“Recently we visited Kisoro and found out that people had excessively cultivated the shores of Mulehe without leaving the buffer."
A partial view of the contaminated Lake Mulehe in Kisoro district. (Credit: Wilson Manishimwe)
KISORO - In a bid to save Lake Mulehe from continuous degradation, ranging from people cultivating the shores to use of herbicides in weed control by tea growers in the lake shores, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has intervened.
According to Arnold Waiswa Azayika, NEMA's director for environment monitoring and compliance, the intervention will be carried out through measuring of boundaries within 200 metres on the lake shore, sensitizing communities on the effects of degradation as well as forceful eviction of encroachers.
“Recently we visited Kisoro and found out that people had excessively cultivated the shores of (Lake) Mulehe without leaving the buffer. Most of them said they were not aware of the distance they are supposed to leave while cultivating and this required our intervention,” he told New Vision.
“We shall also mark the distances to be left while cultivating; those who are already in the shores will be vacated and those who are carrying out tourism activities like establishment of resort centres, if found in the distance range, will also be ordered to first seek permission from concerned bodies.”
In June this year, the water of Lake Mulehe, one of the lava-dammed lakes in Kisoro, turned green, with the colour concentrated along the shores. This raised panic among the district leaders, with some saying the problem could easily extend to the neighboring Lake Mutanda.
Eunice Wafula, the assistant district environmental officer, said they have always engaged neighboring communities on issues concerning environmental conservation along the shores but such efforts have fallen on deaf ears.
She said over 46 farmers are to be arrested and face legal action over degradation of the lake.
Azayika told New Vision that technocrats from NEMA and Mary Goretti Kitutu, the state minister for the environment, while in Kisoro found out that many people were adamant on leaving the shores which necessitated combined efforts from different key stakeholders.
He said the problem has been experienced in other districts such as Kanungu and Kabale and asked citizens to take environmental conservation with keen interest so that climate change issues are mitigated.
NEMA's Arnold Waiswa Azayika speaking to New Vision. (Credit: Wilson Manishimwe)
Mujya Judith, the Kisoro district senior environment officer, said a section of encroachers sued the government and the district called for urgent help from NEMA. She said the locals complained that their crops were damaged by the environmental officials from the district while trying to forcefully evict them early this year.
However, Azayika said he hasn’t seen any petition from Kisoro but promised that NEMA is willing to provide the district with legal representation incase consulted over Lake Mulehe degradation issues.
About the lake
Lake Mulehe, which is 4.11 square kilometers, is located in Kisoro district in western Uganda along the Kisoro-Bwindi Rushaga gorilla-trekking route. Mulehe is also surrounded by spectacular terraces farmed by the local community in the neighbouring hills.
However, during the rainy season, water carrying soil particles flows down the slopes of these hills, making its way to the lake.
NEMA spokesperson Naomi Karekaho said such occurrence greatly impacts the existence of fish and other aquatic life and in due course, economic activities such as fishing are hurt.
Contamination of especially freshwater lakes, according to her, results from nitrification which in turn results from nutrients accumulating in the lake without getting out.
From left, Kisoro district chairperson of natural resources committee, RDC Shafiq Sekandi and deputy CAO William Makune in a boat before navigating the lake. (Credit: Wilson Manishimwe)
Augustine Baryaruha, the Kisoro district assistant fisheries officer, told New Vision that there have been reported cases of fish deaths such as tilapia and haplochromines.
He also said people can no longer fetch water from the lake due to the thick green colour especially on the shores.
“The thick green colour prevents light from penetrating the water hence affecting aquatic animals. Activities such as draining neighborhood wetlands and poor cultivation of hills lead to the occurrence, and must stop,” he stated.
The area resident district commissioner, Shafiq Sekandi said as leaders they won’t sit back and witness the adverse effects resulting from degradation happening. He said action would soon be taken against the perpetuators.
Savino Safari, a local resident, said that manual weed control as opposed to use of chemicals in weed control in tea should be used, arguing that the herbicides used have also killed the immature fish in the lake.
He said the district should also take the lead in sensitizing people on proper farming methods along the lake.
“Some people commit the offences because they are not aware of the proper methods. Others are ignorant about the law,” said Safari.
However, he added, some people due to the shortage of land in Kisoro, are left without any other alternative other than cultivating the lake shores.