Efforts to restore River Rwizi in western Uganda are picking up momentum with stakeholders each day emphasizing their commitment to having the water body restored to its natural state after many years of degradation.
This year, as part of the Water and Environment Week commemoration, a two-day symposium on the restoration of River Rwizi Catchment was planned on 19th and 20th March in Mbarara but a COVID-19 scare and a ban on the public gathering by President Yoweri Museveni reduced it to half a day on 19th March at Lake View Hotel in Mbarara.
The symposium convened by Advocates Coalition for Development (ACODE) in partnership with Ministry of Water & Environment (MWE), National Planning Authority (NPA), Mbarara District Local Government, Green Economy Coalition (GEC) and Youth Go Green was responding to the need to save River Rwizi.
The over 8,200km long river, commencing its gentle journey from its base in Buhweju & snaking through the hills and valleys of Ankole supplying domestic, agricultural and industrial water to people along its course connecting to Lake Victoria, its final destination, has suffered the wrath of the very people it serves.
River Rwizi, serving about 12 local government administrative districts in the vast great Ankole subregion has over the years been facing extinction due to human activities that have degraded wetlands surrounding it. Its water levels have significantly dried up.
Human activities like sand mining, industrial dumping, planting of eucalyptus trees, farming and intentional blocking of the river course have threatened its existence; something environmentalists who spoke at the symposium condemned and vowed to defeat through a multi-sectoral approach.
JB Tumusiime, the Mbarara District chairperson, also the chairman Rwizi Catchment Management Committee, noted that ministry of water and environment, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the district leadership alone cannot fight this vice and succeed.
“The restoration of degraded wetlands requires a multi-sectoral approach. It is everybody’s role. It is every leader’s role to make sure that we restore the wetlands,” Tumusiime said at the symposium encouraging politicians intending to vie for political offices not to interfere with the works of the technical team working to end degrading of wetlands supporting River Rwizi.
Innocent Nabaasa, an official from NEMA, in his presentation revealed that the ‘level of impunity’ by people permanently blocking the river is high.
“People no longer access water anymore. The river provides water for watering of animals. And because of the blockages due to unregulated human activities, the river is forced to change its course,” noted Nabaasa.
Louis Mugisha, of Victoria Management Zone at the ministry of water and environment, in agreement with Nabaasa acknowledged that they have lived with the impunity for too long it has been normalized.
He said the ministry is working on restoring wetlands, working on enhancing of water storage at various catchment centres, demarcating River Rwizi, fundraising for needed funds, improving livelihoods of people living around the affected water bodies among other interventions.
Dr Arthur Bainomugisha, the executive director of ACODE, noted that the experience of River Rwizi will guide them on how to approach other water bodies facing similar challenges in the country.
“River Rwizi is not the only river suffering. River Mpologoma and River Kafu are rivers that are dying and the experience we get here is what we will use to work on these other rivers,” Dr Bainomugisha said.
The minister and other stakeholders used the symposium to launch the Rwizi Management Plan before planting symbolic trees in the backyard of Lake View Hotel as a commitment to continue protecting the environment. The theme of the symposium was 'transition to a green economy in Uganda; restoration of River Rwizi Catchment for sustainable livelihoods,'.
The minister of state for environment Beatrice Anywar in her speech commended the intervention by various stakeholders but noted the need to involve more stakeholders. "We need to do more. Stop degrading our environment. In the near future, we shall not want the use of plastics in this country. Talking must stop and take action."