Parents marry off underage girls as climate change takes on Ntoroko

Feb 23, 2022

"Due to lack of accommodation, some residents have been forced to give away their daughters to other people, hence increasing the rate of teenage pregnancy."

A woman struggles to paddle her way through water hyacinth. In the background, latrines have been submerged

Wilson Asiimwe
Journalist @New Vision

Climate change is a complex subject that has always been covered from the perspective of the “Big Fish.” A Vision Group team went into the countryside, investigating the impact of this global phenomenon, and now, in an eight-part series, tells you the story from the perspective of ordinary people.

Ibrahim Musinguzi, 56, is in oblivion. Sitting on the verandah of one of the classrooms at Kanara Seed Secondary School in Ntoroko district, he appears lost in his own world because he did not respond to my first greeting.

Submerged latrines are a health hazard to residents.

Submerged latrines are a health hazard to residents.

He jerks his head to the left, looking me straight in the eyes when I greet him the second time.

“Sorry my son,” he says. “I am fine. I was thinking about something else. I did not see you approach. You know, sometimes we sleep on empty stomachs. Food is scarce here. All our crops were swallowed by floods. The situation is very bad,” he explains.

Musinguzi is among the 1,500 people camped at Kanara Seed Secondary School since 2020 when they were displaced by the rising waters of Lake Albert.

His three-bedroom house and gardens were submerged in one of the worst floods in the history of the area. 

People have set up structures by the river banks.

People have set up structures by the river banks.

“These are the worst floods we have experienced in the district. It never used to flood. We are suffering. I cannot afford food for my three children since my source of income (farming) has been destroyed. We now depend on well-wishers,” says Musinguzi, in this remote area, located 371km west of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

Whereas the majority of residents in Ntoroko and, perhaps, the entire Rwenzori region are ignorant about climate change, the rising water levels of Lake Albert and the prolonged drought, which has resulted in the death of several head of cattle, are some of the consequences.

Climate change

Climate change is considered one of the major global challenges in the 21st century, with its impacts mainly affecting developing countries, including Uganda.

 Graphics by Brian Ssekamatte

Graphics by Brian Ssekamatte

The major climate change indicators include rising temperatures, increased incidences of dry spells, floods and erratic rains, among others. Sandwiched between Lake Albert and Mt Rwenzori, Ntoroko lies within the western rift valley.

It is relatively flat, making it prone to flooding. The effect of climate change has shifted River Semliki banks towards Uganda, yet the river used to be a natural barrier and border between Uganda and the DR Congo.

Due to its terrain, climate change has taken a toll on the district, resulting in untold misery. Since 2019, several fishing villages in the lower parts of the district have been washed away by the flash floods.

As the lower areas suffer from too much water, the highlands have ironically been greatly affected by severe drought.

As a result, the two major economic activities of the area — fishing and pastoralism — have been greatly curtailed, worsening the economic situation in the region, where 10% of the population lives in abject poverty, according to the World Bank 2018 report.

Residents speak out

Florence Kabahweza and Joyce Kabagenyi, both residents of Kanara town council, say the rising water levels that resulted in floods followed persistent seasonal rainfall.

Kabagenyi explains that some residents have temporarily shifted to nearby villages, while others have completely relocated to safer areas.

Kabagenyi says the floods have disrupted various activities at the landing sites since most of the access roads and buildings have been submerged.

She adds that the displaced families, some of which have been living in makeshift structures, have nowhere to go and that sanitation in the camps is horrible.

William Kasoro, the Ntoroko district chairperson, says about 11,000 people have been displaced by floods and need help.

He says the needs of the displaced people have outpaced the available resources at the district local government for disaster response. 

“Many of our people are suffering. They cannot afford meals. We have got conflict, climate change and COVID-19 driving up the number of acutely hungry. The latest data shows there are over 11,000 people marching towards the brink of starvation,” he explains.

“The Government should degazette at least eight square miles of the Toro Semliki game reserve to host the displaced people. We need to resettle them as we embark on finding a lasting solution to the problems which Ntoroko faces,” he adds.

Kasoro says since 2019, floods have submerged Katanga, Rwenyana, Kajweka, Rwangara, Kamuga and Kachwankumu parishes in Kanara sub-county and also affected several cells in Kanara town council and Butungama sub-county, which borders DR Congo.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority camp and several other government facilities, such as schools and health facilities, have also been submerged.   

“Our people are suffering. Whenever it rains, they are affected by floods and during the dry season, the sunshine is so ferocious that every vegetation dries up and livestock die in their thousands,” Kasoro explains. 

On infrastructure, he disclosed that the floods have affected over 56km of the road network connecting various communities.

According to Kasoro, the district needs over sh8b to relocate the 11,000 people displaced by floods.

Impact on health

Meanwhile, Kanara Health Centre IV has also been submerged and health workers and patients have been forced to abandon the facility which provided healthcare to over 10,000 people. 


William Kor, the chairperson for Kanara town council, says residents of the area are struggling to access health services elsewhere.

Kor says he is worried about disease outbreaks, adding that the landing site is littered with garbage and human waste as a result of poor hygiene practices.

Parents marry off young girls

Like in every disaster, women and children bear the brunt of the problem.

Juliet Musiime, who currently stays in a camp near Rwebesengo Seed Secondary School in Kanara, says due to lack of accommodation, some residents have been forced to give away their daughters to other people, hence increasing the rate of teenage pregnancy.

“Several teenage girls have given birth in the camps because there is no control. Parents cannot control their movements because they cannot afford the cost of feeding or accommodating them,” Musiime says.

She adds that families in the camp are facing an acute food shortage, which forces them to make devastating choices to cope with the rising hunger.

Hunger is forcing families to eat one meal a day or sell off assets to buy food.

“Some families are forced to eat less or skip meals entirely. Sometimes parents, especially women, go hungry as they sacrifice meals for their children. Men have abandoned their families in the camps and it is the women who suffer with the children,” Musiime explains.

“Recently, we lost a 13-year-old girl who died after giving birth to twins at the hands of a traditional birth attendant in the camp. After delivering, she bled excessively and eventually died. Perhaps she would have survived if the health centre had not been submerged,” she says.

Community contributing factors

Bonus Mujuni, the assistant chief administrative officer and member of the district disaster management committee, attributes the increasing floods in Ntoroko to destruction of wetlands and encroachment on the banks of the lake.

“People have encroached on the banks of the lake and have destroyed the natural vegetation. In the upper areas of the district, people have cut down all the trees for burning charcoal,” Mujuni says.

Call for action

Evelyn Kwebiha, a resident of Kanara, says sensitisation should be done so that people become aware of their contributions to climate change and measures they can take to mitigate the effects.

“People who have constructed along the shorelines of the lake should be evicted and illegal activities within the catchment areas should also stop,” Kwebiha says.

William Kasoro, the Ntoroko district chairperson, says: “We need to carry out sensitisation so that our people can protect the environment, otherwise we are losing the war on climate change,” Kasoro, says.

Dr Bryan Guma, the team leader for the Lake Albert Water Management Zone at the Ministry of Water and Environment, says they have started engaging the locals to protect the banks of Lake Albert and they have special interventions on River Semliki, which forms the natural boundary between Uganda and DR Congo.

“We are working with different stakeholders at the district and ministry level to address some of the challenges that Ntoroko district has been facing,” Guma said.

He added that some sections of River Semliki have been restored, with the aim of protecting the environment.

“We have had several engagements with Ntoroko district leaders and residents on how to combat some of the effects of climate change, which the district is facing,” Guma explained.

Water levels

Whereas the majority of residents of Ntoroko and, perhaps, the entire Rwenzori region are ignorant about climate change, the rising water levels of Lake Albert and the prolonged drought, which has resulted in the death of several head of cattle, are some of the consequences.

This story was produced with support from WAN-IFRA Africa Media Grant for Climate Change Reporting. However, the views are not those of the sponsors or the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


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