Future uncertain as River Rwizi dries up
Posted Tuesday, October 1 2013 at 01:00
Mbarara- The future of River Rwizi in South Western Uganda today cannot be defined.
Like other natural resources being abused elsewhere, the river, that serves as a water source for thousands of people and animals in Ankole sub-region is threatened by environmental degradation that is prevalent in Mbarara District.
Rwizi - from which the river gets its name - is a Runyakitara word for flowing water.
The river flows from the hilly terrain of Buhweju District, which washes through the dry land belt of Mbarara and Rakai on its way to Lake Victoria.
Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), an NGO concerned with research on governance and environment, highlights the enormous challenge of wetland encroachment and puts the level of deforestation in Mbarara District at 9 per cent.
Yet, there are no deliberate efforts being put in place by the local authorities to address these challenges. Encroachment on wetlands is affecting River Rwizi, which is regarded as a lifeline by pastoralists since it is the only source of water for cattle during the dry season in western Uganda, as well as Mbarara Town and surrounding urban centres.
“Human activities along this river and its catchment areas; wetland cultivation, farming and sand mining have affected water levels. If this is not addressed, the river might dry up and there will not be adequate water,” says Mr David Opoko, the National Water and Sewerage Cooperation manager, Mbarara.
Mr Ezekiel Kabandize, 70 a resident of Katete in Kamukuzi division, who has lived in the river’s neighbourhood for 40 years, says it has turned into a shallow stream.
“We never used to even think of getting closer to its banks, fearing drowning. Today, you can cross the river on foot most especially during the dry season. There is sand mining and plantations on its banks. Are you telling me that authorities don’t see these activities?” he asks.
Some farmers argue that they are relocating their gardens to wetlands because their land has become barren due to repeated cultivation.
The rich too have turned them into farmlands as well as established schools and factories there.
ACODE says deforestation has increased because of human needs; agriculture, settlement, and unsustainable commercial logging for firewood and charcoal.
Bare hills found in the sub-counties of Mwizi, Rugando, Ndeija, Bugamba and Biharwe further makes the district prone to disasters.
In 2005 more than 100 people in Bugamba Sub-county were left stranded after mudslides washed away their homes.
Mbarara District’s natural resources officer Jeconious Musingwire admits that environmental degradation is a big challenge in the district.
He blames local governments for failing to give the environment sector the necessary resources.
He says only 0.6 per cent of the budget for this financial year in the district has been allocated to natural resources and the environment.
“Even if there are NEMA laws on environment protection, how do you expect them to be enforced under this funding that can’t even help us run for a month if we to seriously carry out our work?” Mr Musingwire wondered.
He adds that local government leaders give priority to sectors whose impact can easily be seen like education and health.
Mr Musingwire said more than 20,000 people in the district have encroached on wetlands which calls for evictions and restoration.
He said there is no deliberate programme on planting trees that the district has, except individual planters.
The challenge in addressing deforestation remains that much of the deforestation takes place on private land, especially over harvesting of immature trees and opening land for agriculture.
“Since most of the deforestation takes place on private land, we need to carry out sensitisation on the importance of forests, give incentives to private foresters among other interventions,” says Mr Musingwire.