PIC: From left, NEMA officials Richard Kyambadde (commissioner), director, district support coordination and public education Dr Daniel Babikwa) and consult senior legal officer Sarah Naigaga during a meeting with residents around Kyetinda wetland at Ggaba in Kampala. (Credit: Ronnie Kijjambu)
KAMPALA - Residents of Makindye in Kampala who have encroached on Kyetinda Wetland in recent years have been left on tenterhooks.
Their time in the swamp, according to the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) top Government watchdog on the environment is over.
"We gave an eviction notice to the people encroaching on the wetland to vacate the wetland," said Dr Tom Okurut, the executive director of National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), adding that the notice has expired.
However, the political leadership of the local community in three local councils and their lawyer requested to listen to them before eviction.
Two boundaries for Kyetinda
It has emerged that there are two different boundaries for Kyetinda. There is one which was put in place by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) in 2016.
This followed the contours of the wetland and natural properties such as clay and water. The second boundary is a political boundary set by Maria Mutagamba who was the minister of water and environment about a decade ago.
Mutagamba's boundary puts some of the encroachers outside the swamp and NEMA's boundary has affected most of the encroachers. This has created a lot of anxiety as the encroachers face the pending eviction.
Okurut said communities have bogus claims that they had settled at Kyetinda for 40 years. "We have established that there were no houses in the swamp until 2008-2009 when houses started creeping in," said Okurut.
Okurut said that they have verified the claims of the local people by using satellite images over the years. "Where were these people in the year 2000, 2004, 2008? We do not see them on the satellite images," Okurut observed.
The encroachers will have to go because the Kyetinda is a stone-throw away-from Gaba Water Works, Okurut ordered.
Okurut also pointed out that some of the local residents access their residences by boat and this evidence they have encroached on the lake.
Kyetinda shields lake from pollution
The wetland sitting between Gaba and Munyonyo covering about 1.4 square kilometers shields Lake Victoria from massive siltation and pollution.
The wetland drains water from the hills of Bunga, Buziga and Munyonyo into Lake Victoria. It helps to cool down the micro climate of the areas in the vicinity of the lake. It is also a source of livelihood for local people who engage in fishing in Lake Victoria.
This also a critical wetland that protects Gaba Water works which is the source of water for Kampala's two million people, according to Okurut.
"Nakivubo is one of the critical wetlands but it is a bit far from the lake but Kyetinda is round the corner," he said.
But Kyetinda wetland is under serious threat by construction of both permanent and semi-permanent houses. In some areas such as the one across Cape Road, Kyetinda wetland has been reduced to a channel.
Kyetinda has been a battle ground for decades. A decade ago, veterans camped at the vast swamp but were later evicted. This was followed by encroachers who settled on the edges of the swamp and spread their tentacles deep into the swamp.
The local residents complained that NEMA's efforts to restore the swamp were targeting poor people leaving out the rich.
Regarding this complaint, Tony Achidri, the senior public relations officer of NEMA said that NEMA is still waiting for the request from the lawyer representing the affected communities to move ahead with eviction of poor and rich residents.
He said the letter from the lawyer representing encroachers on Kyetinda could determine the next steps.