Mak Environmental economists hold a policy tour to  Bugiri district over Lake Victoria’s rising water levels and pollution

Participants posing for a group photo after the opening ceremony

Environmental economists from the Environment for Development Initiative (EfD-Mak Centre) were on 28th -29th October 2020  in Bugiri district in Eastern Uganda to dialogue with the local government officials on  L. Victoria’s water rising levels and pollution.

The team led by the Director EfD-Mak Centre Assoc. Prof. Edward Bbaale met with Bugiri district local government officials including the administrative and technical arms of the district at the district headquarters.

Officials met include the Chief Administrative officer (CAO), The Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Clerk to Council, Chairperson Local Council V, District speaker, the District Police Commander and officers from the Environmental Police Protection Unit. The technical team was largely composed of the District Natural Resources’ officer, Forestry and Water officers, District planners and engineers. The meeting was also attended by representatives from the Civil Society organizations (CSO) and the Private sector.

Mak dons Dr. Nickolas Kilimani, Mr. Peter Babyenda and Prof. Edward Bbaale interacting during the break session

Lake Victoria Basin (LVB) is a critical trans-boundary natural resource, underpinning the economy and livelihoods of the population, acting as a waste repository and provides food, energy, irrigation, drinking water, tourism and transportation to the economy and, is the primary modulator of the region’s climate.

Despite its importance, the LVB has undergone intense environmental degradation for decades, resulting in significant ecological and economic challenges. During the period of late January 2020, the effect of Lake Victoria bursting its banks started to be felt with several landing sites and settlements damaged by floods leaving almost half a million people homeless and property worth billions of money h lost in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

The EfD-Mak Centre is mandated to carry out training, research and policy engagement in the realm of environment and natural resources and to advise government on the best way the environment can be managed using evidence generated from research.

The university was in Bugiri because of its location and unique features. Bugiri district is located in Busoga Sub-region  in Eastern Uganda with a total land area of 1,045.9 km2 (403.8 sq mi). The district is located in a flat and rolling topographical zone with 90% of its landmass constituting the drainage basins of Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga. As a result, there are many swamps that criss-cross the district and landing sites. The land surface is characterized by gentle undulating hills with few higher residual features. The district has   a total of 1062m2 covered by land, 1562m2 covered by water and out of this water body there is Wakawaka landing site covering 26178 m2, Namatu (62505m2), Rwenge maziriga (30024m2) and Rwenge karent (26645m2). The  catchment areas have been grossly degraded, forest cover cut and swamps reclaimed.

The objectives of the policy dialogue was to discuss with district officials on the status, challenges and to come up with strategies how to have a nuance existence between the environment and human development.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mr. Ezaruka Kazimo speaking during the dialogue

Speaking during the opening ceremony, Bugiri District Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mr. Ezaruka Kazimo welcomed Mak dons to the district saying,  the dialogue had come at a time when the district was experiencing very serious effects of climate change and environmental degradation manifested with floods with a  number of homes  displaced and  floods that were still continuing. Kazimo called upon participants to put up some mitigation measures to address these challenges to enhance sustainability in the district and country at large.

The CAO described the policy dialogue as important and, one that is in line with the National Development Plan III (2020-2025) whose implementation has just started. He said, the NDPIII considers environmental management and climate change very seriously for sustainability which to some extent must also guide the dialogue.

Mr. Ezaruka Kazimo said, the NDP III goal under natural resources and climate change sector is to stop and reverse the degradation of water resources, environment, natural resources as well as the effects of climate change on economic growth and people’s livelihoods.

A section of participants

“The key issues or challenges affecting the sector of environment which this country wants to address in this period under NDP III are poor management of water, environment and natural resources coupled with worsening effects of climate change due to high exposure to hazards and disasters, low disaster risk planning, rampant degradation of environment and natural resources, limited access and uptake of meteorological information and poor coordination and institutional capacity”, The CAO said.

The CAO said, there is poor coordination among different institutions, sectors and local government, absence of incentives for good environment practices adding that, there  are some key targets which must be achieved under NDP III five years from now.

This according to Mr. Kazimo include, increasing percentage of land area by forests from 9.1% to 15% country wide, to increase the percentage of the land area by wetlands from the current 10.9% to 11.5% within five years. Then increase percentage of water samples, complying with national standards among others.

The representative of the Resident District Commissioner, Ronald Mukasa speaking

Speaking on behalf of the Resident District Commissioner, Ronald Mukasa expressed the dilemma between environmental conservation and development.

 “We have so many activities that are ongoing within our environment. We have timber cutting, we have sand mining in the waters, we have charcoal burning, we have construction ongoing but how really do we protect our environment when development is also going on hand in hand?

We have to sensitize our community and population on how to manage nature while preserving the environment. Our call is to plant more trees as we cut some down and this is the only way we shall maintain the environment and even preserve nature”. He said reiterating the call by the government and the president condemning acts leading to environmental degradation.

The representative of the LC5 Chairperson Mr. Mutamba Musa thanked Makerere University for  considering Bugiri for the dialogue. He said forests in Bugiri were getting depleted, waters levels rising and many activities taking place in the wetlands.

He told participants that the task ahead of every stakeholder was to ensure that the catchment areas that feed the bigger water bodies are protected. Mr. Mutamba attributed the degradation of the environment and natural resources to inefficiencies in environmental committees and the increasing population pressure.

“I would also love to encourage fellow leaders to also ensure that the environmental committees are made active. It is true we have these committees but they are inactive, so we should ensure that they do what is expected of them.

 I also think that as Ugandans we are over producing and as you are aware, the supply of land is in-elastic so, people have started encroaching on forests and wetlands for survival. So we should ensure that at least we produce manageable numbers of children to safe guard our environment”. Mr. Mutamba said.

Bugiri District Police Commander Ssebuyungo Geofrey making his remarks

The District Police Commander Mr. Ssebuyungo Geofrey noted that although Uganda has adequate policies on environmental protection and institutions including the Environmental Police Protection Unit, there is lack of support to the enforcement and sometimes environmental protection is taken up by politics.

“We need the independence of the enforcement team when it comes to environmental policies. It is also time that we develop a policy  on road reserves, so that we plant trees by liaising with Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) because this is free land”. The DPC proposed.

Ssebuyungo  also noted that environmental protection must be perceived and conceptualized in terms of development encompassing many things like empowering people to fight poverty.

He said, besides helping ordinary people to use the environment to make money, there is need to think of a policy for all Bibanja   owners to plant trees along their boundaries and encouraging all people to have tree projects that can earn them big sums of money in future.

The Clerk to Council Mr. Nandhbu Joshua said Bugiri is one of the worst affected districts with the changing environment especially the rising or changing levels of Lake Victoria.

“We have a landing site called Wakawaka, it has displaced a multitude of homes, people are now moving around but  as government we embarked ourselves on constitutionalism. The Minister of Environment wrote to clerk directing that all people who are around the affected area vacate”. He said adding that people who were instructed to leave the landing site were stuck and have nowhere to go.

Senior Environmental Officer, Ms. Kauma Benadet presenting on the status of the environment in Bugiri

In her Key note address, the Senior Environmental officer Bugiri district  Ms. Kauma Benadet who is also the Ag. Natural Resources officer reported that the district is faced with  a number of  challenges regarding environmental management including  the rising water levels, sedimentation due  to encroachment of the buffer zone, increasing water pollution and declining fish stocks.

The environmental officer reported that in March 2020, a number of people were displaced by the rising water levels on L. Victoria and up to date, they have not been resettled leading to the decline of many economic activities.

“The increasing pollution of water is due to lack of sanitary facilities. We have over one thousand people along the shore, most of these are living close to the lake within 200m and this has led to a lot of pollution. We only have one pit latrine that was provided by the district which cannot serve this whole community and so, the only alternative is the water source, Lake Victoria ”. She stated.

Ms. Kauma said the district was grappling with issues of sedimentation as a result of waste disposal because the catchment, the wetlands have been silted and most of this silt ends up in the lake. She added that most of the people around the shore line have migrated from the village because they don’t have land, so they end up even cultivating the small area on the buffer zone hence increasing the silt in the lake.

The Environmental officer attributed all the environmental issues in the district to the increasing poverty levels and the declining economic activities.

“Most of the people who destroy our environment are below the poverty line and the only thing they can resort to for a living are the natural resources. That’s why you see most of our forests are disappearing because of charcoal burning and the demand of fuel wood. We see the way swamps are disappearing because people have to cultivate rice to earn money to take their children to school, to get the necessary medical services”, Ms. Kauma stated.

She however said, the district was partnering with development partners like the World Vision and Red Cross Society that have provided resources to mitigate the challenges.

Ms. Kauma also expressed gratitude to the government for increasing the budget for natural resources management in the district.

“We now have a running budget of 35 million shillings of which about 10 million shillings is for enforcement. So, on issues leading to pollution of the lake, sedimentation and the like, we are going to ensure that we enforce because we have at least regional officers in the management of environment. We shall always be calling them on board so that we can force the implementation of the 200m buffer zone.” Ms. Kauma stated.

Director EfD-Mak Centre Prof. Edward Bbaale making his remarks

The Director EfD-Mak Centre Prof. Edward Bbaale explained that the bursting of the lake banks is just an effect of the degradation of environment more especially the catchment areas.

“The forests have been cleared, the swamps have been cleared and as a result, erosion of all the debris with all the materials, metals, segments end up directly into the lake.

 The lake is very shallow with an average depth of 40m and the highest being 80m and once degradation goes on for many years as of now, time comes when the lake is over whelmed and as I speak now the lake is over whelmed. It is saturated no wonder it has burst its banks leading to all sorts of issues”. Prof. Bbaale said.

The Director said  Lake Victoria is a trans boundary natural resource not only in Uganda but touches other East African countries where part of the solution lies in a consensus and  joint efforts where governments must work towards a common goal.

As for Uganda, the professor observed that there is no need for new regulations on reason that  the government is committed already to institutions.

“Government has established a number of institutions and frame works that are intended to protect the natural resources and environment.  From parliament for example, we have a Parliamentary Committee in charge of natural resources and environment. We have the Ministry of Water and Environment, we have NEMA, and others and the government has allowed civil society to work together with government to protect the environment.

But what we need to do is to implement and remove the weaknesses in the implementation of regulations that are here. The weak enforcements should be worked on or revised as a mechanism of achieving favorable environmental and natural resource outcomes”, He explained

Prof. Bbaale said as university researchers, they have a role to play because the population needs alternatives and these alternatives must come from new knowledge generated from research for instance non green energy or cleaned energy that can be used other than cutting forests or making charcoal.

A section of the participants attending the dialogue

The Centre Director expressed the university commitment in taking research in the new alternatives as far as energy and agriculture are concerned noting that Agriculture is one of the culprits leading to degradation.

“The type of agriculture being practiced is not smart agriculture. This is the type of agriculture where even the productivity is so low, output per person is so low to the extent that if someone wants to harvest a lot, he needs a very big chunk of land.

But now, there should be research in the new agronomical practices that can ensure the highest yields even on a very small piece of land. You don’t need to clear a forest to have great alternative from your agriculture. You just need to undertake smart agriculture, you just need to work on agricultural productivity as a mechanism of protecting the environment”, He said.

Report compiled by:
Jane Anyango,
Communication Officer



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