Rising water levels lay siege to Ntoroko 

People in a flooded makeshift house on Lake Albert in Kanara Sub-county, Ntoroko District, in August. PHOTO/ALEX ASHABA

What you need to know:

  • Floods have affected transport, health and education services.

In October 2019, Kanara Town Council and Kanara Sub-county were all submerged after rising water levels from Lake Albert left Ntoroko District in a tight spot.
Three years on, the water levels have not subsided. This has resulted in a humanitarian crisis, with at least 10,000 people living in makeshift houses. A prolonged dry spell in June had given residents in the district hope of a semblance of normality returning. When the rains returned in August, hopes of the displaced persons returning to a place they once called home went up in smoke.

The people affected were displaced 20 kilometres from the lake shores, with a depth of 10 to 15 deep feet metres in some parts. The extreme weather episode gives a sense of how the climate crisis forces people in Uganda to make hard choices.

Mr Gideon Masereka, a geographer, told this publication that the northern part of Ntoroko has an escarpment (a long steep slope) that spans from Kichwamba in Kabarole right through to Bundibugyo. Thereafter, is the low-lying area from Kichwamba up to Lake Albert. Ntoroko is flood-prone because it sits on flat land. The low-lying areas that are at the mercy of the shoreline of various water bodies, include Kamuga, Rwangara, Kanara, Ntoroko west, Kachwakumu, Kataga, katolingo, and Mulago.
Experts also note that the majority of the rivers in the Mount Rwenzori range burst their banks during the wet season. They then pour their waters in the low-lying areas of Kanara.

“During western rift valley formation, there was deposition, where the soils in most parts of the low land had clay soil, which does not absorb water during the rainy season. This makes water flood on the land surface,” Dr Brian Guma, a senior hydrogeologist, who doubles as a team leader of Albert Water Management Zone, told this publication.
He said during the rainy season, River Semliki, which is in Ntoroko, empties its water in Lake Albert with devastating consequences.
“The water table of the low land areas of Ntoroko is high compared to other places,” Dr Guma said, adding: “We installed a water monitoring system in Ntoroko and water levels underground are always high, especially during the rainy season which has made land surface water logged.”

Worst affected area
The worst-hit area is Kamuga. It has 40 households who—remarkably—have never shifted. They live in makeshift houses erected on top of water. To access the area, one needs to boat through floating water weeds, submerged houses and other floating debris for 20 minutes.
“This was our land and we had nowhere to go. The lake was far away; when it came to us, we didn’t have anywhere to go,” Mr Herbert Mwebembezi, the Kamuga Village chairperson, told this publication.

The residents stay safe by measuring the water level everyday. Since all sanitary facilities were submerged, people are only able to relieve themselves in the water. Consequently, the residents have found themselves living in squalor and disease for three years.
“I go fishing in Lake Albert to get what to feed my children but still soldiers have continued to destroy our boats and nets because they are not of recommended size,” Ms Agnes Kabagenyi, a resident of Katorigo and mother of three, revealed.

He added: “We don’t sleep peacefully because we fear that anytime the house can collapse. There is strong wind on the lake, especially at night that keeps on shaking our houses.”
The floods submerged Kanara Sub-county headquarters in Rwangara Village. Rwangara Health Centre III was also closed after it was inundated. Floods also submerged primary schools such as Rwangara, Umoja, Kachwakumu and other facilities in the area.
The government early this year contracted UPDF engineering brigade to construct a new health facility in Rwangara about 15km away from the flooding area.

When schools were reopened in January after Covid-19 lockdown, Ntoroko District authorities  gave instructions for classes to be held in tents provided by Unicef. The schools have, however, registered low enrolments, with pupils opting to stay with their displaced parents.
In the recently-concluded Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE), the five schools in Kanara Sub-county had registered 87 candidates. Even then, half a dozen of these failed to write their final exams.
Mr Paul Asiimwe, the Rwangara Primary School headteacher, whose school was flooded, said 27 of his pupils turned up for the exams. Three were a no-show, thought to be holed up in the DR Congo.

Relocation promise
Last October, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja and other ministers visited the displaced people with promises of a swift relocation. The Premier said Shs5 billion had been ring-fenced to, among others, rescue the displaced people.
The government contracted the UPDF engineering brigade to construct a new health centre III at Rwenyena. While this is currently taking place, residents here are bitter that the government has not kept most of the promises. As a result, most of the displaced persons started returning to the flooded areas.
Ms Veronika Kasande, a 38-year-old mother of six, whose house in Kataga Village flooded in 2019, is one of the returnees. She was forced to leave the camp in September after failing to raise the Shs50,000 monthly fee for renting land.

 “It became expensive for us to continue living there because we had no income,” Ms Kasande, who returned with her children in October, said: “We waited for the government plan to relocate us in vain. The dry spell had helped us, but unfortunately water again increased because of too much rainfall.”
Mr Joel Alimaconi, a resident, also says his cash-strapped nature informed the decision to return to the flooded areas.
“Our fishing business was stopped by the fisheries protection unit and we don’t have money to continue renting land for more years,” he told this publication.

Displaced people have also descended on Rwangara Health Centre III, Kanara Sub-county headquarters and Rwangara Primary School. The medical equipment at Rwangara was shifted to Rwebisengo Health Centre III. Elsewhere, the primary schools of Umoja, Rwangara, Kachwakumu were all shifted to temporary tents in the camps.
The road networks were destroyed by floods and up to now the access to some parts is by boat. Some places are still motorable. To access others, one needs to use the makeshift bridge constructed by locals. Each person pays Shs1,000 a day while motorcycle riders part with Shs2,000.