Wetlands are an important natural buffer in mitigating, forestalling, and adapting to climate change.
By absorbing and storing carbon, wetlands reduce floods, relieve droughts, minimize storm surges, and protect coastlines.
A natural Solution
In Uganda, wetland areas – including marshes, swamps, and bogs – are among the most important natural resources the country is bestowed with.
Wetlands occur throughout the country, covering 11 per cent of its land area.
These wetlands can be found around some of the major lakes and rivers, such as the Lake Wamala wetland system around the Lake Victoria Basin, the Namatala-Doho wetland around Lake Kyoga, the Wetlands of River Semliki around Lake Albert, the Enyau Wetland around the Albert Nile section of the River Nile, and the Achwa wetland catchment around Achwa River, among others.
Wetlands are also vitally important for protecting the country’s water sources and sustaining agricultural productivity. During the dry season, their fringes support the production of short-term crops like vegetables and potatoes for household subsistence, and pasture for animals. Wetlands also support artisanal fisheries, and provide breeding grounds for large-scale fisheries.
In this era of climate change, wetlands are key for regulating flooding and removing pollutants from storm surface runoff before it enters lakes and other water bodies. Consequently, they play a critical role by continuously re-charging and purifying groundwater sources.
In spite of their importance, wetlands in Uganda are facing severe encroachment, overexploitation, and degradation. Coupled with a changing climate, population growth is a major threat; creating increased demands for water and land for agriculture and settlements. This has subsequently increased encroachment on fragile riverbanks, and swathes of urban and rural wetlands, leading to various disasters such as flooding.
Over the last 15 years, however, Uganda has lost over 30% of its wetlands.
The declining capacity for wetlands to provide critical ecosystem services has resulted in increased flooding – and attendant damage to infrastructure, lives, reduced productivity, and silting of water bodies – with a corresponding negative effect on fisheries.
Saving Uganda’s wetlands
Reduced wetland areas in Uganda also mean increased water treatment costs for the national water supply agency, increased conflicts, and distorted micro climates, all of which conspire to impinge on dry season farming throughout the country.
Additionally, over 80% of the people living adjacent to wetland areas in Uganda directly use wetland resources for their household food security needs – this means about 4 million people living adjacent to wetland areas in Uganda rely on these areas to feed their families and make a living.
To address this the “Building Resilient Communities, Wetland Ecosystems and Associated Catchments in Uganda“ project supports the Government of Uganda in the management of critical wetlands that are being affected by a changing climate.
Financed by the Green Climate Fund, and supported by UNDP, the project is working to restore an estimated area of at least 760km2 square kilometres of degraded wetlands and associated catchments, while improving the lives of at least 500,000 people living in 20 districts in the Eastern and South Western areas of Uganda, which have experienced the highest levels of wetland degradation and climate change impacts.
Part of this work means supporting farmers in alternative sources of income.
To achieve its desired results, the project is employing a three-pronged approach including:; restoration of wetlands and associated catchments, improved agricultural practices and alternative livelihood options in the wetland catchment areas, and strengthening access to climate and early warning information to farmers.
The restored wetlands will also enhance communities’ climate change adaptation capacity and resilience, by reducing the risks to from flooding and drought associated with changing climatic conditions.
In addition to transforming lives, climate action and resilience-building efforts help Uganda’s fulfil its commitments to the Paris Agreement, including executing on the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
These initiatives are also advancing Uganda’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, this project supported progress on achieving SDG 1 on poverty, SDG2 on zero hunger, SDG3 on good health and well-being, SDG6 on clean water and sanitation, SDG 13 on climate action and SDG 15 on life on land among others.