Every year on 2nd February the world celebrates World Wetlands Day, marking the date of the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1971. In true ‘Africa time’, the Ugandan Government held their celebrations three weeks later, on 25th February, so that local schoolchildren could be involved (the new term didn’t start until 3rd February).
With 11% of the country’s land area made up of wetlands, World Wetlands Day is an important occasion for the Government and Civil Society Organisations of Uganda. It’s an opportunity to share research findings, best practice wetland “wise use” initiatives, and to raise awareness of the importance of conserving and managing wetlands sustainably.
If you’re still with me, well done! I promise it gets more interesting from here!
Environmental Alert and MWETA (Mabamba Wetland Ecotourism Association) both had stalls at the wetlands exhibition so we left at 5:30am to pick up the three MWETA representatives (each holding a plastic jerry can containing different fish species they’d caught in the swamp!) before driving to Mityana, where the celebrations were taking place. For some reason I was expecting the exhibition to be indoors so I was amused to find ourselves outside, in a school playing field, with only a couple of wooden benches for our whole display! It worked out fine though, and the fish went down a treat with the kids!
While the stall holders were setting up (most people took the arrival time of 8:30am with a pinch of salt!) the chief guests went down to Lake Wamala to meet with the community and show their commitment to wetland conservation by planting new trees along the shore to establish a ‘buffer zone’ where fishing activities were to be prohibited. In response, the fishermen showed their commitment by burning a huge pile of fishing nets. I’m not sure the burning was really necessary, especially on a global environmental day, but it had the desired effect!
A marching band accompanied us back to the exhibition, where the chief guests did a tour of the stalls, giving each stallholder the chance to introduce themselves and their work over the PA. By the time they had gone round everyone it was coming up to lunch, but I should have known not to get my hopes up – this is Uganda where every kind of celebration involves speeches, and no-one can eat until all the speeches are finished!
There were about 12 speeches in total from various guests, including representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Government Ministries, but the highlight for me was the ‘entertainment’ in between – watching the schoolchildren perform songs and poems they had made on the theme of wetlands and the environment. The final part of the day included an award-giving ceremony, with certificates for all the participants, followed by the launch of a wetlands game, similar to ludo but with education about wetlands (we’ll see if that one catches on!)
The day drew to a close at 4:30, only three hours behind schedule(!), but unfortunately we had to leave before the lunch was brought out to get back to Kampala – I consoled myself with a Terrific Tuesdays buy-one-get-one-free pizza with Michaela later!