of construction permits that are being given out for wetland development, leave alone the number of developments that have already taken place without approval. Every day, we wake up to new developments. Developers continue to bypass procedures.
What solutions should we look at? If any development should take place on wetlands, it should such that the natural state of the environment is not altered.
For example, construct over water ways. Don’t block! Otherwise we could embarrass ourselves even more when the flood waters return to haunt us. Destruction of wetlands has been worsened by movement of people from the rich lands of the countryside to the towns.
As they migrate, they establish new settlements, mostly in wetlands. From there, their buildings crack. And give way to flood waters. So unless rigorous regime enforcement is implemented, the scramble for gazetted areas will continue.
Eventually there will be no more areas gazetted for environmental conservation. Development on gazetted areas is the unwanted obstacle to our ecosystem.
The writer is a civil engineer