Wetlands are extensively distributed in East Africa and provide many valuable functions (e.g., flood alleviation, ground water recharge, retention and regulation of pollutants and water plant nutrients); products (e.g., fish, fuelwoocl, timber, crafts, herbal medicines, rich sediments for agriculture); refugia for fish and other fauna; and other attributes (biodiversity, aesthetic beauty for tourists, cultural heritage). Permanent swamps, dominated by papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) are inhabited by unique assemblages of piants and animals with extraordinary adaptations to the extreme conditions (low dissolved oxygen, high levels of carbon dioxide, reducing conditions) imposed by the dense swamp environment. Ecotonal areas tend to be richer faunistically than the dense interior of permanent swamps. However, the permanent swamps may still be very important in the maintenance of faunal structure and diversity; and their degradation may precipitate declines in the diversity and richness of swamp taxa through loss of habitat, faunal mixing, and loss of refugia. In East Africa, humans have lived with and within wetlands throughout history. However, since the 1950s, large-scale swamp conversion and population pressure on small wetlands has threatened the integrity of many African wetlands, precipitated local declines in indigenous wetland organisms, and altered ecosystem functions. The overall goal of setting policies by the East African governments is to promote the wise use and conservation of the East African wetlands so that their ecological and socio-economic functions are sustained for the present and future well being of the people. The Government of Uganda, recently launched such a policy, the first of its kind in Africa to have been formulated
in accordance with the Ramsar Convention. It encompasses wetlands in protected and non-protected areas and offers a good example in Africa of a strong political will to conserve wetlands and their biodiversity.