ARUA. The residents of Osu and Hospital Cells in Arua Hill Division, Arua Municipality have called for tough action against people encroaching on gazetted wetlands in the area.

The locals said the numerous human activities on wetlands and along the tributaries that feed Osu stream with water have greatly affected its capacity.

Speaking to West Nile Web in an interview on Thursday, Mr David Mundua, a resident of Hospital Cell said they used to rely on Osu stream for water for domestic use but now it is almost no more.

“This stream used to have enough water flowing throughout the year but look at it now, it is almost dry even during this rainy season,” Mundua said.

“The people from Arua hospital used to join us in using water from Osu stream for domestic use which is not the case these days because the stream has lost its capacity,” Mundua added.

He noted that some people have resorted to constructing houses, mining sand and cultivating on the gazetted Osu wetland, an act that should be stopped.

“Government should help us and take action against people who are taking over the wetlands in this Municipality so that the streams which rely on them for water can remain relevant,” Mundua demanded.

Mundua 28 06 19Mundua expresses a point during the interview on Thursday

At least 2000 people residing along the edge of Osu stream in Osu and Hospital cells are being affected by the said encroachment which has resulted into the over flooding of the stream among other challenges.

Ms Hope Rita, another resident said it is really bad for people to encroach on wetlands because their action affects everyone around the area.

She observed that the rain pattern has changed these days simply because people are not conserving the environment.

Rita equally asked the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) officials to intervene by forcing wetland encroachers out of the area.

When contacted on phone over the concern, Ms Nezma Ocokoru, the Arua Hill division Chairperson acknowledged the fact that there is a lot of pressure on the few wetlands in Arua Municipality but quickly said they have no powers to address the problem.

“It is true that people are acquiring these wetlands in a dubious way. For us as the division, we have no mandate of giving out such pieces of land but I think, such developers, connive with a few individuals in Arua Municipality to acquire such gazetted wetlands,” Ocokoru said.

But Mr Cornelius Jobile, the Arua Municipal Assistant Deputy Town Clerk who also doubles as the Municipal Planning Unit Committee Chairperson denied any knowledge of people encroaching on wetlands in the Municipality and instead referred us to the Municipal Environment Officer for a technical explanation.

Meanwhile Mr Fred Asedri, the Arua Municipality Environment officer also expressed ignorance about any encroachment on wetlands along Osu stream.

He instead said there are lists of streams in the Municipality that have areas on which people are not supposed to encroach.

Asedri noted that in 2005, there were no encroachment zones that were decided, adding that the increasing population and urbanization has created a lot of pressure on the available land and as a result, people have turned to sacrifice wetlands for development.

He urged locals to desist from buying land in areas gazetted as wetland and consider planting more trees to conserve the environment.

Currently, some investors are constructing hotels at the edges of Osu stream but the environment officers claim they were cleared.

Locals 28 06 19Locals crossing Osu stream on Friday. Right is a structure being raised by a developer at the edge of the stream. PHOTO BY ANDREW COHEN AMVESI

The local governments of Arua and Koboko recently passed by-laws and created environmental police which has remained largely ineffective in enforcement.

Due to the heavy encroachment on wetlands across the region, in 2018, the government pledged to restore 340-kilometre wetlands from the districts of Nebbi and Maracha.

Encroachment on wetlands affects the eco-systems and the reduction of water that remains essential for human consumption.

According to the Ministry of Water and Environment, over 516 wetlands have been restored across the country.

In 2018, the UN Resident Coordinator in Uganda, Ms Rosa Malango said they are lobbying for USD100 million for restoring wetlands across the country.