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Gulu City authorities halt construction of petrol station in wetland

GULU CITY, March 25, 2024 – Leaders in Gulu City have halted the construction of a petrol station in a wetland following a week-long protest from the residents and environmental activists.

Energy Oil company for the last week has been constructing a petrol station within Pece Stream wetland, raising concerns from the locals who stormed the construction site on Sunday.

The protesters had demanded the eviction of the developer and accused the city authorities of being compromised to approve the construction of the petrol station in the wetland.

In halting the construction works, Gulu City Mayor, Alfred Okwonga explained that the planning department of the city is not aware of National Environmental Management Authority [NEMA] authorising the oil company to construct in the wetland.

Meanwhile, the Member of Parliament for Bardege-Layibi Division Martin Ojara Mapenduzi revealed that the former Gulu Municipal Council had issued a lease offer of 5 years to Palm Oil in 2005.

Mapenduzi further explained Palm Oil Company then transferred its interest to Ash Oil Company in 2007 but the company also sold its interest to another Company, Energy Oil now constructing the station.

The Director Energy Oil Lawrence Okello claimed that he had invested millions of shillings to protect the wetland although he declined to divulge details, saying the construction works will continue.

However, the construction site has been sealed off by a team of police commanded by the City Police Commander Easther Kizza who ordered the company to leave until the matter was peacefully settled.

Meanwhile, Government, through the Ministry of Water and Environment, recently launched the demarcation of wetland boundaries across the country to restore degraded wetlands.

In February this year boundaries for Pece river and Oitino in Bardage-Layibi and Pece Laroo divisions in Gulu City, were demarcated as part of the measures by the government to restore their banks encroached on.

The exercise was officiated by the Minister for General Duties, Justine Kasule Lumumba, as the country celebrated the World Wetlands Day at Kaunda Ground in Gulu City in February.

Amidst encroachment with illegal settlements and other human activities within the wetlands in Gulu City, authorities have protected a considerable section from degradation.

Out of the total 1,836.4 hectares of wetlands coverage in the city, 685.2 hectares [37.3 percent] are degraded, and 1151.2 hectares [62.7 percent]are intact.

The entire Pece wetland system covers 1,027 hectares [55.9 percent] of the total surface wetland area of Gulu City. The wetland traverses through the wards of Tegwana, Labwoc, Acoyo, Lagara, Lapainat West, Ibakara, Pece Prison, and Vanguard.

Protesters and police officers at Energy Oil Petrol Station that was being constructed (Photo By Simon Wokorach).

Meanwhile, the Oyitino wetland system only covers 272 hectares and drains into the Unyama wetland system.

The government targets to demarcate 5,000 kilometres of wetland boundaries across the country by 2025. A cumulative 2,096.4 kilometres have already been demarcated.

A report by the Ministry of Water and Environment note that whereas the country has witnessed an invasion of the wetlands, a significant section has been restored.

The report reveals that wetland product-based livelihoods, such as fish, medicinal plants, fruits, and craft materials, contribute up to Shs 3.5 trillion to Uganda’s gross domestic product [GDP].

Statistics from the same ministry reveal that while wetland coverage was estimated at 15.6 percent [37,000 square kilometres] of the country’s total surface area by 1995, by the year 2015, 8.4 percent (20,000 sq. km) wetland surface coverage was lost.

Wetland coverage had increased to 9.3 percent from 8.9 percent in 2020, adding that they have also cumulatively restored 35,000 hectares of wetland, translating to 352 of wetlands.

Government also launched the first national gazette for wetlands. The national gazette contains detailed lists of primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary wetlands countrywide, including their names, locations, and maps.

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