By Guest Writer
OPINION: Weeks prior, the media reported about the Isingiro wetland dispute; all this came about as a result of the government wanting to demarcate the Kasuusa wetland in Rugaga sub-county, which the residents had encroached on over 21 kilometers.
The residents opposed the government’s plan of demarcating the wetland because they believed that once the wetland was given a boundary, over 200 households would be affected, and they further claimed that initially the wetland was very small and kept on expanding.
In reality, eco-sensitive areas like wetlands are crucial, and they don’t have to be encroached on because they help in the provision of fresh water, fiber, and fuel, water regulation, water purification, and recreational purposes, a factor that would encourage everyone to keep wetlands intact without being encroached on. However,when the government comes up with plans for demarcating eco-sensitive areas, in most cases, the residents oppose the plans.
This is because they lack enough sensitization about the plans put forth by the government. Sensitization is key when it comes to local people because they have less knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of the eco-systems.
And for sensitization to be effective, it must be passed through the local leaders, whom we believe can be listened to due to the established rapport built amongst the community members rather than direct plans drawn from above.
I therefore demand that the government always engage the local members through local leaders in the initial plans to avoid disputes that usually upsurge and delay the planned exercises. The community members will feel part and parcel of the plans, easing their implementation.
In addition, the government should make use of religious leaders. Many more people believe in religious leaders than anyone else. Engaging religious leaders in environmental restoration will be helpful because people believe that the advice they get from religious leaders is always the best.
Lastly, the involvement of the local leaders and religious leaders will enable the government to obtain a more satisfactory outcome as the members of the communities will be content with the decisions gotten from the grass-roots leaders, such as local leaders and religious leaders, compared to the decisions brought directly from the top leaders.
The author is Hildah Nsimiire, a researcher at the African Institute for Energy Governance.
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