Proprietors of tourist sites in Kasese are counting losses caused by the devastating floods that befell the area in May. The same tourist sites had already been grappling with the negative effects of Covid-19, considering that tourists were no longer accessing these recreation centres.
For the better part of last month, the rivers Nyamwamba, Nyamughasana, Mubuku, Lhubiriha and Thako burst their banks, following heavy down pour leading to destruction of infrastructure estimated to be worth Shs50 billion. The Rwenzori area is no stranger to floods, as this has been a recurring problem since 2013.
This time around, more than 100,000 people were displaced after the floods spiralled into communities destroying property worth millions of shillings.
Most of the tourism sites in Kasese are counting losses caused by the devastating floods that befell the area in May. The same tourist sites had already been grappling with the negative effects of Covid-19, considering that tourists were no longer accessing these recreation centres.
Without the income from tourists and the floods that hit on May 7, 10 and 22, stakeholders in tourism sector from the Rwenzori region say they urgently need to renovate these sites, at a time when they are facing a year or even two of reduced income.
Kiwa Heritage located along the Kasese-Kilembe road is one of the tourist sites that has been greatly affected by floods.
At this site, revelers enjoy the hot springs and learn about the Bakonzo historical heritage which was initially kept in a grass thatched museum. Established in September 2013, Kiwa Heritage has been a top destination for both local and international tourists.
Tourists at the site enjoy swimming in the hot water, a sand beach with a spacious volley ball pitch on the banks of River Nyamwamba and Kikonzo cultural entertainment. The Kikonzo entertainment, known as ‘Ekikibe’, is a beautiful and melodic sound from the flute, drums that are accompanied by xylophone entertainers.
But the floods left Kiwa Heritage hot spring and the nearby fish ponds submerged in water from River Nyamwamba after it burst its banks.
Tourists used to park along the Kasese-Kilembe road and would be directed by a wooden sign post. From the first gate, tourists would be welcomed by a path lined with reeds and bamboo trees to the reception which was also built with reeds and bamboo trees and roofed with spear grass. All these were washed away.
Floods were catastrophic
Selevest Walyuba Kule, a team leader at Kiwa Heritage and conservationist says the recent floods were catastrophic, adding that a number of grass thatched structures acting as dressing shelters for those soaking themselves into the hot water for medicinal purposes were submerged. The fish ponds, pool table, and community museum were also buried by the floods.
“All my efforts and the money I invested in this community site were wasted in just minutes by the disastrous floods” Walyuba says.
He says more than 50 people who were employed at the site and the community were directly and indirectly benefiting from the site. Residents of Kasese District that will suffer loss include women that had been making the local baked bread made out of banana and cassava flour known as Ebbwanga’ in the Lhukonzo language. These women had also been making amatsayidongo from fresh maize, which they would then sell to tourists at Kiwa Heritage.
Walyuba says he had invested Shs200 million. Kiwa Heritage site would host a total of 300 local and international tourists per week. But most of the investments have been washed away by the floods, yet the site had already been suffering on account of Covid-19 which had significantly reduced the number of international tourists.
He also recalls that in 2019, at least 150, 000 students from secondary schools across the country visited the site for study purposes. They would primarly study about geothermal movements and the Bakonzo culture. He says he needs about Shs80 million to renovate the site but that he does not see where to get the money unless he secures a soft loan from micro finance institutions.
Site managers were previously charging Shs2000 and Shs5000 as entry fee for local and international tourists respectively. To recover from the current losses, Walyuba says Kiwa Heritage might be forced to increase entry fees to Shs10, 000.
Similarly, Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS) was also severely affected by the floods and lockdown due to Covid-19. The community tourism organisation offers tourism services around the Rwenzori Central circuit trek.
Dan Mbahimba, the executive director says RMS lost trees worth millions of money.
He says an assessment report indicated that that Mubuku River swept about 10
acres of their land, on which they had grown 10,000 eucalyptus trees. According to Mbahimba, the floods also washed away two cottages at Mihunga Safari Lodge in Rwenzori Mountain National Park.
“This is our worst season in terms of business. As we were trying to come to terms with the losses we incurred during the lockdown, floods came and washed way what was left of Rwenzori mountaineering Services,” Mbahimba says.
He says under normal circumstances, May and June are always peak seasons for local and international tourists to visit the Margherita peak.
10, 000 members make losses
Mbahimba says each tourist who climbs the Margherita peak is charged $1365 (Shs5.1 million) and some of this money benefits the community. He revealed that each season, the company receives between 300 and 500 clients.
“About 10, 000 members of this community who benefit from this tourism site through Rwenzori Mountaineering Services are now counting losses. Our clients have cancelled their bookings and some are asking for a refund. These funds had been spent on preparing for their visits that would commence in March to until September,” Mbahimba says.
In the meantime, chefs, porters and guides have since been asked to remain at home until the World Health Organisation declares that Uganda is free from Covid-19. He expressed concern that the company might not receive clients for a whole year should Covid-19 continue ravaging the world.
William Kambale, the managing director Mahoma Tours, a Kasese based tour and guide company says domestic tourism in the district is on a standstill because people’s movements are curtailed by curfew restrictions. He urged government to embark on developing and promoting domestic tourism.
As the world waits for aircrafts to start operating again, the Kasese District tourism officer, Jovia Kabugho, says there is need for government to ensure that the impassable roads which have developed gullies are constructed.
Due to floods, most of the bridges were washed away, while others remained impassable. Others are still blocked with logs and boulders”, Kabugho says.
In order to rebuild the tourism infrastructure that was destroyed by the floods in the Rwenzori region, James Okware the senior warden Rwenzori mountains National Park says Uganda Wild Authority (UWA) needs Shs1 billion.
“If you visited the park now, you can’t believe it. There was a whole stretch of 100 meters that experienced landslides. These later submerged into the rivers before they burst their banks, causing total destruction,” says Okware.
He says UWA also needs the money to redesign the trails and put up permanent swings that could not be easily destroyed by water once rivers flood. Since the water levels are now high, Okware says putting up a bridge, wouldn’t be a sustainable solution.
Rwenzori national park covers part of Kasese, Bunyangabu, Kabarole, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo districts and is the source of all rivers that have been bursting banks or causing mudslides since 2013.
He says the lockdown, which affected the incomes of the community had increased the number of poachers in Rwenzori National Park. Floods have restricted mobility of rangers, which has in turn increased cases of poaching.
He says that UWA needs at least one month to put up temporally structures in order to allow their staff and tourists, if any to hike the mountains as they plan for permanent renovation.
Okware observes that during the lockdown, poaching activities have increased due to the poverty among the community members.
“We have registered 13 cases of poaching since April. These numbers are expected to increase if the status quo is maintained,” he says.
Okware says the majority of the cases are cutting or debarking of Prunalis African, a medicinal tree in the park, charcoal burning and timber sawing among other things.
He adds that in the Rwenzori national park, chimpanzees were the only animals under threat since these are eaten by locals. But the list of animals and plants under threat is now increasing as people that had been employed by tourism activity in the area look for alternative sources of livelihoods.
In addition to the jobs, Bashir Hangi says UWA also shares tourism incomes with the locals and this too has been affected by a combination of the lockdown and floods.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) spokesperson, Bashir Hangi says, “We are going to do an evaluation of the damage caused by floods and landslides on tourist infrastructure in Kasese so that we restore even better ones”
He added, “ Since Covid -19 pandemic, Uganda loses $ 2.5 million per month by not having tourists visit Uganda. Our priority now is resource conservation and reducing human-wildlife conflicts and this may take a year,” he says.