MBARARA CITY: More than 1,000 people who have encroached on the Rucheche wetland in Mbarara City have been given one month to voluntarily vacate. In the wetlands, the people who have moved in are growing rice, tomatoes, cabbages, and other crops.
The 150 acres cover three wards of Rukido, Nyarubungo, and Rwakishazis, in Mbarara City South Division. Rucheche is one of the wetlands that act as a water sponge, storing water for the river Rwizi.
James Mwesigye, the Mbarara City Commissioner, has directed the farmers who have cultivated the wetland with crops like sugarcane, eggplants, cabbage, and Irish potatoes and dug up trenches to stop carrying out any activities.
Mwesigye was shocked to find that people who claimed to own land in the wetland had drawn lines around it.
Zubeeda Nuwagaba, one of the encroachers, asked for consideration and requested to be allowed to harvest their crops.
Juma Makopo, another encroacher, says that they have lived near the wetland since their father shifted there in 1985 and have cultivated near and sometimes within the wetland.
Francis Kahangwa, the LCII Chairperson for Rwakishakis Ward, says that he has registered six cases of people fighting for boundaries in the wetland but their cases were forwarded to the Region Environment Police. He requested support in the fight against encroaching trees.
Herbert Tumwebaze, the Mbarara City Environment Officer, welcomed the RCC’s directive, noting that they have for the last three months been sensitising the communities around the Rucheche wetland.
He said that the people who were destroying the wetland didn’t understand that they were destroying the future.
According to the National Environment Authority report, in 2019, Uganda will lose 791 square kilometres of wetlands. However, 4,487 hectares have been restored between 2011 and 2019.
Section 36 of the National Environment Act protects wetlands and forbids reclamation and the building of illegal structures. It also gives the government the power to tear down any structure that is built in, on, under, or above a wetland.
The Act also empowers districts to manage wetlands within their jurisdictions and ensure that their boundaries are clearly demarcated so that even as water levels and wetland vegetation recede, the communities are clear on where the boundaries lie.