Published on: 23/08/2016
Water Quality is a big challenge in the Semuliki Catchment in Ntoroko District. This was the key observation in the recently concluded meeting for district level stakeholders of the Watershed initiative in Uganda.
The Watershed initiative is a consortium of five partners including the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IRC, Simavi, Wetlands International and Akvo. The five-year initiative seeks to deliver sustainable WASH services for all through improved water resources management and governance, by strengthening Civil Society Capacity in Lobbying Advocacy.
The purpose of the meeting was to validate findings of the context analysis and to interact with regional and district level implementers to understand the typical WASH and water resource management issues. The workshop brought together stakeholders including; technocrats from; Technical Support Unit 6 of Ministry of Water and Environment, Albert Water Management Zone, Mid-Western Umbrella for Water and Sanitation as well as District Water Officers from Kabarole, Kyenjojo and Kamwenge districts. Civil Society Organisations were represented by JESE , HEWASA and UWASNET.
Following the presentation of the findings of the context analysis on WASH and water resource management, stakeholders identified water quality as one of the crucial issues that the partnership should consider. A field visit to Semuliki Catchment in Ntoroko district provided further insight into the complexity of the issue.
The stakeholders visited Bweramule, one of the six rural sub counties of Ntoroko district with population of 6,536 people. The National Water Supply Atlas shows that access to safe water is 95% and that Bweramule has 15 point water sources (13 shallow wells and 2 protected springs) of which 62% are functional.
The sub county boundary touches river Semuliki which is shared by Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and hosts the Semuliki Sub Catchment. According to reports from the community, the river bank recedes by 10 meters every year on the Uganda side of the border. This is attributed to uncontrolled human activities on the Ugandan side especially cattle keeping as animals graze and are watered at the bank of the river. As a result floods are a chronic problem in the area.
In November 2014, Daily Monitor (a daily newspaper in Uganda) reported that the river burst its banks to heavy rains and displaced 5,000 people, damaged crops, made roads impassable, and hindered provision of social services. The local residents expressed fear that their land may float away to Congo in the next five years if no action is taken. In addition to flooding, the area has collapsible soils that make it difficult to construct toilets. As a result, access to sanitary facilities is very low. Some of the toilets that have managed to withstand the soils where observed to be waterlogged as feacal matter was in contact with ground water. Despite the high rate of access to safe water (95%) reported in the National Water Supply Atlas, the ground water in Bweramule is saline so households are not keen to use it for drinking and often resort to using water from the river.
Interventions by stakeholders in the district have provided hope to residents of Bweramule. Joint Effort to Save the Environment (JESE), is supporting communities to restore the river bank on the 14 kilometre stretch that had been identified as prone to floods. Since 2014, JESE has supported the communities to create a one-hundred-metre zero production zone which has been fenced off to halt human activities and restore the river bank vegetation. So far, the fence covers a stretch of 4 kilometres. To generate resources for maintaining the fence, community members have started a Village Savings and Loan Initiative. JESE also supported households to acquire ceramic filters for drinking water to ensure they consume safe water.
Health Through Water and Sanitation (HEWASA), is supporting increased access to water through promotion of low cost technologies that provide opportunity for multiple use of water. The technologies are used to enhance water supply water domestic use and agriculture. These include the India VI and rope pump technologies. HEWASA has also built the capacity of drillers to enable them to deliver the service to households. At least 20 households have been able acquire the technologies and their cattle are able to access drinking water on the farm without trekking to the river.
The Government of Uganda plans to invest in a 10.5 million US dollar project code-named 'Lake Edward and Albert Integrated Fisheries and Water Management Project' (LEAFII). The project seeks to improve Water Resources Management by solving the problem of over exploitation of fishing, deforestation and water resource degradation.
Water quality remains a crucial issue in the Semuliki Catchment that requires a range of interventions from addressing water source contamination, sanitation, water resource degradation, and livelihood. Restoration of the river bank without providing alternative watering points and livelihood opportunities compatible with the catchment ecosystem will not solve the water resource degradation problem.
Sanitation and Water Supply technologies need to be reconsidered as ground water is no longer a feasible option due to salinity and high risk of faecal contamination. Traditional latrines are also not feasible due to collapsing soils.
The case of Semuliki shows that water resources management, WASH and livelihoods are interlinked and calls for a multi-sectoral coordination at Water Management Zone, Catchment, and district level to address the issue.
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