By Alex Pithua, Edited by Naseeba Bagalaaliwo
“As environmental activists we demand that the perpetrators of the Gulu wetlands to leave” JB Uhuru
Activists from Acholi point out a piece of land covered by wetlands which runs about 3kms through Gulu town starting from Kaunda grounds in Bardege division all the way to Pece Acoyo, Laroo-Pece division. This stretch of land is called the Gulu city green belt but settlers within the town suburb are increasingly encroaching on the green belt using and abusing it for farming, disposal of solid, organic and human wastes while at the same time new buildings are erected on it with little mind paid to the negative impact or concern for the future of the wetlands.
Presently, the municipal authority seem unmoved by the old management issuing building plans to developers and business owners who continue to build in the swamps. Worse still, in areas like Kony Pacu village – Laroo division all the wetland stone marks which demarcate the boundaries of the wetlands have been extended close to 2 meters, putting them nearer and nearer to the main water channels of the swamp.
Akena Walter, an environmental researcher is concerned that the encroaching could place Gulu city in a situation similar to that of Bwaisie in Kampala where the water could flood the green belt around Dr Lucile road.
Speaking to RON journalist he cited existing examples saying houses are sinking into the swap, “Look at buildings in Kony Pacu a suburb in the green belt [which] are sinking in water because you cannot control water by pouring soil on water and put building on it.” He said.
Akena is lobbying the government to “take radical steps to combat building in the wetlands and if not, then we should not see any human activities on the wetlands.” He explained that, the problem was being exacerbated by a double standard, where the government itself is constructing buildings in the wetlands adding to the problem of encroachment. “I advised [that] the government should relocate the people living in Kony Pacu but most importantly the government should be [an] exemplar.”
A Wetlands Management Department
The Wetlands Management Department (WMD) is mandated to manage wetland resources and its goal is to sustain the biophysical and socio-economic values of the wetlands in Uganda for present and future generations. According to the wetland mapping exercise of 2008, wetland resources were noted to have reduced from 15% in 1994 to 10.9% of Uganda’s area. Wetlands are a source of livelihood to the majority of Ugandans and hence directly contribute to National Development plan, vision 2040 and attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. However, wetlands are under a lot of pressure from conversion for industrial development, settlements, agriculture, sand and clay mining. Most of these degrading activities are perceived to be of greater importance than wetland conservation itself.
Civil rights activist JB Uhuru described the move to put buildings on the wetlands of the Pece Channel as an abuse of power. He blames the Gulu municipality authority for having poor law enforcement on the wetlands as well as ignorance of the people about the effects on the environment. Whenever it rains sections of Gulu Avenue road are flooded with water due to the activities going on which are uncontrolled and unchecked.
This has forced activists to start a campaign to identify and publicly name key owners of the properties on the wetlands in Gulu town.“ As environmental activists we are going to a shame the perpetrators because they are deliberately destroying the wetland because no one can reprimand them and now our attention has been drawn and we shall not leave these people.” JB Uhuru.
The director Center for Africa Research and coordinator Our Trees We Need Answer Arthur Owor agreed with other colleagues concerning the enormous encroachment on wetlands in Gulu adding that the question of encroaching on the wetlands of Gulu is still a huge problem but that some leaders are listening to activists and encouraged local leaders to take care of the wetland and to be accountable and do something when they see the encroachment moving closer and closer to the to the water’s edge in wetlands.
Owor said, “We need a city that responds to the city dwellers. We want the authority to maintain the green belt ecological system and public places in the city and failure to share master plans of the Gulu city with the locals is the reason that leads people to end up buying land in swamps.”
Efforts to turn Gulu into a modern city are ongoing but these plans seem to be at odds with activists’ own efforts to save the wetlands. Recent construction of a new road in Gulu town has sewage lines running into rain water channels all of which are connected to these wetlands unmotivated to keep the wetlands clean.
Owor, pointed out that local authorities need to include local people, academics and the private sector in city planning efforts, stating that, “Proper planning has a social science aspect, environmental aspect, architectural and physical aspect.”
Councilor, Piloya Evelyne who represents Paicho sub-County in Gulu district noted that, “The green belt should be maintained so that low income earners can have rest in the city. Our youth and students lack where they can meet and discuss their issues freely without paying for a place in Gulu town”.
She suggested that the municipal planning authority should turn the Gulu green belt into a public park, creating a public space which urban dwellers will be able to enjoy freely rather than putting buildings on it. Piloya added, “Not all people can afford the expensive hotels in the city, authority should put public park here it will help poor people in the city. Any person can buy thing and sit freely in Public Park like in other cities I went to in Europe.”
Alex Pithua is a youth journalist based in Gulu. Emal; email@example.com