Land and natural resource degradation in Uganda account for over 80% of the annual costs of environmental degradation. The severity of this environmental problem is compounded by the fact that the livelihoods of many Ugandans intimately depend on the environment, both as a source of subsistence and as a basis for production.
Uganda, however, is rich in water resources: annual rainfall of 600–2500 mm is the principal contributor to the surface water bodies that cover considerable areas in the country. An estimated 200,000 springs are found in the country and water withdrawal in aquifers is estimated to be below 1% of total renewable water resources.
However, degradation of wetlands is contributing to environmental stress. For example, the hilly Jinja district has been noted as having one of the highest percentages of modified wetlands. Only in 1990-1992, 7.3% of the country’s wetlands were converted into farmland. Coupled with population growth and increasing per capita usage of water has already made the demand for water a problem.
The livestock population has a freshwater demand of 81 mill. m3/year (2002 estimate), and this demand level is projected to increase to 233 mill. m3 by 2010 as livestock numbers increase.
The rate at which water catchment areas are being depleted is growing at an exceedingly high speed, and, as a result, the majority of rivers, swamps, wetlands, and other catchment areas have either already been depleted or encroached upon. There is therefore, a rapid depletion of water resources, and water scarcity is already leading to conflicts.
The Ugandan government has formulated a number of policies to regulate land use and impacts on the environment. These policy frameworks seek to integrate ‘‘environmental concerns in the socioeconomic development planning of the country”.
To date, the Ugandan government has developed a number of policy regimes to regulate and influence land use and environmental impacts. For example, the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP, 2000), the Sector Wide Approach to Planning for Water and Sanitation Sector (2002), the National Wetlands Policies (1995), the Environmental Impact Assessment Resolutions (1998), the National Environment Management Policy (MLWE 1994), the National Environment Statute (MLWE 1995), the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (GoU 1995), and the current draft of the National Land and Land Use Policy, among others.
The National Environmental Management Statute was also enacted, establishing the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) as well as providing for a broad range of issues pertaining to the functions of NEMA and measures for environmental protection including water resource management.
- The study revealed a glaring gap between the existence of laws and policies on the one hand, and the reality of implementation on the ground. Although Uganda has a number of laws and policies geared toward conserving the environment, natural resources in particular water catchments continue to be encroached upon.
- The alarming rate at which natural resources are being depleted shows that these laws and policies are not enforced effectively. The major causes of no functionality included mechanical breakdown of the water facilities, poor design and workmanship, low water table as a result of depletion of natural catchments, and limited community participation in maintenance of public water work.
- Even though the government owns over 80% of water catchments in the districts selected for this study, it is not acting upon encroachments. For Uganda, environmental conservation is no longer just a matter of scenic beauty but a question of economic survival for both households and the nation at large.