Conservationists have called for a review of the National Policy for the Conservation and Management of Wetland Resources 1995 and the draft Wetlands Bill 2009 if Uganda's wetlands are to be safeguarded.
At a dialogue held held in Kampala and organised by the wetlands management department in the ministry of water and environment and Ecological Christian Organisation , the conservationists from different sectors reached consensus that the Wetlands Policy, which has been implemented for 23 years, is now outdated and there is a need to address the gaps and emerging issues affecting wetlands today.
Mr Richard Kyambadde, the principal wetlands officer in the Ministry of Water and Environment says, "If you have a sector without a policy or law, it remains a very weak sector. As a draft, the bill may not stand in court (when prosecuting wetland degraders). We have been too slow so we have to work together to ensure that a law is passed."
During his State of the Nation Address 2018, President Yoweri Museveni stressed that the environment, especially the restoration of wetlands needs special attention. However, without a wetland specific law and an institutional framework, the principles of the Wetlands Policy are not enforceable.
However, even as the conservationists were in agreement about the need for the review, there were emerging issues that needed to be addressed before the review of the Wetlands Bill can be presented to Parliament.
For example, there is no proper definition of what a wetland is, there is no legal requirement to make monetary or other compensation when developments involve wetlands loss.
Prof Emmanuel Kasimbazi, the consultant who was hired to work on both reviews, says, "Is it enough just to evict people who are encroaching in wetlands or should they pay for what they have destroyed? We also need to operationalize the principle of wise use of wetlands in line with the Ramsar Convention."
Other emerging issues include how traditional use of wetlands be regulated and how to provide incentives to people living at the periphery of wetlands so that wise use of wetlands is ensured. The country needs to find a way to cope with urbanization, development, and a growing population if it is to ensure the conservation of its natural resources.
The wetlands management department in the ministry of water and environment and Ecological Christian Organisation are also set to hold four regional workshops to collect more views from the public. These views will be put into the context of the Constitution as the review process of the Wetlands Bill continues.