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Why Elgon’s lost rivers need saving

By Andrew Masinde

Added 6th March 2019 09:48 PM

According to the national water policy, Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment 1999, Uganda’s freshwater is a key strategic resource, vital for sustaining life

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According to the national water policy, Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment 1999, Uganda’s freshwater is a key strategic resource, vital for sustaining life

A dry river bed that is left of River Khala

Standing at 6,864 ft, Wanale ridge can be viewed from all corners in Mbale and neighbouring districts. It covers a huge portion of the land surface in Bugisu region.

The ridge has gleaming rocky hills from which various rivers gush out. All the rivers flow downstream until they join River Manafwa. River Manafwa also flows further to River Mpologoma, which drains in Lake Kyoga from the southeast.

All the river basins have for long been of great socialeconomic importance to the population in the region. The rivers are a source of water to surrounding urban areas. A series of water pumping stations have been established along their valleys. The river basins are also a source of raw materials such as reeds and papyrus for making crafts.

Despite their benefits, the rivers are under threat. Poor farming methods leading to soil erosion and other human activities have led to degradation of the rivers. Pollution arising from silting and poor waste disposal is on the increase. On some rivers where water used to be pumped, the operations have stopped because of the decline in volumes.

A visit to some of the rivers recently, showed serious effects. Nabuyonga and Namatala rivers that flow through Mbale town are almost extinct. Some of the rivers have turned into streams. Residents who used to fetch water from them now trek for miles in search of the resource for domestic use.

In Bududa district, River Manafwa, one of the biggest water bodies from Elgon mountains has had its volumes reduce, leaving gullies and thickets. In other parts, sand mining has become a common activity. Another affected river is Tsume, which according to residents, used to be big, but its water levels have drastically reduced to a stream.

On the river banks, huge drainage channels have been created to divert water to tree nursery beds and gardens. Wamakale, 67, recalls that River Tsume used to make thunderous noise as it snaked through the area. However, today it has gone silent due to the battering from degradation.

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