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Uganda to Better Manage Wetlands

A new project in Uganda shows that wetlands are good not only for the environment, but for the economy as well. Leaders now have new maps that will allow them to better manage wetlands and make better use of resources.

Never take a swamp for granted. It can protect you against floods, filter pollution from water, provide food and materials and be a water source during the dry seasons. What's more, it can help fight poverty.

So says a new report – Mapping a Better Future: How Spatial Analysis Can Benefit Wetlands and Reduce Poverty in Uganda. It's a joint effort by the World Resources Institute, various Ugandan government agencies and the International Livestock Research Institute. The report contains maps that overlay the country's wetland and economic zones.

Norbert Henninger of the World Resources Institute is one of the authors of the new report.

"In the local language they're called swamps. And it's any area that has water temporarily or all the time. And the two major types you have in wetlands are seasonal wetlands. So like in grasslands or you have papyrus swamps – wetlands that are permanently wet," he says.

He says the new maps make for more efficient use of the wetlands.

"About 13 percent of the land of Uganda is covered by wetlands. So every county, every district has wetlands and know the location of wetlands allows you to do better management and do better allocation of resources," he says.

The maps can help create an inventory of what products are being used from wetlands and whether production can be increased.

"The other way to create economic opportunities is to pay for the services of wetlands that are not right now in the market, such as regulating floods, removing pollutants from water and cleaning the water," he says.

For example, better management of wetlands around Uganda's capital can bring both environmental and economic benefits.

"Because of the degradation of wetlands around Kampala, the costs for the water treatment plan for Kampala have increased tremendously because there is more sediment in the water in Lake Victoria. Restoring some wetlands, provide more filtering, may be a very smart way to create economic opportunities and reduce the cost of water treatment for Kampala," he says.

The new maps show both poor and developed areas of Uganda have experienced wetlands degradation.

Climate change is also a concern. For example, it could result in less rainfall to feed the wetlands. Or it could also raise temperatures and reduce run-off from mountaintop snow packs, such as those on the so-called Mountains of the Moon in the Rwenzori Mountains. If that happens, Henninger says some wetlands could disappear.