By Andrew Kaggwa, NECJOGHA
Masaka, Uganda – The Uganda National Management Authority (NEMA) has said it granted licences to people mining sand and a company growing rice in the Lwera wetland along Kampala Masaka road because some parts don’t qualify to be a wetland.
“There is a misunderstanding of what a wetland is. Some sections of Lwera don’t qualify to be a wetland. Looking at the soil types, plants and habitats of the wetland, some sections of Lwera contain sand, which means they are not a wetland,” Dr. Tom Okurut, the Executive Director of NEMA said.
Okurut explained that giving away parts of Lwera for sand mining was based on scientific studies and not mere emotions.
He also said the Chinese company that is growing rice was carrying out its activities on the dry part of Lwera and that NEMA was closely monitoring their operation to make sure that their activities don’t stretch into the proper wetland.
He assured local residents around Lwera that the sand mining and rice growing will not affect them or Lake Victoria.
However, Okurut’s comments didn’t go down well with environmentalists who said his definition of a wetland is flawed because a wetland refers to a place that is permanently or seasonally flooded.
‘Lwera and the nearby River Katonga wetland system were part of the Nabugabo Ramsar site that covers 77,000 hectares. Ramsar site is a wetland of international importance meaning it has ecological significance for humanity globally,’ Achilles Byaruhanga the Executive Director of Nature Uganda said.
Last month, while on a tour of the country President Yoweri Museveni said government is going to cancel all land titles in Lwera wetland in the southern Uganda district of Kalungu.
Last year Dr. Mary Goretti Kitutu, the state minister for Environment was quoted in the Observer newspaper as saying that that companies involved in sand mining in Lwera are licensed to do so, and, as a geologist, she doesn’t see any danger of mining sand there. Kitutu explained sand deposit in Lwera wetland happened in 1962 floods and they will reoccur around 2050 to refill the place.
“It is you lay persons who see a problem, for me when I pass there as a geologist, I don’t see any problem. We expect the heavy rains in around 50 years time, maybe around 2050 and Lwera will be flooded again. So those who have constructed houses around there should know this science fact. Lwera is that area where sand will always be deposited, mine it and it will again be deposited”, said Kitutu.
Lwera is a stretch covering over 20-kilometres from Mpigi to Kalungu district is a major water catchment area. It connects several rivers and wetlands in Gomba, Mpigi and Kalungu districts and drains directly into Lake Victoria.