By Gerald Tenywa
SHE stood in the crowd watching the remains of her grass-thatched house. Except for the clothes Sauda Namutebi and her three children wore, everything they owned was reduced to ashes.
Despite the catastrophe, Namutebi, a single mother of three had to deal with the reality of starting from scratch.
â€œMany times my children went hungry because the yams I had cultivated in the swamp were also destroyed,â€™â€™ she said.
â€œMy eldest daughter always suggested what we could eat, but we had virtually eaten all the vegetables we knew from the nearby bushes and I did not want to beg. How long would I have to beg anyway?â€™â€™ Namutebi asks.
Namutebi is one of the thousands of settlers that were evicted from Nakaiba wetlands in Masaka about two years ago.
But despair did not imprison Namutebi for long. Soon she was among the 22 residents of Nyendo on the outskirts of Masaka that started growing tree seedlings for a living. They formed Nakaiba Tree Seedling Association with an aim of alleviating poverty.
â€œDuring a good season, many tree vendors earn as much as sh200,000 per month,â€™â€™ she told journalists as she took them around her garden.
The excursion of Nakaiba wetlands was organised under the Nile Transboundary Action Project (NTEAP). NTEAP is one of the eight projects under the Nile Basin Initiative that are undertaken in the nine countries sharing the Nile River.
Julius Kayondo, the chairperson of the tree planting group said the involvement of NTEAP has created harmony between the tree seedling farmers and the environmental bodies.
His group organises the tree seedling farmers to benefit from programmes under the Wetlands Inspection Division and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).
â€œWe have created a partnership with such groups because they are organised and easy to access,â€™â€™ says Gerald Sawula Musoke, NEMAâ€™s acting executive director.
Muwanga concurs with Musoke, adding that awareness among the groups helps them to reap the benefits from the wetlands without compromising on its sanctity.
As a result, the swamp has been replenished naturally, providing a home to aquatic species that were threatened with extinction.
â€œThe water is back and the fish that had disappeared are also coming back,â€™â€™ said Rose Nakyejjwe, Masaka district environment officer.
â€œThis gives residents more food because fishermen have also come back,â€™â€™ she added.
Nakaiba wetlands is part of Nabajjuzi, another wetlands that forms a belt around Masaka district. It washes through many dryland areas of the district before it drains into the northern shores of Lake Victoria.