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The 21st Century Schoolhouse

Subject: Wetland Management

Topic : Depletion of Wetlands


* Background of Wetland depletion.

* Why has Wetland depletion become a global environmental issue?

* Factors that have led to the Depletion of Our Wetlands.

A Case Study: Kampala. Background.

Areas of Wetland Depletion in Kampala.

* Effects or impact of Wetland depletion on natural and man made

* environments as well as human health.

* Proposed Solutions that address environmental problems related to

* Wetland depletion. _____________________________________________________________

Background of Wetland depletion.

A wetland is vegetated area of lowland that is wet and flooded either permanently or seasonally. Rainfall and dew which precipitate on the catchment, and is not returned to the atmosphere by either transpiration or evaporation, flows down through the catchment towards the low laying areas i.e depressions and basins that were formed by down warping of land to form wetlands. They may stay wet long enough for certain plants and animals to grow. Wetlands include forest, papyrus, and grass swamps, bogs, flood plains ,shallow lakes and rivers. In Uganda today, wetlands are referred to as swamps however elsewhere in the world they are known as marshes. These occupy about 10% of the country's total area and are mostly located in the central, West, Eastern, and southern regions of the country. In Uganda, the Wetlands were originally referred to as "wastelands" because it was widely thought that these areas were useless and agriculturally unproductive. However in the late 1980's, they came to be recognized as a vital part of the environment. It is only then that the Government put up measures to protect and conserve them.

Why has Wetland depletion become a global environmental issue?

Internationally, people have become concerned about the environment. Treaties like the popular RAMSAR treaty are trying to conserve and advocate for wise use of wetlands and their biological resources. But why!!? This can be attributed to the different values derived from them. Conservation of wetlands is an assurance of income and good health of people who live near them. These values can be divided into three main groups; wetland services, wetland products and wetland attributes.

Wetland services.

Wetlands clean and purify water. Most of the wetlands especially the papyrus swamps retain sediments and absorb harmful substances in water. The sediments help bury any pollutants and the natural decay of plant material helps to convert the toxic substances into harmless ones. Therefore the wetlands ensure that the water leaving them is free from pollutants and is clean enough for human consumption. Wetlands are well known for storing water. This is due to the fact that they have the special ability to retain water and release it gradually. This water can be used for several purposes like in the construction of infrastructure by industries, households, for irrigation and animal consumption during times of drought. Their ability to retain water has enabled them to control floods by storing the collected water hence the more reason to protect them. In addition, they reduce extremes of flow by acting like leaky-dams holding- back water when they receive it and subsequently letting it flow through slowly. This results in maximizing the area of land, which can be kept moist for productive purposes, as well as the length of time during the year for such activities. Wetlands prevent erosion by retarding the flow of water. If the regions downstream of a wetland received full erosion force of storm events, it would result into soil and stream bank degradation. In addition, wetlands maintain the flow of rivers throughout the year as well as ensuring the constant flow of water from boreholes and wells. The wetlands act as water reserves thus ensuring a continued supply of water. Wetlands also help in formation of convectional rainfall. Water from the wetlands is released in form of water vapor into the atmosphere due to high temperatures. This vapor later condenses and falls as rain and the cycle is repeated over and over.

Wetland Products.

Wetlands can be used to provide food to the population since agriculture may be practiced along their banks, which have rich fertile soils. Crops such as sugarcane, rice and some vegetables do well along the banks of wetlands. In addition to this, wetlands provide fish, which is a high quality source of protein. This is evidenced by the different fish species like the catfish and lungfish, which are found in most wetlands. This source of protein should be conserved for future generations. The economic prospects that can be derived from carefully using our wetlands can not all be mentioned. Several people in Uganda today venture daily into these swampy places to emerge with an array of raw materials which are then turned into useful and profitable products. They include fishing, material for manufacture of art and crafts, providing building materials, agriculture, brick making and many others. The importance of wetlands can also be appreciated through their medicinal values. The recent revelation in the "NEW VISION" Uganda's leading daily newspaper, that Uganda's wetlands may hold the key to an asthma cure. This is a clear example of the unknown potentials wetlands have in stock for us. Traditional herbs like the "mululuza" for cure of malaria are all products of wetlands.

Wetland attributes.

Lastly wetland attributes are the less tangible but very important values people attach to a beautiful landscape and cultural heritage. Uganda has a wide range of resources ranging from fresh water to saline craters, low land to snowy-capped mountains. This provides good scenery attractive not only to humans but also to other forms of living animals. It is known for example that Uganda is a popular destination to very many migrant bird species. One of the species, the Gull-billed Tern has about 25% of its population hat breeds in Siberia and Northern Russia in winter, at a particular site on Lake Victoria shores. Another species called the Gray-headed Gull roams around the tropical Africa. It has been found that more than 95% of the world population of this species breed at one site on the some islands in sango Bay, Lake Victoria, Rakai district. What is interesting is that the local communities, especially the fishing community, protect the island. They have sustainably utilized or eaten the eggs of these birds for a long time now. Realising the importance of species, people have developed local conservation measures to protect the site and the bird. Conservation of these wetlands therefore implies growth of the country's tourism industry since wetlands are a natural habitat for many different animals and plant species. This increases foreign exchange for the country.

Factors that have led to the Depletion of Wetlands

In spite of the obvious advantages accruing from the presence wetlands in the country, they are being increasingly put under threat both in the developed and under developed areas of the country. Wetlands are being reclaimed so as to provide land on which industries are being built every other day. Government has entirely ignored the importance of wetlands at the cost of earning extra revenue. This has already created severe changes in climatic conditions. The growth of industries has resulted into increased amounts of waste disposed off by industries. These wastes are being deposited into former wetlands as the garbage dumping areas in Kololo and Wakaliga near Natete. This has definitely polluted these areas not forgetting the foul odor accruing from the waste. Urbanization has greatly been responsible for wetland depletion since the wetlands have been turned into economically viable areas. There has been rapid development in the country, which has led to growth of towns, construction of infrastructure and migrations, all of which need a great deal of land to be fully developed. The wetlands are fertile and this has attracted many people to carry out agriculture. Crops such as yams, sugarcane, maize and sweet potatoes do well in wetlands. This results in over-cultivation of the wetlands due to desire for high yields, hence high rate of their depletion. The increased desire for utilization of the natural resources in the wetlands such as the aquatic life, water for domestic use and many others lead to increased population growth around the wetlands. Brick making is one of the most serious threats to wetlands in Uganda today. This leaves behind big ditches from which clay and mud have been dug. This greatly hinders movement and communication. Since the process of brick making requires firewood, many areas around the wetlands are cleared for this purpose. Natural fires and those started by man destroy wetland areas. During dry seasons because of high temperatures, there are many fire outbreaks in the papyrus swamps.

A Case Study: The status of wetlands in Kampala


Kampala is the capital city of Uganda and it is located in the central region of the country. It has an area of about 195 km2 of which 31 km2 is covered by wetlands. Geographically, Kampala is referred to as a city of seven hills separated by valleys with swamps and streams also called wetlands. Most of the wetlands in the district are permanently water logged due to a combination of impeded drainage and annual rainfall. Today the wetlands in Kampala district are on the verge of extinction as they are being threatened by the increasing population in the city. It is estimated that about three quarters of the wetland area has been significantly affected by human activity and about 13% are severely degraded. The expansion of the city from its old self to the current size has greatly led to the depletion of wetlands around it. Uncontrolled development plans like construction of industries and other infrastructure have also contributed to the latter. Historically, Kampala's wetlands go back before 1900 when they belonged to the Kabaka (king) of Buganda. (Buganda was one of the ancient kingdoms in Uganda). Under the colonial rule, these wetlands were owned by the Queen of Britain in the name of crown land and were supervised by the colonial governors. No person during that time was allowed to encroach on these wetlands. Besides, the population was so small and thus land for cultivation was abundant. More so, industrialization was then almost non-existent and thus wetlands were not degraded. With the exit of colonial masters after independence, these wetlands suffered from conflicts over their ownership. The cultural leaders and new politicians mismanaged these areas and the wetlands were destroyed totally. In Kampala, the city and its immediate environment is managed and administered by the City Council of Kampala. This government body has greatly fostered destruction of these treasured areas. The city council has neglected the laws set up to protect the wetlands. Under section 74 of the Public Health Act, one who interferes with the land around the city should be sued in court but, due to corruption, Kampala City Council has sold off these areas to "money hungry" people who have reclaimed these areas to an extent of extinction. The Government of Uganda has conflicting ideologies over wetland resource management with respect to economic growth and so, the authorities in charge of wetland conservation do no real supervision. Much as the government is advocating for wetland conservation through environmental organizations, there is an outspread call for modernization and industrialization of Kampala's wetland areas by politicians and other leaders. This poses a big threat to Kampala's wetlands.

Areas of Wetland Depletion in Kampala

The wetlands in Kampala are continuously being depleted in-spite of the numerous calls by the different environmental bodies such as National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA); Ministry of Natural Resources and different wildlife clubs. Initially the areas of Wakaliga (between Rubaga and Natete), the dumping grounds of Kololo were viable wetlands for different purposes. However, the Kampala City Council, licensed by Government, used these areas as dumping grounds for waste. This situation was worsened by the licensing of private firms into rubbish disposal industry, which used the same grounds for disposal of waste. Not only has this polluted the wetlands, it has also rendered these areas unsuitable for human settlement. The area occupied by the Mukwano industries, Lugogo trade show grounds, Kitante golf club, Nakawa industrial area, Owino Market area, Luzira-Bugolobi and until recently Munyonyo recreation grounds were all wetlands. These wetlands have been abused greatly and turned into industrial, recreation and trading areas. Due to the high poverty level in the country, there has been a tremendous increase in slums. These slums such as kibuye, Makerere- kivulu and kisenyi which were once wetlands are now being used for human settlement. Wetland depletion has also been associated with floods. Wetlands are known to store water but since they have all been destroyed, there is no way that water run-offs can be controlled. This has resulted into increased floods around the clock-tower area, Nsambya, Bugolobi, Jinja-road and Nakawa. These floods have greatly hindered movement within the city and around the affected areas. In addition, the floods have increased the number of people suffering from waterborne diseases. Areas mostly affected by these epidemics were former wetlands. An example of such epidemics include the most recent cholera outbreak which killed a large number of people in areas of Kisenyi, Mulago, Kivulu, Kibuye and many others. Kampala City was recently raided by the infamous Marabou Storks, which earlier had their homes in the surrounding wetlands. When these areas were destroyed, the storks turned to the city and now live on top of buildings. They also have their nests in trees along the streets and constantly litter the streets.

Government response.

Wetland conservation and management is a shared responsibility for all Ugandans and Government has a leading role to play. It is also an international responsibility of Government to conserve wetlands and sustainably utilize them under the RAMSAR convention on wetlands international importance of which Uganda is a signatory and contracting party. Government has outlined broad laws which are also supported by specific aims to promote the conservation of Uganda's wetlands in order to sustain their ecological and socio-economic for the present and future people.


Wetlands in Uganda are now protected in law under clauses 37 and 38 of the national environment statute, 1995. The statute states that; "Without written approval from the national environment management authority (NEMA), it is now an offense for any person to:
a) Reclaim or drain any wetland.
b) Erect, construct, place, alter, extend, remove or demolish any structure that is fixed in, on, under or over any wetland;
c) Disturb any wetland by drilling or tunneling in a manner that has or is likely to have an adverse effect on the wetlands;
d) Deposit in, on or under any wetland any substance in a manner that has or is likely to have an adverse effect on the wetlands;
e) Destroy, damage or disturb any wetland in a manner that has or is likely to have an adverse effect on any plant or animal in a wetland;
f) Introduce or plant any exotic or introduced plant or animal in a wetland.
However, NEMA will exempt traditional uses of wetlands from these restrictions and the Authority shall, in consultation with the lead agency establish guidelines for the sustainable management of all wetlands in Uganda. In addition, the authority shall, with the assistance of the Local Environment Committees, District Environment Committees and lead agencies identify wetlands of local, national and international importance as ecosystems and habitants of species of fauna and flora and compile a national register of wetlands. Similarly, the policy committee may in consultation with the lead agency and the District environment committee, declare any wetland to be a protected there by excluding or limiting human activities.


Effects or impact of Wetland depletion on natural and man made environments as well as human health..

The main case study being Kampala, most of these effects can be seen around the city by what is happening today. Of recent, because of poor drainage systems in Kampala and pollution of the existing drainage channels like the Nakivubo channel, Kampala is experiencing a problem of flooding when it rains. This flooding is mainly because of man's interference with the existing wetlands around Kampala City. In Kampala today, flooding of waters is a problem in many parts formerly occupied by wetlands. Another effect of exploitation of the wetlands is the destruction of natural habitats. Many kinds of animals and plants inhibit the wetlands of which fish, papyrus and crocodiles are examples. These species have been displaced and this has affected both the species and the Ugandan tourism industry. The wetlands are characterized by fertile soils, like the acidic soils of bogs which are suitable for agriculture. Repeated cultivation of these areas has led to problems like soil erosion and soil exhaustion. This in turn has affected settlements around these wetlands. The wetlands also harbor dangerous animals and insects like mosquitoes and Nairobi flies which has rendered the areas around them unsuitable for human settlement. Since drainage of wetlands in Uganda is mainly by digging channels, it lowers the water table of the area and this leads to the drying up of uplands (highlands) around the affected areas. The fish in the wetlands have been displaced by either over fishing or destruction of the wetlands especially in the swamps through pollution. This exploitation of the wetlands has led to scarcity of fish. Many wetlands have been extensively drained especially the swamps to create more land for cultivation. Wells and streams have dried up and this has resulted in a serious water shortage for the people and animals as well. The drained areas have become semi-arid and hence unsuitable for settlement. This could lead to desertification as the end result. There has been a major change in climatic regimes especially in relation to rainfall totals. This is because land reclamation directly affects the rate of evapotranspiration, a process which adds water to the atmosphere. This partly explains why areas formerly occupied by wetlands used to be among the coldest parts of Uganda but they are gradually becoming warm. Kabale district, which used to be the coldest in the country, is now relatively warm. Considering the level of income of some Ugandans, swamps are a major source of building materials such as papyrus for thatching and making ropes.

Proposed Solutions that address environmental problems related to Wetland Depletion.

The best solution to wetland depletion is massive education of the people. It is also important to note that high demand for land for settlement in urban centers like Kampala is endangering existing wetlands e.g. Nakawa, Industrial area, Nalukolongo and Bwaise. Today, most of these areas are affected by frequent flooding especially when it rains heavily. This education and campaign can be done through meetings with the local councils and through different environmental programs. Considering the level of income of some Ugandans, swamps are a major source of building materials such as papyrus for thatching and making ropes. Alternative sources of income generation may be the best alternative instead of exploiting the wetlands. Instead of encroaching on these wetlands, one can conserve them thereby promoting the tourism industry. Environmental bodies have been formed like the National Environmental Management Authority so that they aid wetland conservation. Organizations like the Wildlife club of Uganda are assisting in the sensitization of the masses about conservation of the flora and fauna. The government should take a leading role by legislating against the reclamation of swamps and wetlands. More so, the government should provide proper directions and guideline on the procedure to be followed when reclaiming wetlands if this becomes inevitable. Government should also be prepared to act when confronted with cases of unnecessary wetland and swamp reclamation. As mentioned before, overpopulation has contributed to wetland depletion. A number of measures can be taken to control the population like adopting better family planning programs. This aims at minimizing excessive need for land which tends to force people to encroach on these wetlands. The only solution to urban reclamation of wetlands in this case is the encouragement of vertical rather than horizontal expansion. City planners, Engineers and Architects should make sure that wetlands are left out of their plans for expansion of the city.