Many Rivers dry up in Uganda as water scarcity hits the country
By Hope Mafaranga June 18, 2011
The water scarcity has continued to hit Uganda as many rivers, lakes and wetland dries up causing reduction in the water levels.In western region of Uganda, Mpanga River which is the eighth biggest river in Uganda as listed in the National Environment regulation 2000 of the National Environment act.
It originates from a catchment in Rwenzori Mountain that are currently under high pressure mainly due to deforestation of steep hills and ends in Lake George a distance of approximately 250 kilometers.
It is located in south western Uganda and it is part of the greater Lake George catchment zone.
The River meanders through three local Governments of Kabarole, Kyenjojo and Kamwenge serving a population of approximately Five million people who directly and indirectly derive a livelihood from this river.
The Kabarole district natural resource officer Sam Mugume said that the river also serves domestic and industrial water to Fort Portal and Kamwenge towns.
Mugume said that a hydro electric power dam to supply electricity to the region is being constructed at the lower end of this river as it approaches Lake George and also an irrigation scheme is being planned in Kamwenge.
“Hydro power projects have been constructed on Mpanga River which has completely reduced the level of waters I this river,” he said.
He explained that along its way from the Rwenzori to Lake George, Mpanga River goes through a number of different ecosystems and the river that are very important for biodiversity survival in these ecosystems.
However, the river is vulnerable to abuse because of its location in a high population density area where the population depends on subsistence farming for a living and the fact that it is found in three different local governments makes its management difficult to coordinate.
He explained that the continued degradation of wetlands and small streams in this area is causing significant impact on the quality and quantity of water in River Mpanga and this has had remarkable impacts on the ecological biodiversity in the river basin and the surrounding environs.
“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,” Mugume said.
He noted that eucalyptus a high water consuming exotic tree species has been planted by many people along the river for economic gain despite the government’s regulation of preserving 100 meters width form all big rivers 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.
He said that another major cause for reduction of the water in the river is the high level of wetland degradation in the catchment area.
He said that wetlands in the three districts of Kabarole, Kyenjojo and Kamwenge that are remnant 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.
The river is Polluted
Mugume said that Mpanga River and its tributaries is heavily polluted with waste from towns and trading centers which located nearby the river.
Mugume said 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 in trading centers and towns.
The river bed is also being silted as a result of erosion from gardens and poor soil management practices along the river.
Location and importance of Mpanga River
Part of the area is on the slopes of Mt. Rwenzori while the rest is on the flat lowland.
This area has great importance in terms of biodiversity conservation. The area includes parts of three National Parks; Kibale, Mt Rwenzori and Queen Elizabeth National Park.
According to International Union for Conservation of Nature, ( IUCN) all of the three are highly known for their high numbers of endemic and red data species in terms of both flora and fauna. Mountain Rwenzori is a gazetted world heritage site while in Queen Elizabeth National park we have a Ramsar site at Lake George.
Kibaale National park is well known for the remaining wild chimpanzees, the endemic cycad which can only be found on the Mpanga falls and a high number of forest bird species.
Mpanga River goes through all the three national parks and it pours water in Lake George which is part of the Ramsar site.Experts from Water and Environment Ministry have said water from 13 per cent coverage of wetlands; the area has dropped to 11 per cent coverage in 15 years.
They said that urban areas and developing towns are the most prone to degradation due to exploding population and unregulated activities on wetlands.
“The situation will get worse if urban planners do not put strategies for the increasing population,” the Commissioner in charge of for etlands, Paul Mafabi, said.
Dr William Muhaire of the National Water and Sewerage Corporation said encroachment on River Rwizi has greatly reduced the amount of water produced in the district with residents sometimes harvesting only mud from the river.
The Kamwenge district environment officer Nickolas Magara told Science Africa Magazine that the pollution and reduction of water from Mpanga River is having significant impact on the quality and standards of life for people in Kabarole, Kamwenge and Kyenjojo districts.
He noted 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 noted increase in water borne diseases.
The 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.
A call for conversation
Magara said that these need to protect the water catchment area for the river from further abuse and also restoration for wetlands that are major source of water for the river.
He said that the protection of the river will lead to increased forest cover that will result into, increased soil protection, reduction in landslides and conservation of biodiversity including endemic species both flora and fauna.
He noted that these need to put in more efforts in realizing the millennium development goals number seven of “ensure environment sustainability” and number one “reduction of extreme poverty and hunger”.