Uganda Wetland Spatial Analysis Aims to Mitigate Poverty

By Directions Staff

In May, the World Resources Institute produced a report titled Mapping a Better Future: How Spatial Analysis Can Benefit Wetlands and Reduce Poverty in Uganda. It was developed in collaboration with Uganda's Wetlands Management Department, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, and the International Livestock Research Institute. Through the use of maps, the report aimed to manage wetlands for the benefit of all, but also to potentially reduce poverty through this better management of the country's wetlands. Directions Magazine asked Norbert Henninger, the report's co-author, to explain the challenges of data collection and social change, and discuss the future of the project.

Directions Magazine (DM): Despite a 10-year effort to map Uganda's wetlands, a good portion of the country is still unmapped. How is wetland mapping done in the country and what are the main obstacles to it?

Norbert Henninger (NH): Uganda has invested in land cover maps and in georeferenced inventory data to characterize its wetlands. Mapping a Better Future relied on both sources:
  • A national land cover map that shows the location and extent of wetlands. Uganda's National Forest Authority (NFA) produced this 1996 national map using SPOT satellite data. In 2003, NFA, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), released the Multipurpose Landcover database (Africover), which also includes wetlands information (derived from LANDSAT imagery).
  • The second source, the National Wetlands Information System, is maintained by the Wetlands Management Department. The system contains detailed information on different wetlands uses, the level of use, and the impact of these uses on wetlands. The data came from a standardized inventory of wetlands carried out for approximately 5,000 wetland sample points between 1997 and 2001. For each of the sample points, field teams inventoried 37 different wetland products that were aggregated to 13 different main uses.
The field teams could not visit most of Uganda's northern districts because of security and instability issues - hence the lack of data in some of our maps. Data for about ten districts in eastern and central Uganda were collected but not entered in the central database in Kampala (although some of this information was useful for district level awareness raising and planning).

The lack of long-term funding for this information system from Uganda's regular government budget is one major reason for these data gaps - most of the funds to build the system were provided from development cooperation partners. Mapping a Better Future demonstrates the usefulness of the existing wetland data but also highlights the limitations in data coverage. Partnering the Wetlands Management Department with the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (the author of the poverty maps) created an opportunity to link some of the more marginal environmental data collection efforts with Uganda's National Statistical System, a much better funded effort that regularly supplies demographic, socio-economic and other data.

In this map, all the wetlands at greatest risk of degradation are selected and overlaid with the poverty level in the surrounding subcounties. It displays the location of these wetland sample points and the poverty rate for the neighboring 60 rural subcounties. (Click for larger image)

DM: The news release and report suggest that wetland degradation happens in areas across the economic spectrum. Is the long-term goal to manage wetlands with a goal of poverty reduction? Is such change led by policy or by social factors?

Wetlands provide ecosystem products (e.g., water, wood and fodder for livestock) and ecosystem services (e.g., filtering pollutants and regulating water flows) to all Ugandans, poor and better off families, rural and urban citizens. In fact, Uganda's wetlands provide important ecological benefits reaching beyond the country's borders. Its wetlands are the home of globally endangered bird and fish species; many wetlands are an important stopover for migratory water birds; and wetlands can act as a reservoir for carbon dioxide, mitigating climate change impacts.

The long-term goal is to manage wetlands for all these beneficiaries, not just for poor people. We introduced poverty maps into our analysis to influence policy discussions, national priorities and wetlands management decisions in the following way:
  • Poor families have fewer assets and capabilities; hence they suffer disproportionally when wetland resources are degraded. Knowing where the locations of poor communities and wetlands coincide can help identify those at greater risk.
  • Many wetlands purify water and can contribute to regulating floods. These regulation services are provided free of charge and are very location specific. In some cases, once the ecology and hydrology of a wetland system are well understood, policymakers can establish payment schemes to reward people for wetlands management that sustains these regulating functions. Such payments for wetland services could be used for poverty reduction efforts. Setting up payment schemes requires knowing the location of those who can influence the supply of wetland benefits (e.g., local users), those who benefit from a wetland (e.g., downstream users) and the location of poor communities in both the supply and recipient area.
  • Decision makers in Kampala and at district levels responsible for wetlands management can adjust their plans and management approach for wetlands depending on the level of poverty.
Interventions at both the policy and community level are needed to fight poverty. Uganda has made a political commitment to reduce poverty in its Poverty Eradication Action Plan and is expected to do so in its upcoming National Development Plan.

DM: One of the next steps in this project is to assign value to wetlands products and services. Can you explain how that's done?

Economic valuation studies start out with a comprehensive inventory of all the ecosystem products and services that are obtained from a wetland. Economists then try to estimate the quantity and the value of each product or service. Assigning an average price for a product that is sold in a market - for example a bundle of papyrus - is not too difficult. Assigning an economic value for regulating services such as ground water recharge, water purification, waste treatment or flood control is much more challenging. These services are available "free of charge." They are what economists call "public goods," which have virtually no agreed-upon value in the market place. Over the past decade, however, economists have developed a set of systematic tools to assign a value for these regulating services.

Our study provided an example of how information from an economic valuation study can be shown in a map - we displayed the maximum annual revenue from harvesting papyrus for each subcounty. This potential revenue can then be compared with the amount of money needed to move the poor population above the poverty line. In the future, we would like to map the economic value of all major wetlands uses, both those with a market (beekeeping, fishing, livestock, etc.) and those that do not yet have a market (ecosystem services such as water filtration and carbon sequestration).

DM: The National Wetlands Information System developed between 1995 and 2005 is the first of its kind in Africa. Are other countries working toward similar efforts? Is this a process that can be easily replicated?

Many African countries have produced land cover maps that include specific classes showing permanently or temporarily flooded areas. Colleagues from the Uganda Wetlands Management Department in Uganda have mentioned that they are aware of efforts to systematically map the level of biodiversity for each major wetland system. But they have not heard of any efforts that systematically inventory so many different uses and products for a national system.

The process can be replicated. The Uganda Wetlands Management Department has developed a detailed questionnaire and can share its experience in managing the field survey teams.

DM: What plans, if any, exist for sharing the data and maps collected for this report?

NH: We are now working with the different data providers to obtain their permission to make hopefully all the geospatial data used in the report publicly available on the Internet.

Published Friday, June 5th, 2009

Written by Directions Staff

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