Kalungu — State Minister for Environment Goretti Kitutu has supported the ongoing sand mining and expansion of rice fields in Lwera wetland in Kalungu District, saying the projects are developmental for as long as they were approved by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema).
"Using wetlands is permitted under the law although many people don't know it. If Lwera is used for sand mining and rice growing, it has no harm if the activities are approved by Nema," Ms Kitutu said during a telephone interview on Tuesday.
Last month, environmentalists under the National Association of Professional Environmentalists, accused individuals and Chinese companies of degrading Lwera wetland while carrying out massive excavation of sand and rice growing.
Ms Kitutu said: "I want to allay fears of those who think that what is going on will cause a catastrophe. That is not true."
However, a recent visit to Lwera revealed that some sand miners, after carrying out excavations, leave huge open pits behind which are dangerous to the environment while others have turned them into fish ponds.
Dr Tom Okurut, the executive director of Nema, said they cleared most of the activities in Lwera, however, they are yet to establish whether the investors are following the guidelines issued.
Mr Vincent Ssempijja, the minister of Agriculture, said he was sure Zhong Industries Ltd, which grows rice in Lwera, follows the guidelines government issued.
However, civil society activists under Citizens Concern Africa, a non- governmental organisation, says Lwera is not a gazetted industrial park and they are soliciting signatures to petition Parliament over the matter.
Mr Peter Li Gan, the managing director, Lukaya Natural Rice Farm, said their rice fields are not in a wetland.
"Our rice fields are away from the wetland. We are not acquiring new land, we are using the same land we acquired at the start," he said.
Lwera swamp stretches about 20kms on the Kampala-Masaka highway. It is a major water catchment area that connects several rivers and wetlands in Gomba, Mpigi and Kalungu districts and drains directly to Lake Victoria.