Friday 9 March 2018

Wetlands, the Fragile Ecosystems, Why we need to protect them!

Anyau wetland in Westnile region.

The National Environment Act, Cap 153 under Section2 defines wetlands as areas permanently or seasonally flooded by water where plants and animals have become adopted. However wet lands can also be defined as areas of marsh ,fen, peat land or water whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary ,with water that is static or flowing fresh, brackish or salt, including marine  water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed 6 meters  (Ramsar 1971).

Back in the days when wetlands were readily available and accessible, every household was health and would not bather going to the market and shops looking for chairs because they knew the importance of wetlands. They would rather weave mats, baskets, hats, houses, bags among others which saved most of us from unnecessary spending.

With economic transition all things became commercialized and wetlands products became of more value than before and are now on every market hence providing jobs to many. Worth noting also these wetlands attract tourist’s hence promoting development and government revenues increase, protect our water resources through purification, and provide pasture animals during dry seasons and support fishing industry.

Despite all the importance of wetlands to the economy and having government ratified ramzar convention in 1988, the coverage of wetlands in Uganda is declining at high rate. According to Uganda wetlands atlas, wetlands coverage was in 2008 recorded at approximately 10.9% of the country’s total land surface area compared to 15.6% in 1994 approximately 6% decline. According to NEMA Uganda, current wetland coverage estimates put the total area at 33,000 Km2 covering about 13% of the country’s total area.

The decline in wetland coverage is attributed to ever increasing demand for food, firewood, water resource, and settlement and greedy from people that has accelerated encroachment on such resources both by industries and individual persons for their selfish interests.

Note that, Wetlands can only perform their responsibilities only when they are managed with care as the national theme states “restore wetlands restore hope”. I therefore call on Government to take up her responsibility of keeping our wetlands intact if we are to reduce on government borrowing and achieve vision 2040 and National Development Plan.

Time is now for government to act through demarcating and protecting the remaining wetlands and also review and enforce laws and policies on wetlands.

Treat waste water and remove pollutants from storm runoffs before the water enters our lakes, and play a critical role in ensuring the continuous re-charge of our ground water sources. Wetlands are therefore backbones of our environment and their health is therefore crucial to our very existence. 

By Peninah Atwine
EMLI Bwaise Facility

Women and children most at risk of pollution.

Children engaged in mining activities
Pollution is not a natural disaster but human generated problem due to actions relating to manufacturing of chemical, mining operations, & vehicles etc. Additionally, our consumption habits contribute a lot to pollution; we litter plastics, electronic waste, polythen bags not only to road sides but also to water bodies, soils and surrounding environment and therefore, beating pollution starts with individual to individual community.

Important to note is that, pollution is a serious threat to human health and its impacts have already been manifested in real life. According to water Governance institute,2017, it was evident in Mubende that pollution levels in soils and water were ten times the permissible levels by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

World health organization identifies mercury  as highly toxic to human health and inhalation of mercury vapor can lead to harmful effects not only to digestive system but also to nervous and immune systems more especially kidney and lungs. However, there is certain level where mercury can be less dangerous and according to NEMA, the permissible levels of mercury are at 2.0 milligrams per kilogram of soil and 0.001milligrams per litter of water compared to 8.0 milligrams and 0.001 milligrams WHO standards.

In Uganda, 50% of employees in the artisanal small scale Gold miners are women according to Auditor Generals’ report (2015) putting 100000 women at danger of harmful chemicals every day. It is evident these women engage in panning sand for gold using mercury with no any protection exposing them to chemicals. In recent study done in the mining sites of Buhweju by EMLI, women were engaged in direct washing of gold using mercury which was smuggled in Uganda and yes have no information on its dangers hence increasing their changes of being the victims to its dangers with registered eye diseases among women and children working in the mining sector.

According to the UN, the practice of mercury amalgamation in Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) is of particular concern due to the “decentralized distribution of elemental mercury utilized and its widespread handling, thermal conversion and disposal within social settings such as shops, villages, and food production areas.”

Note forgetting other pollutants, the result of recent analysis by NAPE found high concentration of lead, a heavy metal that is widely known for causing cancer in the paint on sale for home-use in Uganda. This is commonly used for painting furniture, buildings among others yet its women and children who spend much time home inhaling such pollutants.

Despite all the challenges caused by pollution, there is no quantitative data and report on this. Studies by Ugandan scientists however suggest about 14 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 14 living in Kampala have bronchial asthma which Dr. Worodria said similar results were found in one of Uganda's rural districts. Whereas, indoor pollution from smoke and other things, about 14 percent of inhabitants of that rural district had some form of chronic obstructed lung diseases.

Identifying the root cause of the problem and acknowledging it will help in beating pollution. Government should and must establish, enforce and implement laws and regulations that address the pollution especially through application of the polluter pays principle with higher fines based on a minimum value and also consider extended producer responsibility. 

United Nations Environment Assembly agreed to eliminate exposure to lead paint and promote sound management of used lead-acid batteries; improve air quality globally; address water pollution; manage soil pollution; and control pollution in areas affected by terrorist operations and armed conflict. I therefore call upon fellow Ugandans and our government to implement UNEA resolution if we are to achieve vision 2040 and national development plan. 

Peninah Atwine