Uganda Citizens Alliance(UCA), a non-governmental organization operating in Western Uganda, with headquarters in Bushenyi town, has penned a letter to the Resident District Commissioner, Bushenyi district about what they call “massive encroachment and destruction” of wetlands in the district. The organization has for over a year directed its focus on environmental protection among other thematic work areas in Western Uganda.
In the letter, seen by Countryside Reports, UCA says massive destruction of the environment, has resumed on large scale during the unprecedented times of COVID-19. The Organization also cites a reverse of what Bushenyi district has done before to save wetlands because many wetlands have been encroached on and destroyed.
According to UCA, many people have since the outbreak of COVID -19 done massive cultivation of crops in wetlands around Bushenyi district. COVID-19 caused restriction of movement.
“Many people have taken advantage of COVID-19 situation that has almost paralyzed field operations with key enforcers of the existing laws and legal framework fixed in COVID-19 operations and have done massive cultivation in many of these wetlands…” the letter reads in part
Marking the development as “highly unacceptable” because of its long term effects, UCA maintains that people including high ranking government officials are freely practicing agriculture in wetlands in the watch of political and technical leaders at district level. The leaders, including the mandated technical staff are aware, but cannot stop the habit. This UCA says is likely to cause unprecedented suffering on the population and generations to come.
UCA wants the Office of the RDC to take action and stop the ongoing destruction by first, coordinating a joint meeting for all the concerned sectors to help come up with measures that can halt the ongoing destruction according to Mr Elly Muhwezi, the director of programming at UCA.
He appreciates the district leadership for efforts put in place to conserve the environment and restore wetlands particularly in Nyabubaare, kandekye, Kyamugambira and other parts of the district. “Last year, the district did some good work in different parts. You would really see some level of improvement and even the ministry appreciated the work, but as we speak, the good work that they had done is nowhere. Residents have massively destroyed the wetlands.” Says Mr Muhwezi
He adds that his organization has to some level wished to jointly work with the district, but the district officials are not willing to do what is in their mandate the remaining wetlands and also implement directives set by the central government. He also dispels complaints that the officials are financially constrained.
“We can’t say they are constrained. I think their problem is willingness. For example, we made an arrangement in our own efforts and facilitation to take one of the officials to the field, but after critically assessing the situation, we wanted to work with the police and meet the encroachers without arresting them, this official brought other excuses.” Mr Muhwezi charges
There are unconfirmed reports from the residents of Bushenyi town that the people practicing farming in the swampy areas got a positive go-ahead from the district officials, which the district environmental officer, Mr Vincent Kataate denies.
Commenting on the massive encroachment on the wetlands by the residents, Mr Kataate admitted that there have been loopholes during COVID-19 period, something that they are aware of and are planning to act on as the COVID-19 lockdown is systematically ceased by the central government.
“In the first two months, when movements were restricted, people took it as an advantage. Even police was busy implementing the set guidelines and vehicles at the district were directed to be used in the fight against COVID-19, but we are aware of the encroachers and when the lockdown is eased, we shall swing into action and work normally. We, may however, not attribute it all to COVID-19 a hundred percent. There are other factors, but we are set to intensify operations.” Mr Kataate retorted
According to the Bushenyi Greater Regional Environmental Police Officer, Mr Joseph Sentamu, all is not lost. He told this website that his office is in touch with the local councils in the affected areas from where they will get names of encroachers and go on to apprehend them. Mr Sentamu adds that his office has already networked with local council officials at village level and police posts in the affected areas so that something can be done to save the wetlands being threatened by the population.
“I have also written to the LCs in some areas. We want to get some of the encroachers so that we can send a message to others who are in the same habit to stop. At least they know that enforcement is ongoing. This is better than lamenting about fuel and facilitation.” He said
The most affected areas are Nyabubaare and Kyamuhunga sub counties, where wetlands are being cleared by farmers for commercial farming practices.