|National Policy for the Conservation and Management of Wetland Resources (Ministry of Natural Resources - Uganda, 1995, 23 p.)|
These problems derive from two sources. Firstly, there has been a traditional lack of recognition of wetlands as anything but unusable wastelands. In previous times when there was enough and easily cultivatable land, the extra work required to exploit waterlogged areas was too great to bother with This has led to the second general problem that the exploitation has often been unbalanced, excessive, and inappropriate for the resources. The results have frequently been an irretrievable loss of an important source for sustainable production.
It is important to appreciate that the problems do not arise because of development as such, but because of development which does not take all the requirements of a community into consideration
The following are among others, the specific problems
(i) Water loss
Wetlands have commonly been drained to enlarge the area of farmland. But drainage of wetlands causes loss of valuable water which would otherwise be available for plant growth.
(ii) Reduced runoff control
If drained, the ability of wetlands to control water flow is lost, as is also the downstream erosion prevention, as well as the seasonal spread of the moist areas for fast-maturing crops and for grazing.
(iii) Soil deterioration
Exposure of wetland soils to drying can frequently lead to their acidification, caused by the conversion of sulphide in the original wetland to sulphuric acid. The soil can shrink upon drying and become too thin and friable for good agriculture.
(iv) Traditional use loss
Traditional harvesting of natural vegetation or fishing and hunting as well as a good water supply will be lost if wetlands are completely converted to large-scale exploitation, such as cash crop farming which is a mono-culture activity.
(v) Restricted ownership of the resource
Although conversion to cash agriculture may yield a great amount in the short term, such production tends to be restricted to one or few investors, while reducing or eliminating the various type of production which previously went to many individuals in the community.
(vi) Reduced economic flexibility
Reducing the diversity of productive activity limits the options for adjusting to new economic conditions when they occur later on.
(vii) Crop pest risks
Large areas of monoculture, such as rice growing, are always susceptible to pest invasions. While this in principle might be dealt with by agricultural control methods, these can be expensive and difficult to manage, and beyond the capacity of the wetland developer.
(viii) Health problems
When people come into increased contact with static and unpurified water, as in rice-growing or many other farming practices, an increase in the incidence of bilharzia infections can be expected. This would have a grossly debilitating effect on the community using the wetland calling for unnecessarily heavy investment in health facilities that would have otherwise been avoided.