Nakasongola. Nakasongola District leaders have accused the National Environment Authority (Nema) of failing to respond to a petition made over the alleged diversion and blockage of a trans-border drainage channel by private individuals and investment companies.
The district officials claim that the alleged deliberate diversion of the water channel through excavation works at Lubenge Wetland system on the Kampala-Gulu highway, which started in 2016, has affected more than 20,000 farmers from the three sub-counties, including the people who were directly deriving a living from the wetland which is now a no-go area for residents.
The district chairperson, Mr Sam Kigula, alleges that the district through the Natural Resources Department notified Nema about the excavation works and diversion of water channel two years ago with hope that the environment watchdog would stop the degradation – something they failed to do.
The Lubenge trans-border wetland once acted as a catchment area for the Lugogo River and green belt before the advent of investment companies and private developers.
“We are losing patience with Nema who are the custodian of all the wetlands in the country. We had a genuine cause when we made the petition because we mind about the environment and our people who derive a livelihood from the Lugogo drainage channel. We keep wondering why they [Nema] have not responded to our petition in two years,” Mr Kigula says.
As district leaders, Mr Kigula adds, they cannot confront the encroachers since their projects are blessed by government officials who claim they were given a go ahead by Nema after meeting the necessary certification procedures.
Mr Shem Ssemambo, a farmer at Kalongo Village in Kalongo Sub-county, claims that tampering with the natural route of the waters for the Lubenge Swamp and Lugogo water channel led to a sudden drop in water levels which is now reflected in the water retention capacity for soils in the areas where the water flows.
“It is true there was a water diversion process which many of us cannot explain. We turn the pressure on our district officials who are supposed to explain the changing conditions,” Mr Ssemambo says.
Kakooge Sub-county chairperson, Mr Ronald Lwekalaze, explains that many farmers in Kakooge Sub-county, who used to derive a living from the Lubenge wetland, are no longer allowed to use the same wetland.
“We have several other investment companies which have continued to carry out excavation works and water diversion to support their projects,” Mr Lwekalaze says.
Nakasongola District Environment Officer, Mr Charles Andama, says their petition to Nema followed a complaint from one of the investment companies, Nile Fire Board Company dealing in plywood, which used to get water from the Lugogo drainage before the channel dried up.
Nema say they undertook steps by visiting the area and ensured that the Chinese Company, Kehong Uganda Industrial Development Limited, goes by the set guidelines in line with the Environment Impact Assessment.
“When the case was first reported, we inspected and demarcated the area which Kehong Uganda Industrial Development Limited was supposed to utilise, which they agreed to do. This was the condition for approval of the Environment Impact Assessment to continue with their operations. We shall undertake another routine inspection to ascertain the facts about this new development. If there are new violations in the conditions that we set, Nema has all the mechanisms to ensure compliance,” Mr Tonny Achidria, the Nema senior public relations officer, says.