Uganda: Lake Victoria Forces Out Bugonga Dwellers

Researchers collecting samples of water from the shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu, Kenya (file photo).

As one turns off from Circular Road in Entebbe to Bugonga Landing Site, a few metres down the murram road, is a roadblock of blue, green and black fishing boats.

Since October last year, Lake Victoria has swallowed up to nearly 50 metres of the shoreline, leaving surrounding communities desperate.

The heavy waves from the lake have destroyed several boats. As a result, fishermen are forced to dock on the road.

Ms Sarah Ddungu Ibaale, the chairperson of the landing site, has lost three boats to the waves. Each boat valued at Shs2.5m.

"One of the boats split when a huge wave hit it in the lake. I thank God that it was daytime, and the split was on the top; otherwise those fishermen would have drowned. The other two boats were smashed at the shore. This lake has become unpredictable," Ms Ibaale says.

"I have only three boats left, which means I have lost a significant portion of my income," she adds.

Across the road, two men are repairing boats, an added expense to the owners.

Unusual rainfall

Early this year, the Uganda weather authority released a weather forecast for March to May, indicating that the country would experience normal to above normal rainfall.

Mr Festus Luboyera, the executive director of the authority, says the rising levels of water in the Lake Victoria Basin, is occasioned by overflowing rivers and streams across the region.

"This is one of the main rainy seasons in the region. But we also had heavy rain in September to November last year. So, Lake Victoria has become a reservoir. This (situation) is a something that has been accumulating," he says.

Mr Sam Cheptoris, the Minister of Water and Environment, in a May 1 statement indicated that the water levels had risen from 12 metres to 13.32 metres, the highest ever recorded.

Shoreline developments affected

Pictures of submerged resorts, markets and houses on the shoreline have been circulating on social media and television. The situation is not any different at Bugonga Landing Site in Entebbe.

The concrete slab which Ms Ibaale previously used as a collection point for her fish is now submerged and broken.

The black water-soaked roots of a tree next to the slab are exposed. If the water level continues to rise, the tree will be uprooted.

Ms Ibaale had to shift her refrigerator to a store near the road.

Mr Ibrahim Muwonge, a fisherman, sits on a boat outside the empty shell of a mosque.

Last week, huge waves washed away the outer wall of the mosque, exposing the timberwork.

Inside, the debris fills the prayer area while the light green walls remain clean. The concrete ceiling has caved in, leaving huge cracks. Only a clean corner with two small jerry cans remains.

"Some of us would come here for swallah (prayers). But now, many have abandoned the mosque. We believe that small corner we cleared is still safe, so people still go there to pray. It is not easy to pray at home because of the distractions," Mr Muwonge says.

The lake has also submerged a huge chunk of Nakiwogo Market at Nakiwogo Landing Site. Most of the charcoal dealers have abandoned their stalls and shifted to the road leading to the Uganda Virus Research Institute, also in Entebbe.

One has to walk on wooden planks to access the market.

Mr Muwonge says he cannot go fishing because the fish have retreated to deeper waters.

He blames the problem on heavy winds and rising water levels. Bugonga Landing Site has one pier for boats, which was also submerged.

Behind the container shops at Bugonga, the water is flowing through a channel, eating away part of the road.

Residents fear that part of the landing site will become a floating mass.

"This is not the first time the lake is moving to the road. It happened in 1979 during the sabasaba (1979 Liberation War) time. I was in Senior Three at the time and the water levels were very high. I see it happening again," Ms Ibaale says.

The last time there was massive flooding in the country was in 1964.

Cause

Experts attribute the current situation to encroachment of wetlands.

"The rate of urbanisation is very high, yet wetlands were meant to be water reservoirs. As long as we continue disturbing water catchment areas to create settlement, this problem will continue," Mr Wilberforce Wanyama, a senior wetlands officer and hydrologist in the Ministry of Water and Environment, says.

"People have also cleared a number of forests, which means less water goes into the soil. Most of it is runoff which ends in surface water resources such as rivers and lakes, causing flooding," he adds.

Recently, President Museveni issued a directive, ordering immediate eviction of encroachers from wetlands, river banks and shorelines.

People living or working within 100 metres of river banks, 30 metres of wetlands and 200 metres of lake shores face eviction.

"We have been trying to evict people, but we have had challenges because they do not appreciate the reason why we are evicting them. Now, they can see what is happening and some of those we have told are willingly moving away. We are just going to engage a higher gear," Mr Wanyama says.

But what guarantees are in place to ensure that these people do not return in the dry season?

"The President said local council, sub-county and parish chiefs would report anyone who goes back to the shore so that we can take action. This has been lacking because the ministry was stopping at the district levels yet lakeshores and wetlands are in the villages," Mr Wanyama says.

Solution

To solve the lake dilemma, experts call for the release of Lake Victoria water. While a number of rivers and streams from neighbouring countries pour into the lake, it has only one exit through River Nile in Jinja District. "Scientists are releasing water into River Nile at a rate of 2,200 cubic metres per second, up from a rate of 1,000 cubic metres per second in October 2019. With the releases, there is a likelihood that the water levels will reduce, but this is on the assumption that the heavy rain does not continue and encroachment ends," Mr Wilberforce Wanyama, a senior wetlands officer, says.

Survival at all costs

Many shoreline dwellers such as Ms Sarah Mukyala, a 40-year-old food vendor, are struggling to survive. The mother of eight halted her business at Bugonga Landing Site in Entebbe because the waves washed away her one-room wooden shack that served as a restaurant and home.

She has now rented a tiny square of land across the road, about 100 metres from where she used to live. Although she pays Shs30,000 for rent, Ms Mukyala has so far spent Shs500,000, which she borrowed to erect another shack. One part of the room will accommodate a restaurant while the other a bedroom. A layer of crushed stones has been packed tightly on the dirt floor to keep out the damp.

"I do not know if I will be able to pay back the money. My husband is a fisherman but he abandoned us after he got another woman. Once in a while, he sends us Shs5,000 for upkeep," Ms Mukyala says.

As she waits for her room to be completed, the family shares a 4x4 feet room provided by a friend. The front part of the room is for customers while the back is congested with two beds and a mattress on the floor. The shack is only a few steps away from the lake.

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