Participants posing for a group photo at Brovad Hotel after the opening ceremony

Masaka District Local Government officials including the Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Chief Administrative officer (CAO), Chairperson Local Council V (LCV), District Natural Resources’ , Forestry and Water  officers and  officials from the Environmental Police Protection  Unit on 24th September 2020 held a policy dialogue with environmental economist from Makerere University.

The dialogue organized by the Environment for Development Initiative Uganda (EfD-Mak Centre) was held at Hotel Brovad in Masaka and also attended by representatives from the Civil Society organizations and the Private sector.

The deliberations under the theme, “Lake Victoria’s Hydrology, Water Quality and Livelihoods”, focused on the status of the Environment and Natural Resources in the district more especially the rising water levels on Lake Victoria and the resultant impacts on the socio economic welfare on the people, challenges faced in the management of the natural resources and how to sustainably use the environment while realizing economic development.

Betty Tinka making her welcome remarks

The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ms.  Betty Tinka described the University initiative in the district as timely on grounds that the dialogue would provide an opportunity to share the district experiences in the management of natural resources and how to bridge the existing gaps.

“The environment especially the buffer zone has been destroyed. There is a problem of law enforcement. The population is very high, poverty levels are high and majority of our people depend on fishing with no other alternative livelihood options. People are not engaged in fish farming because of the lake”. The CAO stated.

The Town Clerk, Mr. George Behaingana said Lake Victoria buffer zone has been abused due to lack of an effective enforcement mechanism while the water has been polluted due to lack of the waste management plan for the fishing communities.

Mr. Behaingana thanked Makerere University for joining the efforts to bring the attention and importance of the lake to the major stakeholders and custodians of the environment in the district through the dialogue.

He implored university scientists to do more research on the issue and influence policy and emphasized the need for the university to be precise on the current and impending manifestation of environmental degradation and issues of enforcement.

LCV Chairman Jude Mbabali officially opening the policy dialogue

In his opening remarks, Masaka LCV Chairman Mr. Jude Mbabali told participants that Masaka district lies on the shores of Lake Victoria and is endowed with expanses of swamps and other natural resources that provide both ecological and livelihoods functions.

Mr. Mbabali however decried the highest level of encroachment, destruction and acquisition of land titles in the swamps by the powerful rich claiming to be highly connected.

The Chairman reported that the district council has been embroiled in legal battles with an encroacher who had acquired over 30 titles of the swamps that protects Lake Victoria spanning an area of about 500 acre for palm tree plantation.

“We went to NEMA but we were advised that NEMA can only cancel the permit. The law does not give the district council powers to cancel titles. It says, we can recommend to the registrar of titles or go to court. We gathered evidence for Justice Bamugeirerwe Land Probe Committee and titles were cancelled but a few were not.

During the COVID 19 lock down, the investor again resurfaced and cleared 120 acres but for the sake of protecting Lake Victoria, we went to the President and produced the report. We thank Statehouse for acting”. The RDC commended.

Mbabali expressed concern over the hurried release of suspected encroachers on gazzetted wetlands upon arrests by police, saying this encourages more encroachment while demotivating those that fight the vice.

Senior Environmental Officer Kiyimba Brunno giving the key note address

In his keynote address, the Senior Environment Officer, Masaka district Mr. Kiyimba Brunno proposed the need for Uganda to establish an independent national authority to manage Lake Victoria basin.

Kiyimba also underscored the need to protect the buffer zone and increased funding to the district natural resources offices for law enforcement.

The environmental officer explained that encroachment of the buffer zone, inadequate funding and poor waste disposal on the landing sites have led to pollution of the waters effecting the quality and quantity of fish on the lake.

 “We need a national authority to handle issues specific to Lake Victoria management because it is very important to our lives. The created authority will help boost the current efforts marred by gaps such as enforcement.

We have to get viable solutions to control degradation. We have continuously faced the issue of land titles issued in wetlands and one wonders how the Ministry of Water and Environment documents this when we have environmental officers to contact before a decision is made. This makes work hard and encourages more people to reclaim the swamps”, the environmental officer stated.

Prof. Edward Bbaale presenting during the policy dialogue

The Director EfD-Mak Centre Prof. Edward Bbaale said the center 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.

Prof. Bbaale  said the university was in Masaka because , it is one of the districts bordering Lake Victoria especially, the Bukakata area where the catchment area  has been grossly degraded, forest cover cut with rampant swamp reclamation.

He said the meeting discussed several issues about Lake Victoria’s hydrology change and pollution which is related to water quality and livelihood. The livelihood question according to Prof.  Bbaale   addresses the question of fishing just as a component.

The Director said, Lake Victoria is a trans boundary natural resource, that acts as a modulator of the regions’ climate and in addition, it provides food,  transport, resources brought in by tourists and  does a lot for the region not only Uganda.

Prof. Bbaale however observed that, despite these very many benefits, Lake Victoria basin in Masaka district has been grossly degraded, the swamps reclaimed and forests cut down.

He explained that swamps act as filters of whatever must end up in the lake but they are no longer there and as a result, the lake has had a lot of debris, and stuff deposited in the water and the lakes holding capacity has been tested to the limit to the extent that it has no option but to burst its banks.

“People have violated the buffer zone regulation that economic activities must be 200m away from the shore line. Many economic activities are right at the shore line and as a result, a lot of debris and stuff that is not processed end up in the lake and apart from the lake bursting its banks, landing sites have been submerged and many people displaced. 

Because there is erosion that comes from economic activities near the shore line, the water quality has been grossly affected. As a result, the waters of the lake are no longer good breeding places for fish. These waters have ended up becoming toxic to fish because part of the materials being eroded to the lake are themselves toxic, they constitute a lot of poisonous material that have actually killed the fish. Fish can no longer breed in waters that have been so much affected negatively. The waters are no longer clear and are very dirty”.

The Centre Director went on to explain that: “In this case fish must die and can no longer reproduce anymore in such an environment.  We have witnessed a fall in the incomes of fishermen, a fall in the income of traders and, on the macro level, we have witnessed a fall in the revenue generated by the government because the fish biomass has reduced and as a result the catch has reduced and ultimately fish exports have gone down”. Said Prof. Bbaale.

Town Clerk George Kiyimba speaking during the opening ceremony

Prof. Bbaale   applauded the government effort in this area saying, there are clear signs that show that government is committed to conserving the environment.

The professor said a number of regulations, laws concerning environmental protection have been enacted.  And government has put in place a number of institutions to protect the environment starting with the Ministry of Water and Environment, that is a clear sign that environment is the mother as human beings, and is the mother of the economy.

Secondly, Prof. Bbaale noted that there are other government agencies that are in charge of environment for instance, NEMA is in place, but also very interestingly, he said, when you go to any police station you will find a police officer in charge of the environment.

He stressed that the degradation that is seen in Lwera and Bukakata in Masaka and other areas of the country is due to lack of effective monitoring and enforcement of the existing regulations. He called upon government to come out and help to ensure non-discriminatory enforcement of the regulations as the only way the environment will be protected.

“I wouldn’t push for enactment of a new law, no, I would push for the enforcement of the existing laws. The institutions of government are in place and these institutions can work very well to protect the environment.

I am from Makerere University and the other thing is, we need to undertake relevant training in the area of environment and natural resources and also to be facilitated as a university to carry out rigorous research in the area of environment and natural resources as the only way of providing evidence needed to convince parliament and other policy making bodies of the importance.

For example, there is lack of skills among some of the current policy makers at district level on issues to do with environmental evaluation. If you want to establish a factory in a wetland, what is the monetary value of that wetland and can it be compared with the value of the industry that is being proposed? So if you are  pushing for maintaining a swamp visa vis  growing rice, what is the monetary value of that swamp visa v the monetary value of the economic activity that is being proposed?”, Prof Bbaale inquired.

The Deputy RDC captain John Kaddu officially closing the dialogue

Closing the dialogue, the Deputy RDC Masaka district, Captain John Kaddu appreciated Makerere University for considering Masaka for the dialogue.

Captain Kaddu thanked participants for turning up for the dialogue. He pledged continued support to Makerere University and the district saying:

“If the environment is well kept and preserved, weather changes can be avoided.”

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