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Rivers run dry as tree cutting, encroachment intensify

By Vision Reporter

Added 16th March 2010 03:00 AM

TIMES are tough for Sarah Amana, 33, a fish monger at Laropi landing site in Adjumani district, northern Uganda. The fishermen no longer bring in the bountiful catches. Amana has had to settle for smaller fish.

TIMES are tough for Sarah Amana, 33, a fish monger at Laropi landing site in Adjumani district, northern Uganda. The fishermen no longer bring in the bountiful catches. Amana has had to settle for smaller fish.

By Gerald Tenywa

TIMES are tough for Sarah Amana, 33, a fish monger at Laropi landing site in Adjumani district, northern Uganda. The fishermen no longer bring in the bountiful catches. Amana has had to settle for smaller fish.

She attributes her misery to the dwindling waters of the River Nile. “I do not agree with people who claim that the small nets have depleted the fish stocks in the river. The river has retreated more than 100 meters, meaning the habitat of the fish has also tremendously reduced,” says Amana.

Amana points at a concrete pillar, which was constructed by the colonialists to measure the water levels of River Nile at Laropi. Today, the concrete pillar stands more than 100 metres away from the shores.

Unknown to Amana is that 600km away, in western Uganda, reckless cutting of trees and destruction of swamps has contributed to her situation.

According to Jeconious Musigwire, the district environment officer for Mbarara, the shrinking of River Nile has coincided with the drying up of the streams and rivers that feed Lake Victoria.

He cites River Rwizi, which comes from Bushenyi in western Uganda and runs through Mbarara and Rakai, before pouring its water into Lake Victoria.

“In the dry season, Rwizi is less than one metre wide,” says Musigwire. “It swells in the rainy season, but it carries a lot more soil than in previous years.”

Musigwire attributes the changes to the rampant removal of vegetation from the ridges and the encroachment on swamps. This, he believes, has disastrous effects to Lake Victoria, where the Nile starts its long journey to the Mediterranean Sea.

“The gravity flow schemes are running out of water much faster than anticipated,” he says. “People who used to spend a few minutes to fill a jerrycan now have to queue.” Although most locals live one day at a time and are not bothered about the future, in Mbarara, environmental changes have been so drastic that residents have started planting trees on bare ridges.

However, their dream of covering the hills with trees has been undermined by frequent bushfires. “At least the community is becoming more vigilant by pushing by-laws on tree planting and curbing bushfires,” says Musigwire.

Central and eastern Uganda
The situation is not much better in central and eastern Uganda. Around the northern shores of Lake Victoria, the ring that used to shield the lake from siltation is in tatters and has, in some places, disappeared.

Mubende and Kiboga forests, which acted as a catchment area for River Kafu, have almost disappeared due to encroachment. River Kafu pours its water into Lake Albert, which is also a catchment for the Albert Nile.

Mt. Elgon in the east, often referred to as the water tower, is being ‘shaved’. Its natural cover has been replaced by farmland and settlements. As a result, its fertile rich soils are being carried away by the rivers and streams.

To the cultivators in the valley, the soil has dropped in their backyard like the Biblical manna. But it is also clogging wetlands and lakes like Kwania and Kyoga. The soil also provides rich nutrients for the weeds that are eating away Lake Kyoga.

Another problem is the termites that have run amok in the dry lands of Nakasongola, eating away anything in their way. The termites plague is believed to be a result of massive tree cutting for charcoal, which as distorted the balance in the ecological system.

The termites have caused the ground to become bare. When it rains, the soil is swept into Lake Kyoga, exacerbating the problem. The solution is that communities sharing the same river catchment areas work together, according to Callist Tindimugaya, a commissioner in the water ministry. He also believes that there should be partnerships between the Government and the private sector.

With assistance from the Global Water Partnership, the Government has piloted the Integrated Water Resources Management, aimed at bringing together all the actors, from the district to the community level, to manage River Rwizi. “At the moment, this is being piloted in the upper Rwizi catchment. The lessons from the pilot project will be expanded to the lower parts of the river,” he explained.

According to Tindimugaya, Uganda and nine countries sharing River Nile will apply the same integrated water resources management strategy when the Nile Cooperative Framework is concluded.

Rivers run dry as tree cutting, encroachment intensify

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