It seems wetlands have not yet released all their secrets. Not long ago, Bigodi wetland near Uganda’s Kibale National Park in looked nothing more than a thick mass of papyrus.
After interventions by Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED), the tourism and conservation initiatives won the prestigious UNDP’s Equator Initiative Award 2010.
This is given to Community Based Organizations and Non-Government Organizations in recognition of their outstanding successes in reducing poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
The wetlands form an important wildlife corridor, and are home to more than 200 species of birds and eight species of primates.
According to George Owoyesigire, a member of KAFRED, the local people were able to halt encroachment on the wetland and create guided wildlife trails for tourists. The revenues from tourism have been used in building a secondary school and promoting environmental education in the area, instituting a loan scheme for farming and support to a local women’s group making handicrafts.
As the world commemorates the UN World Wetlands Day under the theme, “Wetland tourism-a great experience and the slogan, “responsible tourism supports wetlands and people,” wetlands like Bigodi demonstrate that conservation and improvement of livelihoods move together.
“Wetlands have a great contribution to tourism,” says Regina Namakula, the spokesperson for the country’s Wetlands Management Department.
“The residents living around the wetlands are able to earn income by selling handicrafts and other products.”
Near Kampala, wetlands such as Mabamba and Lutembe around the shores of Lake Victoria are also being harnessed through eco-tourism and have great potential to turn round the lives of communities in the neighborhood.
The only shortcoming is the lack of capacity or skills to make superior wetland products that would help communities earn bigger incomes. In addition to there is the lack of appreciation of wetlands.
Apart from being eco-tourism, wetlands offer different roles such as controlling the flow of water and avoiding floods. The wetlands located between the hills in Kampala City help to drain away the storm water.
Despite their importance, Kampala City residents have declared war on the swampy parts of the city yet it does not have a botanical garden or a wildlife park.
“Three decades ago, we could not cross the swamp from Kitintale to Kireka, but today part of Kinawataka wetland has been swallowed by houses,” says Wilber Igulo, a retired accountant and a resident of Kawempe.
“I had taken time without going to that part of Kampala and I was shocked to encounter speeding boda-bodas and cars crossing the swamp!”
While such testimonies can easily be dismissed by politicians who push for investments at all costs, environmentalists say Kampala City has lost a gem. The swamps and trees act as the green lung for the city since they absorb the waste gases. They are more of assets to the city than ever before.
“To say the least blind development and greed have cost the city a fortune,” says Isaac Mwambu.
In cities where trees are seen as treasures, property developers will get a higher premium than a house without trees.
The wetlands too, should be kept as recreational areas as they silently offer the other vital roles like cleaning water before releasing it to large water bodies like Lake Victoria.