Lira – Police in Lira are holding a man who on Monday assaulted a team from the National Environment Management Authority – NEMA and the police who ordered for ruin of his eucalyptus trees and sugar canes planted on wetlands.
This was during an operation by NEMA backed up by the Environmental Police Protection Unit aimed at restoring wetlands which has been launched in Lira district. The operation according to officials will extend to other seven districts in Lango sub-region.
Tommy Obong, a resident of labor line in Railway Division, Lira Municipality was arrested from his farm along Lira-Aloi road just after Railways primary school.
This was after causal laborers on orders of Silanos Afai, the regional Wetlands Coordinator in the Ministry of Water and Environment in the Wetlands management department and John Michael Ikanut, the senior district support officer at the region fell all the eucalyptus trees and sugar cane on Obong’s farm.
Armed with a machete, Obong soon confronted the officers and asked them to leave his farm.
“Can you tell me why you have destroyed my sugar cane plantation; can you see this is not a wetland?” Obong charged at Police.
Attempts by police and NEMA officials to have him surrender his machete immediately did not yield fruits.
He kept on brandishing his machete, further roaring: “This is my garden and this is me too”.
But he was soon arrested by the Field Force Police personnel and whisked away to Lira central police station.
The same Monday operation later saw NEMA destroy several other rice gardens measuring over 20 acres in Railways Division amidst protest from owners who have encroached on the wetlands.
Moses Akena, the Officer in Charge Lira Central Police Station, who was also a target, said Obong will first face charges relating to wetlands encroachment and assaulting police officers on duty.
“When I saw him from a far, I knew he had bad intentions and I had to be alert,” OC station Akena said.
John Michael Ikanut in his address to spectators of the operation said NEMA has for long warned the communities to stay away from the wetlands but many have continued to grow rice and even settle on wetlands.
According to Ikanut, in 2017 and early 2018, a team from NEMA moved round and together with the communities demarcated and planted mark-stones on wetland boundaries.
Mr Ikanut added that those who have gone ahead to degrade the wetlands have not only shown that they are adamant but have also contravened the law among them the wetlands Act. 36. The Act talks about restrictions on the use of wetlands thus;
(1) No person shall — reclaim or drain any wetland; erect, construct, place, alter, extend, remove or demolish any structure that is fixed in, on, under or over any wetland; disturb any wetland by drilling or tunneling in a manner that has or is likely to have an adverse effect on the wetland; deposit in, on or under any wetland any substance in a manner that has or is likely to have an adverse effect on the wetland; destroy, damage or disturb any wetland in a manner that has or is likely to have an adverse effect on any plant or animal or its habitat; introduce or plant any exotic or introduced plant or animal in a wetland, unless he or she has written approval from the authority given in consultation with the lead agency.
This is an extract from the National Environment Act 36 as enacted in 1995, Ikanut says.
NEMA is in particular very concerned with activities in Okole swamp because it is the biggest water catchment area that feeds Murchison falls where SYNO-HYDRO, a Chinese company is currently constructing a power station.
Ikanut added that he is worried that low water supply into Karuma as a result of siltation of Okole swamp due to degradation would in the near future disrupt power supply generated from Karuma.
The officer adds that Kole district also relies on Okole swamp for its water supply and asked the community to desist from activities that interfere with wetlands.
“Even you the local community will benefit from this swamps and wetlands because you can for example harvest papyrus, make mats and earn about shillings 2500 from each,” Ikanut told the people of Railway Division.
The team on Monday also cut down eucalyptus trees and destroyed about five acres of rice planted in a wetland in Odokomit, Lira sub-county a few meters from the road that branches to Lira University. The officials allege that the encroacher has been identified as Moses Ayo.
Silvanos Afai, the Regional Wetlands Coordinator in the Ministry of Water and Environment [Wetlands management department] explains that NEMA wants eucalyptus trees out because it is an alien species that is not required in a wetland with reasons that it drains a lot of water from the wetlands.
The operations, according to the outgoing Lira Resident District Commissioner, Robert Abak will cover all the districts with a special focus on Apac and Alebtong.
Lira DPC Joel Tubanone who was at the forefront in the Monday’s operation said police will ensure protection of the NEMA officials who are discharging their duties to reclaim most of the wetlands that have been degraded.
Meanwhile, TND News desk has also learnt that an excavator has been parked at the regional office of water and environment for Northern Uganda in Lira awaiting demolition of houses constructed in wetlands.