State Minister for Disaster preparedness and Refugees, Mr Musa Ecweru gives out food items to the affected by the floods in 2011. Photo by Ruth Katusabe
Floods, Part of River Semuliki in Noroko district that bursts each year to flood on the area displacing hundreds of people and cattle. Photo by Felix Basiime
BY FELIX BASIIME
NTOROKO: Early January, 2013 State Minister for Disaster preparedness and Refugees, Mr Musa Ecweru visited Ntoroko district at the periphery of Lake Albert near the Uganda-DR Congo border.
He was here to deliver relief in food items to the people affected by both floods and drought. Government and other bodies like the Red Cross have done this for the last 3 or so years just because among other factors river Semuliki bursts its banks every year displacing hundreds of people and cattle, destroying property and killing some people.
Currently there are no scientific measures in place designed to stem off the No.1 problem of Ntoroko apart from relief supply.
“At the moment we have no designed plans to stem off the problem, it is very costly to deal with these floods” the district environment officer; Mr Herbert Kamuhanda says.
He explained that there is a combination of factors that bring about the floods; uncontrolled human activities on the Uganda side that affect the banks of river Semuliki to burst and the glaciers on Mount Rwenzori that melt during hot days there by releasing water to the streams that feed river Semuliki.
“Other waters stream into the Semuliki valley, part of the Western rift valley causing floods” he says.
This district is hit by floods and drought every year and the only solution to the residents so far is relief supply.
The district Chief Administrative Officer, Mr Allan Ashaba reasons that there is interference with the river banks by the cattle keepers on the Uganda side thereby interfering with the ecological set up.
“There is a lot of activity this side than on the DRC side, that at one time brought political problems between the two countries as the boundary which is the river would change course, we have been asking government to help us in this” Ashaba said.
Semuliki River flows northwards from Lake Edward in the Democratic Republic of the Congo across the Uganda border, through western Uganda in Bundibugyo and Ntoroko districts near the Semuliki National Park. It empties into Lake Albert.
In places, the river has demarcated the border between Uganda and the DRC; its changing course sparked confusion in 2009 over the location of the boundary between the two countries.
In May 2011, about 20,000 residents in Ntoroko almost starved to death following the floods that hit the district and left some areas cut off.
“Don’t get surprised to hear that all fishing communities along Lake Albert have perished due to starvation,” Mr Samuel Magoola, the councilor representing Kanara Sub County in the district council, in 2011 told Ecweru who had come to hand over relief items at Ntoroko landing site.
In August 2012, two people died after River Semuliki burst its banks following heavy rains.
Mr Yohana Kadidi, 60, a herdsman and an unidentified five year old girl all residents of Haibale village in Bweramule Sub County, were swept away by the floods which submerged their houses.
The floods also displaced over 300 cattle farmers who got stranded with their animals and several crop gardens destroyed.
The area LC III chairman, Mr Edison Komunjara said that the floods affected more than 500 residents of Kabimbiri I and II villages and Haibale zone in Haibale parish, Kayanja, Bweramule and Kyapa villages in Bweramule parish and Rukora village in Rukora parish.
He said the most affected are cocoa and vanilla farmers whose gardens are covered with water. Byaruhanga said the seasonal floods have affected farmers’ income due to the losses incurred as a result of floods and the prolonged droughts.
Ntoroko is not alone in the effects of climate change due to global warming that affects the glaciers on top of Mount Rwenzori to melt and release water.
On the other side of the mountain, Kasese district has its share of the effects especially in the Lake Katwe area and Kasese town where floods in 2010 threatened the lives of over 8,000 residents who engage in salt extraction for a living. The lake flooded forcing people to seek for alternative jobs.
President Yoweri Museveni while in Kasese district on October 19, 2010 cautioned the people living around Mount Rwenzori of the dangers of degrading the water catchments which he said would cause disaster for the country.
“That forest on Mount Rwenzori is very crucial, all these rivers in Kasese and Kabarole are from that forest, so you should understand this and know that that forest is our mother not only for Rwenzori region but for other parts of the country, so tempering with the forest cover, people would perish of floods” he warned.
Over 90 percent of the communities living on the mountain slopes depend on firewood for fuel, leading to extensive destruction of forests letting floods in the low lands and global warming as the glaciers on Mount Rwenzori have been greatly affected and are disappearing steadily.
How the Ntoroko problem can be solved
The flood waters can be tapped, dammed and used during drought in dry seasons, this can eventually reduce on the floods and the related loses.
“It is very costly but the excess water can be tapped and dammed and used during dry season” reasons the Ntoroko district environment officer, Mr Kamuhanda.
District chairman, Mr Timothy Kyamanywa says that tree planting can reduce on the drought. He said, “The cattle keepers cut off most of the trees, the area is almost bare, so tree planting can reduce on the drought but not floods”
Ntoroko can learn from Kasese
Unlike Ntoroko, Kasese has not sat down to watch things go on, authorities have moved to stem the floods.
In January 2012, Kasese municipal council directed all households in town to harvest the rain water in a bid to reduce on the floods and use the water during the dry season. They have also sensitized the people to extensively plant trees in town on the mountain slopes.
The urban authority has resolved that every land lord in Kasese town must have rain water harvesting tanks in order to control the running water that has caused erosion and floods.
Town planners and engineers have been instructed not to approve any building plans without the provision of water harvesting system and force owners of the old buildings to do the same.
Brief facts about Ntoroko
Ntoroko District is located west of the Rwenzori Mountains. It was carved out of Bundibugyo District in 2010.
It is bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west and north, Hoima District to the northeast, Kibaale District to the east, Kabarole District to the south and Bundibugyo District to the southwest.
The national census in 2002 estimated the population of Ntoroko District at about 51,100.
River Semuliki, Lake Albert and Semuliki National Park form part of its significant natural resources.
Its major activities are fishing, farming and business. Cattle and goat rearing is in Rwebisengo and Nombe, crop farming in Karugutu, Butungama and Bweramule while fishing in Kanara.
Floods have always hit the district to the extent of cutting off some areas while in dry seasons the area is hit by drought. According to the district chairman, the floods have stretched the district budget and resources by increasing the cost of containing malaria especially among the children and malaria drugs get out of stock.