Updated at 10:00 EAT on Friday 8th July 2022.
Growing up in Kosim village, Atoot sub-county in Ngora district was fun. Blessed with a serene environment and a beautiful atmosphere, Kosim was a place to live. Even with the majority of the residents living in grass-thatched houses, nearly all households had access to basic needs like food, education, and health.
In one way or the other, at least each family had access to health services, either medically or through traditional healers. There was always a different tree species from which a herb could be picked to treat a myriad of minor conditions such as headache, stomachache or even malaria. In addition, communities had plenty of food because the harvests were always good.
The weather was equally favourable, coupled with the fertile soil. So, farming was rewarding. Like many parts of Uganda, Kosim has wetlands surrounding it. Wetlands provide communities with relevant ecosystem services such as protecting water resources through regulating flooding and removing pollutants from storm runoffs before the water enters our lakes. They also play a critical role in ensuring the continuous re-charge of our groundwater sources.
Wetlands were the only places where the local communities could access pasture for their animals throughout the year. They also provided communities with nutritious sauces like fish. Incidentally, over the years, the beautiful story of Kosim has since changed. What used to be an attractive place to live in is no longer attractive. Its fragile ecosystems, which often provided a good atmosphere, fertile soils, and agricultural productivity, are long gone.
Its forest cover has severely been affected as communities seek wood for cooking or constructing. The wetland cover is significantly reducing, as communities have reclaimed wetlands for rice growing in a bid to fend for their families. It is thus not a surprise that Kosim is now the embodiment of the unfavourable weather. The soils have become less productive. Water scarcity, food insecurity, and poor dieting are now symptoms of the mismanagement of our natural resources.
Ultimately, we are witnessing consequences like high poverty prevalence and severe climate change impacts. The story of Kosim paints abroad picture of the current socio-economic challenges Uganda is grappling with as a country, resulting from the destruction of its fragile ecosystems. Uganda is losing wetland cover at a very high rate. That is four times more than the forest cover.
In fact, the ministry of Water and Environment recently warned that Uganda may not have wetlands by 2040. To put into context the high rate of degradation, the country’s wetland coverage stood at 15.5% in 1994. By 2015, it had dropped to 13%. Even then, only 8.9% is intact. On the other hand, forest cover has decreased from 53% in 1900 to 24% in 1990 and 12.4% in 2017. To address the problem, government has initiated and is implementing several initiatives.
These include the Building Resilient Communities, Wetlands Ecosystems, and Associated Catchments Areas in Uganda project ; a three-year -Austrian Development Agency (ADA) Project, and a five-year- Ecosystems Based Adaptation (EBA) project. The Government of Uganda (GoU), Green Climate Fund (GCF), and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) fund the project implemented in 24 selected districts in two regions of South Western Uganda.
Furthermore, to build resilience, attitudes are being influenced toward the sustainable use of natural resources. This has seen the restoration and demarcation of degraded wetlands rebuild the fragile ecosystem, especially since the affected project persons are being provided alternative livelihoods. This resilience is augmented through policy implementation. For instance, the Water ministry reports that at least 330 land titles issued after 1995 have been cancelled.
More than 300 are due for cancelation, in addition to issuing directives banning rice growing in wetlands. Indeed, government commitment to protecting and promoting wetland wise use is evident, but the continuous wetland degradation shows that government is still far from arriving at its desired goals. Despite all the heavy investment in promoting sustainable utilization of natural resources, Ugandans are unenthusiastic to act, which leaves several questions begging. Where could the missing link be?
Who is not playing their role?
At the same time as awareness campaigns play a vital role in influencing attitudes, stakeholders’ engagements in most cases stop at information provision, falling short of creating the desire for change since they are often short-lived. This does not motivate the audience toward action, for two reasons. The limited communication budgets are a serious concern yet awareness interventions are largely media reliant.
This leaves sustained awareness campaigns to chance. Behaviour change does not just happen. Therefore, the need for sustained awareness is apparent. Experiential learning is equally crucial to the formation of the intention to adopt new behaviours. What’s more, negative influence from leaders and the well-to-do class. Many a time, people who are supposed to act as
role models in wetland management are the very ones at the forefront of destroying them.
They have huge investments in the wetlands. Rather than adopting positive behaviours, instead, communities adopt negative behaviours.