KYENJOJO- The government has planned hydro power plants on River Muzizi that snakes through Mubende, Kyegegwa, Kibaale, Kagadi, Kyenjojo and Ntoroko districts before it empties into Lake Albert.
These projects are aimed at supporting rural electrification with a focus on reducing environmental degradation by the locals in the sub-region.
To achieve this, Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL) is developing the 48MW Muzizi Hydropower Project at the lower course of the Muzizi River in south east of Lake Albert.
The project across River Muzizi, which forms the border between Hoima and Ntoroko districts, is located approximately 10 kilometres south-west of Ndaiga Town in Hoima District.
It is estimated to cost 107 million Euros (Shs463.5 billion). The other two proposed hydro power plants on River Muzizi are the 3.1 MW Sogahi Hydropower Project in Kyarusozi Sub-county, Kyenjojo District and the 3.5MW project in Nyankwanzi Sub-county, also in Kyenjojo District.
However, all these good plans may remain on paper if there are no clear ways to first address the growing population pressure exerted on land that is forcing the people to encroach on the forests and wetlands.
Since these projects depend on the water flow into River Muzizi, they remain threatened as the water levels have drastically dropped. The government embarked on forceful evictions of encroachers from water catchment areas last month in Kyenjojo District. The exercise is ongoing.
However, there is a lot of environmental degradation from upstream to downstream of the river.
“The water levels on River Muzizi have reduced significantly, threatening government projects. I am calling upon the local people who are still encroaching on the wetlands to voluntarily vacate them and also the river banks,” Mr Isaac Kawonawo, the Kyenjojo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, says.
“When I was young, we used to cross River Muzizi with a boat from Kyenjojo to Kibaale. Now it’s no more, the river has dried up and even a young child can cross it on foot,” Mr William Kaija, the Kyenjojo District chairman recently told a multi-sectoral meeting at the recent launch of the restoration of Muzizi Wetland System.
In Kibaale District, Kanaga central reserve forest, which is part of the River Muzizi catchment area, is highly encroached on.
A walk inside the forest reveals makeshift structures covered with grass and old tarpaulins. These structures are occupied by encroachers.
One of the structures is owned by Ms Mediathese Ntamuhera, 36, who is one of hundreds of Rwandese nationals who have found soft landing in Uganda over several decades as they fled pressure on land in Rwanda.
Ms Ntamuhera is among several other Rwandese nationals and Ugandans from different parts of the country that have found Uganda forests and wetlands, especially those located in Bunyoro and Rwenzori sub-regions, a suitable place to settle.
But their settlement is posing a big threat to the environment as evidenced in change in weather patterns and a significant drop of water levels in many rivers, especially River Muzizi.
“I was born in Rwanda at Birungi, Nyamarundi where our family settled on a small piece of land and we were told that there is free land in Uganda. We left and entered Uganda through panya (shortcut) routes and came here in Kibaale about 18 years ago,” recalls Ms Ntamuhera.
According to the 2009 National Environmental Management Authority (Nema)’s report, in 1990 Uganda had more than five million hectares of forest cover but by 2005, only 3.5 million hectares (8.6 million acres) remained.
Nema warns that if deforestation continues at the present rate, Uganda will have lost all its forested land by 2050. Conservationists estimate that Bunyoro sub-region loses about 7,000 hectares of forests annually.
Deforestation and wetland encroachment problem cuts across the Albertine basin.
To curb this issue, a non-government organisation, Joint Effort to Save the Environment (JESE), has been formed.
JESE has established the Inter-district Multi Stakeholder Forestry and Environment Forum as a coordinating mechanism for promoting sustainable and better use of the environment and forestry, proper accountability and advocating increased investment in the natural resources sector in the three districts of Kyenjojo, Kyegegwa and Mubende.
In the recent past, civil wars in the neighbouring Rwanda and DR Congo have forced many of their nationals to seek refuge in Uganda and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has settled hundreds at Rwamwanja, Kyangwali and Kyaka in Kamwenge, Hoima and Kyegegwa districts, respectively.
Ntoroko District, which is located downstream, has faced scarcity of water for the last three years.
The district is still waiting for the fulfilment of the Shs82 billion water project that was pledged by President Museveni in 2011 presidential campaigns.
This project too is being threatened by the recent drop in water levels in River Muzizi.
Recently, Nema together with the Kyenjojo local government officials, issued eviction orders to more than 300 encroachers in the wetlands and banks of River Muzizi.
Mr Bob Nuwagira, the Nema information officer, says with the support from the Environment Police Unit, the restoration of Muzizi Wetland System started last month.
“The restoration exercise which has been launched in Kyenjojo District will cover the critical catchment of the River Muzizi system spanning the districts of Kagadi, Kyegegwa, Kibale and Mubende.” Nuwagira says.
Key activities include the removal of illegal structures, plants and crops in wetlands, closing of drainage channels and evictions of people residing on the banks of River Muzizi.
“We are protecting the catchment such that we can restore the ecosystem services that such fragile ecosystems provide. Wetlands are important for weather modifications. At least 40 per cent of the rains we receive are influenced by local ecosystems such as wetlands, riverbanks and lakeshores,” he says.
Environmental police have been established at Masindi to monitor the whole region and enforce environment laws.
According to Nema, 79 per cent of the population is rural and depends directly on natural resources for its livelihoods while 90 per cent of the energy requirements come from natural resources.
More than 90 per cent of exports are natural resources based and more than 70 per cent of Uganda’s population are employed in the agricultural sector.
Article 237(2)(b) of the Constitution, states that central and local governments hold in trust and protect natural lakes, rivers, wetlands, forest reserves, game reserves, national parks and any land reserved for ecological or touristic purposes for the common good of all citizens.
Article 245 states that Parliament is mandated to make laws for the protection of the environment and natural resources.