Gov't Cannot Compensate Wetland Encroachers, Says NEMA

Gov't Cannot Compensate Wetland Encroachers, Says NEMA
NEMA ED Dr. Akankwasah Barirega. Photo/courtesy

Government has reaffirmed its stance on the non-compensation of individuals encroaching on wetlands.

Barirega Akankwasah, the Executive Director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), emphasized this policy in a press briefing today at the Media centre.

Since the early 20th century, the world has witnessed a staggering 71% loss in wetland cover, with the rate of destruction outpacing even that of forest loss.

This global crisis has affected all continents, with Europe and North America leading the decline, followed closely by Asia, Oceania, and Africa.

In Uganda, wetland cover has dramatically reduced from 15.6% in 1994 to 8.9% in 2019.

A slight recovery was noted recently, with wetland cover increasing to 9.3%.

To address this environmental emergency, NEMA says it implemented a suspension on new development approvals in wetlands starting September 2, 2021.

This moratorium excludes critical public infrastructure projects, which must still adhere to rigorous Environmental and Social Impact Assessments.

"Efforts to restore Uganda’s degraded wetlands are ongoing, with notable projects including the Lubigi Ecosystem restoration and operations in various wetlands across the country, such as Lwera, Lurindo, Akadot, and others." Akankwasah noted.

He highlighted the vital roles wetlands play, from supporting biodiversity and improving water quality to mitigating climate change and providing economic benefits through activities like tourism and fisheries.

Why Wetland Restoration Matters

Wetlands are indispensable to the hydrological cycle, contributing to rainfall formation and local climate regulation.

They serve as habitats for diverse species, many of which are endangered, and play a crucial role in filtering pollutants, controlling floods, and storing carbon.

The restoration of wetlands also supports groundwater recharge and prevents erosion, making them essential for both ecological balance and human wellbeing.

Restoration Efforts and Legal Framework

Restoring wetlands involves removing encroaching activities, often following the issuance of a Restoration Order under the National Environment Act of 2019.

Encroachers are given 21 days to vacate and restore the area, failing which the government may enforce removal and restoration at the encroacher's expense.

This legal framework also includes penalties for wetland encroachment, with offenders facing up to 12 years in jail or fines up to Ushs 600 million.

The restoration of Lubigi wetland has seen significant progress, with 214 households already removed and another 101 slated for eviction.

This initiative is part of a broader, nationwide effort to reclaim and protect wetland areas from unlawful encroachment.

Challenges and Community Responsibility

NEMA acknowledges the challenges in monitoring and enforcing wetland protection due to limited personnel and resources.

Despite these limitations, they stress the collective responsibility of all citizens to safeguard the environment.

Under Section 3 of the National Environment Act, 2019, every individual is mandated to enhance and protect the environment, highlighting the shared duty in preventing pollution and degradation.

Akankwasah emphasized that protecting the environment is not just a governmental duty but a crucial prerequisite for human survival and economic transformation.

"We cannot succeed as a human race if we destroy the environment. No amount of money will buy rainfall, pollinate crops, prevent disasters and epidemics, or create alternative air to breathe. Environmental protection is life itself. We either protect the environment or perish together." Akankwasah noted.