They arrive during the night with their construction tools. Some come with hired security guards. These are the wetland encroachers of Kampala, hoping to claim land before the watchful eye of the National Environmental Management Authority notices and evicts them.
Poverty is compelling many people to build on the wetlands as population growth and urbanization increase land competition. The construction destroys the land's ecological value, Uganda's The Monitor reports.
Uganda's wetlands filter water and prevent destructive flooding downstream. They are also a source of material for profitable products like papyrus. Wetlands provide employment for 2.7 million Ugandans in a country where just five percent of the total work force has a consistent income.
Uganda was the first African country to develop a national wetlands program. The government has spent millions of dollars and partnered with the World Resources Institute (WRI) to develop an information system to track wetland use. Also, Ugandans who build on wetlands without permits are subject to fines and evictions.
The WRI and the Ugandan government are concerned that the services and products wetlands provide, and on which many poor households depend, are at risk. But, despite Uganda's pioneering status in wetlands management, the country faces many trade-offs as it balances land needs with the desire to preserve the ecosystem and alleviate poverty.