ARUA: A constant stream of children, women and men carried jerrycanes along winding foot paths leading to Iga a tributary of river Enyau.
Others arrived on bicycles, motorcycles, tricycles and trucks all to fetch water at the solitary drawing point where the stream formed the boundary of Alivu and Agorovu villages in Pajulu Sub County.
There too were thirsty animals that competed for the water with the humans who bathed and washed clothes in the water and drank it untreated.
That was in January 2017 when acute water shortage hit Arua district hard following the drying of Enyauriver that was blamed on the encroachment on its surrounding wetlands.
That unforgettable experience was the main talking point during the national commemoration of the World Wetlands Day at Arua hill boma grounds on February, 2, 2018.
The day was meant to mark the February, 2, 1971 signing of a convention by world leaders at the Iranian city of Ramsar in the Caspian Sea to conserve wetlands.
To date, 169 countries have signed to the convention among them is Uganda. But the focus of the celebration maily focused on the difficulties faced in wetland management in the host area.
“By this time last year, we had a complete disaster. River Enyau dried because people tampered with it right from the source in Vurra sub county and the urban population suffered the consequences,” Arua district chairman Sam WadriNyakua observed.
At the height of those hard times, the cost of a jerrycane of water rose from sh200 to sh2,000 and fighting among children and women over water was the order of the day.
Paul Mafabi, the director for wetland management at the ministry of water and environment said the government has taken steps to talk people out of Enyau’s wetland zones and even demarcated some critical areas such as around the National Water and Sewerage Corporation water treatment facility since last years’ catastrophe.
The ministry has also demarcated 167.7km of critical wetlands in Arua and other districts including Hoima, Kisoro, Iganda and Masindi and with the help of the United nations Development Programme, a wetland atlas and a national wetland information system showing types of wetlands and their boundaries has been produced.
However, the Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda in a message delivered by the Finance State minister, Gabriel Ajedra Aridru, urged the leaders to do more to conserve wetlands.
While challenging everyone to be a game changer, Rugunda stressed that both the international theme: “wetlands for a sustainable urban future” and the national theme: “urban wetlands, prized land not wasteland” emphasised the vital role wetlands perform in influencing livelihoods.
The premier listed carbon sequestration, storm control and stream water purification as some of the merits accruing from wetland conservation.
“We have experienced incidents of flooding, decreased quantity and quality of water and drying of streams because of mud and sand infiltration arising from unchecked human activity. Be part of the solution by participating in the restoration programmes,” he said.
Rugunda appealed to the leaders to integrate wetlands into urban planning, provide advise to investors and make towns places free from disasters arising from wetland degradation.
Meanwhile, Aridru on his part warned that if the National Forestry Authority does not scale up tree planting to offset the environmental degradation due to the rampant tree cutting in the region, West Nile will soon become a desert.
“Wetland is your survival. Get out of wetlands so that you can have sustainable living. God or Allah knows why he created wetlands,” he concluded.