“Forests and wetlands combined contribute to rainfall formation, which ensures we have water over a long period of time. If we destroy forests and wetlands it breaks the water cycle..."
Human activities including deforestation and swamp reclamation continue to disrupt and threaten the water cycle in Uganda. Forests which were holding the water and allowing them to sink underground have been destroyed.
Tom Okello Obong, the National Forestry Authority Executive Director says when it rains nowadays, most of the water just flows away. He says even the wetland where the water would have gathered have also been destroyed.
"Water is now flowing on the surface looking for its path into Lake Victoria, in the process it is carrying soil into the lake because the area has been cleared of vegetation. We are silting the lake. In future our lake will become so shallow and no economic activity will take place. Rivers have dried up too," he explains.
According to water aid, a non-governmental organization, more than 23 million people in Uganda do not have clean water.
Impact of degradation
By 2050, Africa's population is expected to double, with 80% of new residents located in urban areas, according to a United Nations report.
To highlight key issues of the environment affecting water, Obong singled out one classic example of River Manafa on Mountain Elgon.
"Thirty years ago, it was clean water. One would just scoop and drink from it. You can't do that now because the quantity has reduced tremendously since the catchment, which are forests have been destroyed, those are the implications," he says.
Obong says in 1990 the forest cover in Uganda stood at 24% today we are talking of 10%.
He say an increase in population, has brought destruction of forests, because people need more resources including food and shelter.
"We are going to see more flooding catastrophes because the forests that are supposed to hold water and discharge it slowly are not there.
The people around Mountain Elgon by now have realized why Mount Elgon forest was gazetted," he says.
Obong adds that it was to hold the soil together, hold the slope of this mountain, catch water and send it down to people. However, people tampered with it and the soil started moving. That's why we are seeing landslides and other disasters. All these forests we have, were gazetted for different reasons.
Paul Mafabi the Director Environment Affairs in the Ministry of Water and Environment adds that hydro power production is also a critical area. "Electricity production will be affected if we don't protect our water catchments (the forests and wetlands) to ensure a steady supply of water for production of power.
The level and quality of water too will deteriorate and the result will be disease and droughts," he says.
Forests and wetlands are our key stores of water and regulate the flow.
In 2017, over 8000 people applied to NFA to plant trees in the forest reserves, 1200 are being licensed to plant trees to reclaim the forest cover in the country.
"Forests and wetlands combined contribute to rainfall formation, which ensures we have water over a long period of time. If we destroy forests and wetlands it breaks the water cycle," Mafabi explains.
According to water Resources of Uganda a research publication, 61% of the country's water is drawn from ground water sources, including springs and boreholes.
"In many villages wells have dried up yet we used to have many ground water wells captured by vegetation," Obong adds.
Leaving no one behind
Today March 22, 2019 is the World Water Day. The day is being marked under the theme, ‘Leaving no one behind.'
It adapts the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development Goal 6 aims at water for all by 2030, leaving no one behind.
But the UN says billions of people are still living without safe water.
Also marginalized groups including women, children, refugees, indigenous peoples and disabled people are often overlooked, and sometimes face discrimination, as they try to manage and access clean water.
Obong says when forests and other natural resources are destroyed; water sources dry up, then women and children in rural areas trek for long miles to access clean water and fuel.
Shall we achieve this goal?
Water is life, our target is to have safe water for everyone so that we reduce on the disease burden, Ronald Kibuule the State Minister for Water says.
He says to have sufficient water means protecting our natural resources and environment from destruction.
"If water sources dry out we will not be able to irrigate, farm or industrialize," Kibuule says.
He says Uganda's score on Sustainable Development Goal 6 which aims at having water for all by 2030 is above average.
"In rural Uganda, access to water is at 75% and in the urban areas it is at 90%. We may be early to achieve SDG 6 before 2030 with sufficient funding from government and development partners, and protection of the environment," he says.