Two years after Uganda’s independence, the total area of our wetlands was estimated at 32,000km2 but by 1999, this had decreased to 30,000km2. The major causes of this decline are the unquenchable thirst from both the rich and the poor alike to derive livelihoods from these wetlands.
For example, in South Western Uganda, wetlands have been reclaimed to grow vegetables and start cattle farms, while in Eastern Uganda rice growing has caused the reclamation of a big chunk of the wetlands.
‘Over harvesting of water for domestic and commercial use; over harvesting of materials mainly for construction and handicraft and over fishing. Poor use of wetland catchments leading to siltation of wetlands and rivers and also people are forced to cultivate the now fertile wetlands‘ says a report by the former Executive Director of National Environment Management Authority, Dr. Aryamanya-Mugisha Henry.
However, the Government of Uganda and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have kick-started a $44.26 million (about 1.6bn shillings) project on building community resilience, wetlands ecosystems and associated catchments in Uganda.
The project which is being implemented in 20 districts from South Western and Eastern Uganda, is Uganda’s first Green Climate Fund-financed initiative and is a response to the Presidential Initiative on Wetlands.
The benefiting districts from South Western Uganda are; Kabale, Kisoro, Kanungu, Rukungiri, Ntungamo, Sheema, Mitooma, Bushenyi, Buhweju and Rubirizi. While those from Eastern Uganda are: Ngora, Bukedea, Pallisa, Budaka, Kibuku, Kaliro, Namutumba, Butaleja, Tororo and Mbale.
The project inception meeting that was held on 29 November 2017 marked the start of the project implementation and came after both entities signed a financing agreement in August 2017 for the project, which is intended to restore degraded wetlands, improve ecosystems, and strengthen climate information and early warning systems.
The grant based project will target an estimated 4 million people who live in and around Uganda’s wetlands and rely on them for food security. It is part of both the Government Uganda and United Nations efforts to promote Sustainable Development Goal 13 on climate action as well as fulfil its obligations to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change which it ratified last year.
“Fighting climate change and its effects is now a key goal for the Government of Uganda. We are delighted that this project is going to enable us to respond to the President’s call to protect wetlands and boost our ongoing efforts in climate change mitigation and adaptation,” Hon. Mary Goretti Kitutu, the State Minister Environment, said at the inception workshop for the project.
The Green Climate Fund-financed project will restore an estimated area of at least 760 square kilometres of degraded wetlands and associated catchments while improving the lives of at least 500,000 people living in 20 districts in Eastern and South-Western regions of Uganda which have experienced the highest levels of wetland degradation and climate change impacts.
To achieve this, the project will employ a three-pronged approach including; restoration of wetlands and associated forests, improving agricultural practices and alternative livelihood options in the wetland catchment areas, and strengthening access to climate and early warning information to farmers.
It is anticipated that the restored wetlands will also enhance communities’ climate change adaptation and resilience, by reducing risk to flooding and drought associated with changing climatic conditions.
About 4 million people are estimated to be living adjacent to wetland areas in Uganda and rely on these areas to feed their families and make a living. Wetlands are also an important ecosystem that captures carbon and their conservation will contribute to lowered greenhouse gas emissions.
The project will also diversify economic activities for the vulnerable communities living in the Southwestern and Eastern regions of Uganda through the introduction of improved fishing and agricultural practices among other activities.
These efforts will be key for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 13 on Climate Action and contribute to Goal 2 on No Hunger, Goal 6 on Clean Water and Sanitation, Goal 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities, Goal 14 on Life Below Water as well as Goal 15 - Life on Land.
The project will be implemented by the Ministries of Water and Environment in collaboration with the Ministry of, Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, and the Uganda National Meteorological Authority. It will also engage various civil society and the private sector groups.
“UNDP’s goal is to support the Government of Uganda and its people in their fight against the effects of climate change which we are already witnessing with the long dry seasons, heavy rainfall leading to floods and landslides among others,” Ms. Almaz Gebru, the UNDP Uganda Country Director, said.
She added the project will initially work towards restoration of Uganda’s degraded wetlands, improve people’s livelihoods and increase resilience of wetland dependent communities. Later on, it will extend to other facets of the environment such as forests and wildlife holding areas.
This project builds on UNDP’s other efforts in building resilience to climate change, including the National Wetlands Atlas developed by UNDP, UN Environment and the Government of Uganda, which was launched in February 2017 during the World Wetlands Day celebrations.
The eight-year project is supported with a US$24.14 million grant from the Green Climate Fund, US$2 million from UNDP and US$18.12 million in co-financing from the Government of Uganda.