Concerns have erupted over a multimillion dollar World Bank project to save Lake Victoria that has failed to take off in Uganda after three years, even as Kenya and Tanzania are about to complete their part.
The Lake Victoria Environmental Management (LVEMPII) project under the ministry of water and environment which was supposed to kick off in 2010 is yet to start while pollution and environmental degradation continue to impose their toll on the lake.
District officials and community-based organisations (CBOs) earlier registered to implement the project on Tuesday attributed the drop in water levels and fish stocks and the general rampant pollution of the lake to the project's delay.
Masaka district environment officer Rose Nakyejjwe explained that the district was expecting to restore at least 40 degraded wetlands which serve as catchment areas for the lake, but the project's delay had affected the plan.
The LVEMPII project aimed at promoting conservation of biodiversity and harmonizing national and regional management programmes in order to achieve the reversal of environmental degradation and stabilize the lake ecosystem.
Ironically, even before the funds could be released, Nakyejjwe reported that officials from the Auditor General's office had twice last year approached her office for accountability.
"How can you audit a project whose funds have not been released?" Nakyejjwe asked.
"The ministry approved 10 environmental conservation proposals from CBOs in Masaka. We signed financial agreements last year but we are still waiting for the funds."
She made the remarks on Tuesday during a meeting with members of the various CBOs at Masaka Social Center.
Deo Kiwanuka, the director of Bakasimbi, a Masaka-based CBO, which was promised about sh53m to create alternative sources of income for wetland encroachers, said the delay had rendered their plans futile.
"About 90 youth and women cultivating in wetlands had accepted to relocate when we promised them money to start apiculture projects. But the money has not come and they've all gone back to dig in wetlands," he said.
Apparently, this has reduced Namajuzi wetland, a catchment area for Lake Victoria and one of Uganda's key international ramsar sites, to dangerous levels besides chasing away the endangered Shoebill birds.
Other wetlands that have been affected include Gambuze and Kaseeta where the level of water and papyrus has reduced.
The development comes amidst increasing public outcry over diminishing fish stocks in Lake Victoria especially the most commercially viable Nile Perch species.
Nile Perch stocks reduced by about 19%, from 84,969 tonnes in 2010 to 69,132 tonnes in 2011, the lowest level ever recorded, according to the Agriculture Sector Performance Report 2012.
Richard Kimbowa of the Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development, a local NGO, warned that delaying the project would worsen the situation especially now that water hyacinth has reinvaded the lake.
New Vision could not ably ascertain why the ministry had delayed to release the funds after officials declined to comment on the matter.
The project's coordinator Sowed Sewagudde and Shillingi Mugisha, the director for water development, referred the issue to the permanent secretary David Obong who was reportedly abroad on leave.
Stephen Shallita, the World Bank Uganda spokesperson could not be reached for a comment as his phone was off.