Uganda: Bunyoro Rejects Proposal to Build Dam On Murchison Falls

Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom has opposed government's proposal to construct a hydropower dam in Murchison Falls National Park.

In a July 3 letter to the chief executive officer of Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), the kingdom prime minister, Mr Andrew Byakutaga, stated that the park is a unique landscape with several components that are crucial for enhancing the social-ecological resilience of the people of Bunyoro and neighbouring districts.

"Building a hydropower dam along River Nile within Murchison Falls National Park will disrupt the physio-chemical and biological processes of the river. The river and the adjacent riparian landscapes host several flora, fauna and cultural landscapes revered by the people of Bunyoro and used in several cultural and royal rituals," the letter reads in part.

On June 7, ERA ran a public notice in the media indicating that it received an application from Bonang Power and Energy (Pty) Limited in April for a permit to conduct feasibility studies for construction of a hydro power dam on Victoria Nile in the park.

The notice attracted a public uproar with several conservationists rejecting the proposal.

Mr Byakutaga said the park has several sacred sites that are critical in the cultural identity of the kingdom.

"Building the dam on the proposed site will affect the Murchison/ Kabalega falls either through changes in the flow regime or sediment transfer. This will affect the flora and fauna around the site yet this is the main touristic attraction in the park," he stated.

Thousands of tourists visit the park annually.

On November 26, 2013, the Omukama of Bunyoro, Dr Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I, erected a plaque on top of the falls to mark the site where the Babiito first stepped on their way to the kingdom around 1500 AD.

Mr Byakutaga said the park is already under stress from the oil and gas exploration and development activities which will affect its ecological resilience, adding that a dam construction will exacerbate the risk.

Mr Julius Wandera, the ERA spokesperson, said the comments from Bunyoro and all other stakeholders are welcome.

"A technical review of the application is ongoing and within two weeks time, the board of ERA might have taken a decision and we shall announce it," Mr Wandera said.

Fact box

Murchison Falls National Park lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into vast, palm-dotted savanna. First gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, it is Uganda's largest and oldest conservation area, hosting 76 species of mammals and 451 birds. The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic Murchison Falls, the centerpiece of the park and the final event in an 80km stretch of rapids. The stretch of river provides one of Uganda's most remarkable wildlife spectacles. According to the Uganda Wildlife Authority's official website, the park has elephants, giraffes and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds. At Murchison falls, River Nile squeezes through an 8 metre wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar below a valley, creating a trademark rain ball.

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