Local authorities in Gulu city are intensifying their efforts to safeguard a portion of a wetland that is currently facing degradation due to the actions of an investor planning to establish a fuel station.
The investor, identified as Lawrence Okello, initiated the development of the wetland, a part of Pece Stream located in the Bardege-Layibi division, in April of the previous year. This move stirred protests from community leaders and environmental advocates who were concerned about the ecological impact.
On a recent Friday, Gulu City authorities, in collaboration with security personnel and activists, took the step of suspending construction activities at the wetland for the third time. They cited the absence of proper approvals and claimed that the work was being carried out illegally.
Geoffrey Akena, the Chairperson of Works and Technical Services for Bardege-Layibi City Division, reported receiving information about a group of workers who had been deployed overnight at the site to begin construction work. He explained that, upon inspection, the site foremen and an engineer failed to provide a valid building plan to demonstrate the necessary clearance for construction within the wetland.
Akena emphasized that no amount of intimidation would deter their determination to protect the wetland, which is currently at risk of extinction, preserving it for future use.
Gilbert Okwir, the Deputy Resident City Commissioner in charge of Bardege-Layibi City Division, declared that no construction would be permitted at the site until the purported landowner produced an approved building plan from the city or the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).
Okwir further revealed that the investor had been surreptitiously conducting illegal construction work on the wetland during the night, categorizing this as a criminal act that exacerbates the environmental challenges already arising from urbanization.
Two individuals, comprising a site foreman and an engineer, who were present at the site were apprehended by the police for questioning at Gulu Central Police Station, following orders from the State Minister for Environment, Beatrice Atim Anywar.
Lawrence Okello, the investor responsible for the fuel station project, declined to provide a comment to the reporter when contacted on Friday.
In August, NEMA intervened by halting construction work at the site, prompted by complaints from city authorities and environmental activists, and pledged to launch an investigation into the matter. NEMA Spokesperson Naomi Karekaho did not provide immediate information regarding the progress of the investigation but referred the reporter to regional NEMA officials in Lira City.
The wetland cover within Gulu City has been dwindling over the years due to population pressure and urbanization, as people increasingly encroach upon these areas for agricultural and settlement purposes.