Uganda: Rivers dry up as water scarcity hits the country

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Hope Mafaranga
June 20, 2011

Water scarcity has continued to hit several parts of Uganda as some rivers, lakes and wetlands dry up causing a drastic reduction in the water levels.

An example of such rivers is Mpanga in the western part of the country.

River Mpanga is the eighth biggest river in Uganda as listed in the National Environment regulation 2000 of the National Environment act. It originates from Rwenzori Mountain, an area which is currently under high pressure mainly due to deforestation of steep hills. It feeds in Lake George covering a distance of approximately 250 kilometers.

The River meanders through three local Governments of Kabarole, Kyenjojo and Kamwenge serving a population of approximately five million people who directly or indirectly depend on it for survival. It also serves domestic and industrial water to Fort Portal and Kamwenge towns. A hydro electric power dam to supply electricity to the region is being constructed at the lower end of this river as the river approaches Lake George. An irrigation scheme has also been planned on this river in the parts of Kamwenge.


However all is not well with this river.

“It has been established that the amount of water in the river has reduced significantly in the last ten years; the major cause for this decrease is increased reduction in the vegetation cover of the water catchment area, indigenous trees species along the river and the Rwenzori mountain slope that are part of the water catchment area have been cut leaving the hill tops and slopes bare and prone to heavy erosion and landslides,” notes Sam Mugume, the Kabarole district natural resource officer.

Mpanga River which is drying up due to mining of sand and stones on its banks

He further notes that eucalyptus trees- the high water consuming exotic tree species have been planted by many people along the river for economic gains despite the government’s regulation of preserving 100 meters width from all big river banks for natural vegetation.

“Eucalyptus is a fast growing tree species which is well known for its capacity to drain and dry wetlands and rivers and therefore it advised that Eucalyptus be planted on hilltops as opposed to valleys. However this is not the case in most locations along river Mpanga,” he added.

Mugume further notes that another major cause for reduction of the water in this river is the high level of wetland degradation in the catchment area.

He notes that wetlands in the three districts of Kabarole, Kyenjojo and Kamwenge that are remnants of the mosaic wetland system of Western Uganda in the Albertine rift valley are being turned into farmlands by private developers despite the governments’ regulation on wetland use that forbids turning them into farmland.

“The degraded wetlands have therefore lost their capacity to act as water refining systems and water catchment areas leading to less water being preserved,” Mugume added.
Mugume says that Mpanga River and its tributaries are heavily polluted with waste from towns and trading centers which are located nearby it.

He says that the main visible wastes in the river are plastics and polythene papers and the major cause for this is the improper disposal of waste generated in various trading centers and towns close to it. The riverbed is also being silted as a result of erosion from gardens and poor soil management practices along the river.

Likewise, the Kamwenge district environment officer Nickolas Magara says that the pollution and reduction of water from Mpanga River is having a significant impact on the quality and standards of life for people in Kabarole, Kamwenge and Kyenjojo districts.

He notes that the cost of purifying water for Fort Portal town, Kamwenge and Kyenjojo has been increasing every year since 2000 due to increased pollution and silting of the river and in some areas there has been an increase in water borne diseases.

Some local population along the river use water directly got from the river for drinking, cooking and other domestic needs.

“The contamination of river Mpanga is highly affecting the health of these people and it is in their interest to ensure that the river is protected and water is clean,” Magara said.

Magara stresses that there is need to protect the water catchment area for River Mpanga from further abuse. He also calls for restoration of wetlands which are a major source of water for the river.

He contends that protection of the river will lead to increased forest cover and subsequently lead to soil protection, reduction in landslides and conservation of biodiversity including endemic species both flora and fauna.

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