Environmentalists Upset As Uganda’s Lutembe Bay Wetland Becomes Rose Farming Business

Environmentalists Upset As Uganda’s Lutembe Bay Wetland Becomes Rose Farming Business

From ABC News

Despite loud protests by environmentalists in Uganda, trucks dumped dirt into the wetland until the soggy ground where herons once stood among swaying papyrus plants was firm and dry. The destruction of the wetland was carried out so a rose farm owned by a fabulously wealthy businessman could be expanded.

The area on Lake Victoria’s Lutembe Bay was deemed to be of international importance under an international convention on wetlands but, asked by activists to intervene, Uganda’s environmental protection agency instead sided with industry, saying any damage inflicted upon the wetland didn’t match the economic benefits of exporting more flowers.

The authorized encroachment on Uganda’s Lutembe Bay wetland, a site that protects Lake Victoria’s fragile ecosystem, highlights a growing conflict between business and the environment as African countries strive for economic development. Although Africa’s endangered forests have attracted a lot more attention from campaigners, some experts say wetlands across the continent are suffering a similar —if not worse —fate, often because their value to human wellbeing is underestimated or not understood at all.

In the Ugandan case, the business decimating a wetland is owned by Ugandan tycoon Sudhir Ruparelia, who, according to Forbes magazine, is the richest man in East Africa and one of Africa’s wealthiest people. He is widely believed to be close to Uganda’s political elite, circumstances that have contributed to concerns that his expansion project was approved under dubious circumstances.

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“I think this is corruption of the highest order,” said Frank Muramuzi, an activist with the National Association of Professional Environmentalists, a local watchdog group. “That kind of thing is not allowed in the wetland. But it is not too late. We want to take them to court.”

Some activists say Uganda’s environmental protection agency, which in the past has rejected or condemned wetland violations on this scale, simply succumbed to the power of big business this time. Uganda’s flower industry makes millions of dollars in exports to Europe each year.

Experts say the wetland along Lutembe Bay supports globally threatened species of birds, fish and butterflies, including some rare ones. It also plays a crucial hydrological role, with the swamps “acting as natural filters for silt, sediments and excess nutrients in surface run-off, wastewaters from industries, and sewage from Kampala City,” according to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, a global treaty that promotes the wise use of wetlands and which lists those deemed to be of international importance.

Read more at ABC News.