Vacate the wetlands to save Earth and promote peace

Imagine a beautiful world full of fresh water and fresh air, a world with happy humans, animals, and insects. A world without the scramble and struggle for resources and food. What peace we would have!

The foul smell is too much for me as I jump over the trench that welcomes me to Kakungulu Zone in Kibuli. Only a few residents have toilets which means that there is faecal matter scattered all over the place. The stench seems poisonous and I wonder to myself how the occupants lead a day-to-day life in such an uninhabitable place. I realise that the trenches where water passes are also the passages for faecal matters.

What residents do as they do not have toilets is dispose of the faeces in polythene bags and then into the trenches.

The place is congested with many residents who make small-shift houses. They do not want to vacate as this area is close to the city centre of Kampala where they can easily access work that helps them survive. This is a problem and a deep one as it is also contributing to climate change through the way the killer polythene bag is used. This is something that will forever harm Uganda and world peace as it destroys the climate.

To explain further, it has been found that polythene bags do not decompose meaning that they do not rot. This poses a big danger to the long-term health of the soil and earth.

In Kanungu district in Uganda in a village called Nyaruhungye, residents are being told to vacate wetlands and be rewarded with a sewing machine from Caritas, an organisation that engages people in skill development. This is according to workers’  TV  reporter Mwajima Twaha Adam. The government is supporting this tactic to clear the wetlands.

Elsewhere in villages like Buso in Gayaza village in Uganda, the residents have been stopped from encroaching on wetlands. “The government gave me a deadline to remove my vegetables from the swamp,” says Nsamba, a local farmer. He continues that he has nevertheless been exposed to urban farming. As he shows me around his compound, Mr Nsamba has opted for urban farming where he puts his vegetables and fruits and uses a pipe irrigation system. “I need to protect my environment, I need to ensure peace and safety for the future generation. This is why I moved out of the wetland,” he explains.

Hajati Zaitun Sentomero, a landlord in Kibuli, says that places within Kampala, most of which are where wetlands are in demand.

“My houses are always occupied, Ugandans are struggling to afford life… They opt to rent these cheap houses here in the wetlands,” she says.

The landlord further elaborates that convenience is a huge asset: “This is because such areas are near the city centre to where they can walk or cycle.”

During my visit to the Local authorities’ office, one official said: “It is very hard and expensive to construct a toilet in the wetland. It is not ordinary affordable construction.”

Much of this area is heavily populated. The people that rent inclusive of passersby are very unruly. They despise waste including faecal material everywhere. In areas where there are no toilets, there is an option of using the city council toilets that one must pay for. This is quite expensive for the resident.

Local council women chairperson Ramurat Faraj says that in addition to this when it rains the residents do not work. This is because the place gets flooded and the residents fear falling into the

trenches: “The place gets flooded and one cannot differentiate the water levels and these accidents keep the residents in fear,”

“Wetlands are very insecure places to live in,” she states.

The children will not go to school on rainy days. This gives them an academic setback. They too will easily fall into the trenches and be taken away by the gushing water leading to drowning and death. A number of cases involving children and adults had been recorded hence keeping the residents in fear.

The area secretary reports subsequent health ailments including diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera, dysentery and malaria. This is contributing to a high death rate and infant mortality rate as well.

Limitations to the solutions

The enforcement officers and authorities find a number of challenges as they drive people away from wetlands. They say that such limitations include the following:

The poverty of populations in countries like Uganda where people live below the poverty line and earn below one dollar or 3700 Uganda shillings, therefore, encroach on any land that they find as they desperately seek shelter, water and food to survive

In addition to this he continues, “There is a lot of rural-urban migration. People will scramble for any land that is in the urban centres even if it is a wetland. They want to be as close to business centres in the cities.”

Internationally the encroachment on wetlands is being caused by the number of conflicts that keep increasing worldwide: “When there are wars in certain countries for example the war in Congo and southern Sudan led to a number of people fleeing from Uganda, they left to go and live in any area they could survive.”

Furthermore, the influx of refugees has greatly contributed to the encroachment on wetlands.

One expert outlook

Environmental expert William Lubuulwa says that wetlands are not places for people to stay. He gives a deeper perspective on wetlands as follows:

“Occupying wetlands is one of the main causes of climate change all over the world. This is threatening world peace and security. With climate change effects, human beings are not safe at all.” He goes on further to explain that poor waste disposal is a cause of disease and infections that shorten human life. “Looking at the plastics and polythene bags with faecal matter disposed of in the trenches is such a miserable state in regard to the fate of the earth!” he exclaims. Mr Lubuulwa further explains that plastic and polythene disposed of in wetlands are very hazardous to human life as it doesn’t decompose.

The environmental specialist continues to say that this is an exploitation of the earth yet our environment gives us events to sustain life: “Human race will die as world resources are getting depleted!” he exclaims.

He adds that when polythene bags are inside the soil they block the plant roots: “Imagine if roots have no room for expansion because of the polythene bags in the soil how will the trees grow, and how will you have oxygen?”

“When polythene bags are disposed of onto the surface of the earth the chemical in them breaks down into small pieces and gradually goes into the water bodies. It is estimated that these pieces stay for over one thousand years a major threat to life,” he continues.

International view on wetlands

UNEP (United Nations environment programme) emphasises numerous regulations which aim to curb climate change as a means of saving the human race in the agenda 2030. This in the long run will also meet the sustainable goal of enhancing peace and security.

International management of the environment is intertwined with those related to enhancing the effectiveness of UNEP governing bodies. Management of the environment is as well connected to world peace and security. Security comes in a way that when humans struggle for resources for example land and they have no shelter or place to grow their crops, there arises conflict. Conflict also arises in times of floods, drought, famine and other disasters. This in most cases leads to conflict, wars and eventually death, all signs of insecurity. Therefore, biodiversity is paramount to the survival of humans.

As the population increases, there is inevitable exploitation of the planet and its resources. This includes air pollution, deforestation, water pollution and other threats. Environmental policies have come up to curb a number of human habits that are destroying the earth.

When it comes to wetlands, which include swamps, marshes, Ramsar sites and anything similar, these are of great importance in the water cycle. Wetlands provide food for many animals and plants. They control flooding erosion and because of their Marshy nature, it is the wetlands that control general flooding on the earth. They have a highly developed root system that holds soil in place. Wetlands enable the filtration of pollutants. It is because of these wetlands that we have good, quality water to drink.

The Uganda national wetland policy has a goal to promote the conservation of Uganda’s wetlands in order to sustain the lives of people in the future. The encroaching on wetlands has been taken seriously so far by governments, save for a few cases of corruption. The goal will be achieved soon to observe biodiversity regulations. This is to enhance world peace and security in one way or another.

This story is part of the African Women in Media (AWiM) Peace and Security Journalism Programme in partnership with UNESCO, through the IPDC framework. 

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C.E.O & Co-founder, AWiM

Dr Yemisi Akinbobola is an award-winning journalist, academic, consultant and co-founder of African Women in Media (AWiM). AWiM’s vision is that one-day African women will have equal access to representation in media. Joint winner of the CNN African Journalist Award 2016 (Sports Reporting), Yemisi ran her news website IQ4News between 2010-14.
Yemisi holds a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies from Birmingham City University, where she is a Senior Lecturer. She has published scholarly research on women’s rights, African feminism, and journalism and digital public spheres. She was Editorial Consultant for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 commemorative book titled “She Stands for Peace: 20 Years, 20 Journeys”, and currently hosts the book’s podcast.
She speaks regularly on issues relating to gender and media. In 2021 she was recognized as one of 100 Most Influential African Women.