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Mbarara faces hard time as River Rwizi dries up

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th August 2013 07:44 PM

River Rwizi is running out of water frustrating most of the industries, including Nile Breweries manufacturing plant, recently established in Mbarara.

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River Rwizi is running out of water frustrating most of the industries, including Nile Breweries manufacturing plant, recently established in Mbarara.

By Gerald Tenywa and Chris Mugasha
 
River Rwizi is running out of water frustrating most of the industries, including Nile Breweries manufacturing plant, recently established in Mbarara. 
 
Water experts say Rwizi, Uganda’s biggest river feeding Lake Victoria is drying up and has been reduced to almost a channel after years of environmental destruction accelerating the impact of climate change. 
 
Dr. Callisto Tindimugaya, a commissioner in the Ministry of Water and Environment told New Vision that the wetlands and forests that used to hold water and release it slowly to the rivers have suffered encroachment.  
 
Rwizi is a Runyakitara word for flowing water. It is also the name of the river flowing from the hilly terrain of Buhweju, which washes through the dry land belt of Mbarara and Rakai on its way to Lake Victoria.
 
The river is regarded as a lifeline by pastoralists since it is the only source of water for cattle during the dry season in western Uganda.  
 
However, human activity has affected the river and the available water in the dry season can no longer meet this demand, leading to shortage of water.
 
“Rwizi has reduced to trickles,” says Amos Mugenyi, a resident adding, “the river shrinks every dry season, but this season has been the worst in the recent years.”
 
The dry spell, Mugenyi says, started in May, a month earlier, forcing residents to compete for the available water in the river. 
 
Nile Breweries gets only 10% of water demand 
The water shortage is likely to affect the operations of a multibillion Nile Breweries factory in Mbarara expected to be launched by President Yoweri Museveni this month. 
 
“At the moment, Nile Breweries can only access 10% of the water they need,” says Jeconious Musingwire, the Mbarara natural resources officer.
 
Besides supplying water to the municiplaity through National water and Sewerage Corporation (NW&SC), pastoralists also rely on Rover Rwizi to water their animals. 
 
 “Can you imagine Nile Breweries wanted 75% of the water from NWSC?” wonders Musingwire. 
 
Isaac Ongora, the manager at Nile Breweries Limited at Mbarara, says when the water levels drop, they depend on NWSC for supplies.  
 
Other large commercial users of water in the area include Coca-Cola, six milk factories that are either operational or in the process of being set up and the proposed beef industry. 
 
As the population increases, competition for water, which is described as the heart of development, is likely to escalate. 
 
Blessing in disguise
Although the suspension of production by the Coca Cola plant in Mbarara was said to be linked to water shortage, it has been clarified that the plant put off production due to lack of market.
 
The plant was established to supply the Rwandan and eastern DRC markets but Rwanda has since developed its own capacity while the DRC market has been cut off due to insurgency.
 
Construction of water reservoir 
Commissioner Tindimugaya, says the natural reservoirs, also referred to as water granaries, have been weakened. 
 
“What is lacking is adequate management measures to keep the water,” he says, adding, “the water runs through the river as soon as it rains since Rwizi is now a channel. The wetlands and forest cover along the river no longer hold water.”
 
The Government proposal is to build a reservoir in order to regulate the flow of water. This would store the surplus water during the rainy season and then release it gradually in the dry season. 
 
But experts warn that such engineering solutions to overcome the problem will not succeed unless the wetlands and forests in the nine districts along the river course are protected.  
 
Changes in river flow started a decade ago 
According to Musingwire, drastic changes were observed in the flow of River Rwizi in terms of quantity and quality about a decade ago.
 
“The river started flooding and then dried up as soon as the dry season set in,” he says, adding that the water in the rainy season contains a lot of silt meaning that its catchment is undergoing encroachment.  
 
Downstream particularly in Rakai where Rwizi is known as Bukora, the river dried up completely.   
 
Rwizi on its death bed
There are huge boulders in the dry riverbed portraying a dying river. Experts say the stones being exposed in the riverbed show what the river has lost.  
 
The once lush greenery in the hillsides and valleys has turned into expansive wastelands.
 
The supply of bananas, milk and beef to Kampala is trading away the charm and the beauty of the landscape and the river. 
 
Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) introduced
According to Musingwire, IWRM has been piloted on Rwizi, but has suffered from inadequate funding and is almost not implemented.
 
“There is a mismatch between the money needed to manage environmental resources and what is allocated.” 
 
IWRM was supposed to promote sustainable use of the river through coordination by the Government, local government, NGOs, private sector and communities. 
 
Districts financially crippled
Musingwire says though districts have limited resources, their funding is being spread thin resulting into unguided actions and environmental destruction. 
 
He also blames local governments for failing to give the environment priority. Under budgeting, the politicians consider service delivery such as education and health as the priority. “The political will favour things that can easily be counted,” says Musingwire. “Environmental resources are perceived to be limitless.” 
 
For instance, Mbarara provides only 0.7% of its budget to environmental management, enough to monitor the environment for just a few weeks, Tusingwire says. 
 
Without proper agricultural practices, the land is becoming barren on the hillsides after repeated cultivation. So, the farmers shift to the wetlands that are fertile. Also, greed in cases where rich people behave like “governors” of land compromise the local people and councillors and convert the swamps into farmland or grazing grounds. 
 
Unfortunately, Musingwire says the farmers hardly know that this is self-destruction. The degraded environment will undermine productivity meaning less income, according to Musingwire.  
 
As western Uganda, which is also referred to as the land of honey and milk is being turned into a wasteland, economic growth is likely to decline. The destruction is likely to have a ripple effect. 
 
Kampala’s residents should be worried since half of their bananas, milk and beef comes from Rwizi’s catchment. Every dry season will mean higher food prices yet gradual investment into the catchment would mean a sustained flow of the river and stable food prices. 
 

Mbarara faces hard time as River Rwizi dries up

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