My village, Nyiebingo Kebisoni in Rukungiri was a paradise ten or so years ago. It was graced by rivers Kanywa, Kiborogota, Omukyijurirabusha, Kanyeganyegye, and Omukagyera. These rivers and streams that used to flow with a natural effect are now extinct. The hill tops of Itemba, Matebe and Nyakashozi are bare, punctuated by deadly gullies! The famous wetlands of Muyorwa and Garubunda are extinct! If you have lived the past ten years or so in a village and you have cared to observe, you notice that those rivers with fresh water where you took your daring swimming lessons as a naughty young lad are no more. What is left in some instances are small traces of flowing water surrounded by eucalyptus trees, food crop gardens and traces of waning riparian wetlands. In some cases, the rivers and streams got extinct and small towns are thriving! The early morning fog is now a fact of history, rainy season’s can longer be traditionally predicted! When such rains come any way, they are adjunct with devastating floods and their causative links like displacements and diseases! What exactly happened? Are these symptoms of climate change and subsequent global warming? Unabated encroachment? Irresponsible land use? A curse? Saharization? Imposing Impunity? Inefficient policy regimes and deficiency in Implementation monitoring and evaluation of good policies?
A recent study carried out and managed by Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), funded by DFID; “Auditing the Effectiveness of Government in Protection and Restoration of Water Catchments System” documents and reveals a deepening water crisis in Uganda. The study gives an explanation to prolonged droughts, acute water shortages, poor, erratic and intermittent rains. The study explains a nexus between land use, environmental degradation and subsequent deepening water crisis. ACODE study observes that the rate at which these resources are encroached upon and consequently depleted is higher than the rate at which they are restored and as a result, Uganda stands at the brink of an escalating environmental calamity. The encroachment, drying up and depletion of R. Rwizi in Mbarara, R. Nyamwamba in Kasese, L. Kyoga and L. Victoria are glaring manifestations of a severe environmental breakdown, inadequate and non-functionality of policy regimes as well as a major cause of economic mayhem, poverty, conflicts, disease, drought and famine. ACODE findings corroborate with the Uganda Poverty Status Report (2005), which reveals that Uganda’s forest cover has diminished from over 11m hectares in 1890 to the below par 3m hectares in 2005! This means that at this geometric rate, in few years ahead Uganda will have no forests and subsequently no water. In the circumstances, public water works like boreholes and protected springs have started drying up.
The foregoing coins a testimony that environmental conservation today is no longer a question of beauty but a question of economic survival of both individual households and the nation at large. It also presents poverty as so much a cause and a consequence of environmental degradation most especially when every wetland is encroached on, every swamp drained, top soils eroded, rivers drying up and lakes shrinking, the water table continues to go down and desertification becomes a reality. This has eventually reduced and depleted water yields to feed public water works like gravity water schemes, boreholes, shallow wells, and protected springs and so on. In Katakwi, Mbarara, Ntungamo and Kasese over 50% of public water works are nonfunctional! Water granaries that feed them dried up! How much money did Uganda spend to put these public water works? Will Uganda achieve the ambitious 77% water coverage target as laid down in the PEAP by 2015 at a time when all its wet lands, forests, rivers, hills, lakes are rapidly getting depleted? If Uganda is to insulate itself from this calamity it has to deliberately replenish and restore its water catchments. This is why the talked about proposed give away of Mabira intrigues me under what ever explanations. Mabira and other catchments are at the moment a mater of life and death. Mabira is no longer for scenic beauty and ecotourism, it is important for survival of humanity to begin with. If we don’t have water, then we don’t have life. The debate and contestation over Mabira incarnation to a sugar cane shamba should not arise. It is simply a taboo.
Yet the state of the environment in Uganda’s pre-independence period was the most ideal in the whole of Africa. Once described as the ‘Pearl of Africa’ and a fairly tale by Sir Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of United Kingdom and Second World War hero. The country enjoyed an ideal weather pattern suitable for agricultural production that boosted the country’s economy in the immediate period after independence. Agriculture, thus, formed the country’s economic backbone until today. Increases in population, now at over 26 million people, have had very negative implications on land usage, mainly for agricultural and shelter purposes.
The findings reveal that Uganda has a number of laws and policies geared at conserving and protecting her environment. From the Constitution, the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), the National Environment Management Act (NEMA among others. Despite a forest of policies, catchments continue to dwindle! This calls for meticulous review and avid implementation of the existing environmental policy regime with the view of tailoring, customizing, localizing and genderizing it for practical purposes. My friend Godber Tumushabe of ACODE argues that if the top leadership (read President Museveni) demonstrates the will for uncompromising implementation of environmental policies, this deepening water crisis can be averted. However, the President argues that he wants to create jobs for the citizenry and boost Uganda’s economy. Can this be achieved sustainably? Can Ugandans be guided to engage in profitable ventures that don’t compromise the wider environmental needs? ACODE, a body of policy gurus should provide guidance and answer the seemingly legitimate concerns of the President.
Finally, as I sign off I say to you that you either environmentalize or perish. That is what I wish for you and myself. Over to you fellow Ugandans.
Policy Research and Advocacy Manager
Uganda National Farmers Federation