In a recent development, leaders and locals have joined forces to establish protected zones along River Sironko. This comes in response to the deteriorating state of the river, which has been subjected to siltation, pollution, and degradation over time as it flows into Lake Kyoga. The primary causes of these issues have been the actions of local residents, particularly the youth, who have engaged in activities such as sand mining and agricultural encroachment along the riverbanks.
Ms. Joan Wasagali, a resident of Sironko Town Council, expressed her concerns about the impact of these activities on the river. She highlighted that the once vital water source has seen a decline in both water quality and levels. The cultivation of crops along the riverbanks has proven unproductive, as rainy seasons lead to crop damage and during the dry season, crops are scorched by the intense sun.
Another resident, Mr. Innocent Woniala, observed that the changing patterns of rainfall have disrupted their traditional agricultural practices. The onset of the rainy season, which used to be in February, has shifted to April. This alteration in seasons has resulted in significant losses for farmers in the area, as they have grappled with floods, prolonged drought, and shifts in rainfall patterns.
A deeper analysis of the situation reveals that a substantial portion of River Sironko’s banks and wetlands, approximately 70 percent, have been degraded due to activities such as rice cultivation, housing construction, and sand mining, as reported by Mr. Innocent Wandabwa, the district environment officer. This degradation extends beyond Sironko, reflecting a nationwide issue, with Uganda’s wetland coverage dropping from 17.5 percent to 8.5 percent since the early 1990s and forest cover plummeting from 24 percent to 12.4 percent due to human activities.
Mr. Wandabwa also emphasized that River Sironko’s water levels have dwindled over time due to the effects of climate change. The consequences of this degradation extend to natural disasters such as floods and landslides, with the most affected being the local communities.
To address these concerns, the government, in collaboration with the Ministry of Water and Environment, has initiated the Ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) project, funded by the Global Environment Fund (GEF) through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This project aims to promote environmental conservation and enhance resilience to environmental challenges.
As part of their efforts, the EBA project organized a climate information dissemination event in Mbale city. This event focused on providing weather forecasts and advisories for September, October, November, and December. These forecasts, generated by the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA), are intended to assist farmers, district technocrats, and political leaders in making informed decisions.
Furthermore, the district has undertaken the demarcation of River Sironko’s boundaries to conserve disappearing marshlands. This effort involves retracing the river boundaries and placing markers to help restore the river.
River Sironko, which originates from Mt. Elgon, traverses multiple districts, ultimately flowing into major water bodies, including Lake Kyoga and River Awoja. However, unless measures are taken to address the ongoing degradation, there is a risk that the river could eventually dry up.
The consequences of environmental degradation extend beyond agriculture, with the degradation of freshwater ecosystems leading to an increase in diseases, especially malaria. Mr. Vincent Natega, the district health officer of Bulambuli, reported a surge in malaria cases, particularly among children and mothers. Combining climate information with malaria interventions has the potential to strengthen eradication strategies for malaria.
Environmentalists and experts like Mr. Paul Watira suggest that the abundance of rainfall, high temperatures, and humidity in the Mt. Elgon area creates a conducive environment for malaria transmission. Deforestation and a warmer climate have exacerbated the situation, making malaria increasingly prevalent.
To combat these issues, it is imperative that local leaders intensify efforts to educate communities on the perils of river degradation and the importance of environmental conservation. Mass sensitization campaigns, led by leaders like Mr. Amir Kamba, Deputy Resident District Commissioner of Bulambuli, and Ms. Annet Nandudu, the Bulambuli LC5 chairperson, are essential to protect the environment and preserve the well-being of the local people.
Additionally, the Executive Director of Uganda National Meteorological Authority, Mr. Bob Alex Ogwang, highlighted plans to increase automated weather stations across the country to provide early warning measures against climate-related disasters, further emphasizing the significance of proactive measures to address these environmental challenges.