Fellow Citizens and all people living in Uganda,
I am here to update you on the status and impacts of the rising water levels of Lake Victoria and the Nile System in Uganda.
As you are all aware, our country Uganda, is currently experiencing impacts of intensive and prolonged rainfall which has caused rise in water levels of major water bodies and flooding in several areas of the country. This may continue for some time in line with the recent seasonal weather forecast for March to May 2020 issued by my Ministry.
Many of you may recall that around 1961 to 1964 and also 1996 to 1998, Uganda experienced similar intense rainfall that resulted in rise in the levels of rivers and Lakes below which no developments and settlements should be made.
The current rise in Lake Victoria water level started on 1st October 2019 and has consistently gone up from 12.00 meters to the current level of 13.32 meters as of 30th April 2020. This is a rise of 1.32 meters attained in only 6 months and the level is only 0.08 meters away from the highest level ever recorded.
I wish to let you know that Lake Victoria is a huge trans-boundary body shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda with about 23 rivers that bring water into the lake. Some of these rivers originate as far as Rwanda and Burundi and therefore when it rains in |Burundi, water finds its way into Lake Victoria. There is however, only one exit through River Nile at Jinja.
The current rise in water levels for Lake Victoria has also attracted regional and international attention since this water flows through South Sudan, Sudan and eventually to Mediterranean Sea though Egypt.
The quick rise in water level has also been accelerated by human activities especially environmental degradation. Loss of forest cover, encroachment on wetlands, lakeshores and river banks including poor land use practices, have resulted in soil erosion leading to siltation of our water bodies. This has resulted in speedy movement of water into the lakes and rivers with a lot of silt which has further reduced water storage capacities of our water bodies. In addition, urbanization has created highly impermeable surfaces like roads, roofs, pavements that have reduced water infiltration into the soil, interception and evapo-transpiration capacity of forests and wetlands.
2.0 PURPOSE OF THE MEDIA BRIEFING
The purpose of this Media briefing therefore is to:
i. Apprise you on the prevailing conditions on the water levels of Lake Victoria and other water bodies in Uganda and associated flooding;
ii. Update you on the ongoing and planned interventions by Government to save lives, property and major investments.
3.0 IMPACTS OF THE CURRENT RISING WATER LEVEL
The rising water levels and associated floods within Lake Victoria Basin and other areas of Uganda are already having negative impacts on the people and developments.
Let me highlight some of the specific impacts of rising water levels and associated floods that are currently being experienced in the country;
a) Hydropower Generation
The increased water level is causing dislodgement of papyrus mats from encroached shorelines resulting into huge mass of floating Islands which are dangerous to hydropower infrastructure. A case in point was observed on 14th April, 2020 when the mass docked at Owen Falls Dam choking turbines and resulting into a temporary National power blackout. This cost government a lot of money to remove. These floating islands too, have the capacity to block waterways and other economic activities within the water bodies as was the case in Lake Kyoga in 1998.
b) Water Transport and Bridge Construction
Water transport facilities operated by Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) have already been affected by rising water levels. These include ferries along River Nile which have been suspended as there is inundation and submergence of jetties and landing sites. In addition, construction of Kyiko Bridge, downstream of Isimba Hydropower Dam has come to a halt.
c) Water, Sanitation and Health
Essential facilities such as drinking water and sanitation systems, health facilities, roads, among others have been affected. Possible water borne and water related disease incidences such as cholera, dysentery, malaria, and bilharzia are likely to increase.
d) Settlements and Establishments
Settlements and developments around Lake Victoria and River Nile have been affected with many hotels, beaches and individual house already flooded. Some of the establishments submerged include Serena-Kigo Hotel, Speke Resort Hotel Munyonyo, Hotel Protea Entebbe, Gaba Beach, K.K Beach, Miami Beach, and several other beaches, markets, Gaba water works, jetties, and settlements/homes around the lake. A number of areas around Lakes and rivers have been identified as high flood risk areas and essential features such as schools, health facilities and places of worship both churches and mosques are at risk.
Lake Kyoga is projected to exceed the highest historical water level of 13.2 meters and as such shorelines, swamps and flood plains will experience high water levels. Several settlements and essential facilities in the districts surrounding the lake including health, schools, roads, water supply and sanitation facilities are vulnerable to flooding.
Although Lake Albert is not expected to reach critical flooding levels some areas in the surrounding districts of Hoima, Buliisa and Ntoroko will be affected.
Fellow Citizens, Ladies and Gentlemen,
While it is true that the levels of water in Lake Victoria, the Nile and other water bodies are rising, the levels are not beyond normal as water in these water bodies was previously above these levels. Those directly affected, therefore, have settled or put their developments either within the protection zones or flood zones of lakes and rivers.
Considering that the rise in water level in most of the water bodies and the flooding in several areas of Uganda has been attributed to among others encroachment on wetlands, lakeshores, river banks, and forests, and poor land use practices, urgent actions need to be taken to avoid similar problems in future.
His Excellency, the President of Uganda is extremely concerned that a number of people and developments in the country have encroached on wetlands, shoreline, river banks and forests, and have partly contributed to the problems we are seeing in the country today.
In view of the above, I have been directed by His Excellency the President of Uganda to remove all encroachers on the wetlands, shoreline, river banks and government forests with immediate effect. I have been further directed to work with Local Government to ensure that Parish and Sub-county chiefs who never took action against encroachers are dismissed
I wish therefore to call upon those people who are within the protection zones of wetlands, lakes, rivers and forest reserves to vacate with immediate effect. My ministry working with the Ministry of Local Government and other relevant government agencies will evict people living within 100 meters of river banks, 30 meters of wetlands and 200 meters of lake shores, and in forest reserves, and stop cultivation on the steep slopes in order to reduce erosion and high run off from the hilly areas.
The respective Government offices, from the Central level to Local levels, up to the Subcounty and Parish levels, are informed of the above directive and requested to take the required actions with immediate effect.
I have formally written to all the local governments communicating this directive and the actions required of them.
4.0 ONGOING AND PLANNED MEASURES BY GOVERNMENT
Ladies and gentlemen, Government has put in place a number of measures to address the problems of rising water levels and associated floods as follows:
a) Instituted measures to immediately get more water out of Lake Victoria through increased release at Jinja which is now at a rate of 2200 cubic meters per second, up from a rate of 1000 cubic meters per second in October 2019;
b) Removed the floating islands that had docked at the Owen Falls Dam Complex on 14th April 2020, chocking inlet screens and affecting the power generating capacity.
c) Instituted a National Response Team comprising of Ministry of Work and Transport, Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Ministry of Defense and Veterans
Affairs and Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries and Ministry of Water and Environment. The team has ready equipment and machinery to carry out surveillance and monitoring of the movement of the floating islands, and remove those floating islands considered a threat to the dams;
d) Intensified monitoring and forecasting of weather and water levels, floods and effectively disseminate information to guide action or response.
e) Continued to provide advisories to Local Authorities, UNRA and other concerned institutions to ensure functional storm-water drainage systems including culverts and channels to quickly convey runoffs during this season. Communities should open channels, drainage to handle runoff and increase water evacuation from their settlements to avoid damage to property.
f) Set up an Inter-ministerial Committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister comprising 14 Ministries and 7 Agencies to implement government response to the disaster. A multi-sectoral Technical Task Team chaired by the Ministry of Water and Environment provides technical support to the Inter-ministerial Committee and has already started on emergency work on three (3) key fronts;
i. Ensuring safety of Hydropower dams,
ii. Protection of lives and property; and iii. Monitoring and surveillance of water resources and floating islands
Fellow Citizens and all people of Uganda,
Let me conclude by highlighting the following key issues;-
a) Intensive and prolonged rainfall in Uganda and in the East African region has caused a rise in water levels of Lake Victoria and all major water bodies in the counrty. The quick rise is further hastened by environmental degradation and urbanization;
b) The Lake Victoria water level continues to rise to critical levels despite increased releases due to the increased inflows and heavy rains in Lake Victoria Basin. The rivers discharging into Lake Victoria from upstream countries have uncontrollably more than doubled their inflows;
c) Recognizing that many parts of Uganda including the Lake Victoria region are forecasted to receive above normal rainfall between mid-April and end of May 2020, water levels are expected to rise further resulting in floods with severe effects around the country. Early preparations and response are therefore required;
d) Increasing water releases at Jinja is already having impacts on various activities and the communities along the Nile from Nalubale/Kiira dams, through Bujagali and Isimba dams, Lake Kyoga, and Karuma dam. While there are minimal impacts around Lake Albert and along the River Nile through Pakwach to Laropi before the Nile leaves Uganda, the impacts are expected to increase with increase in water releases and rainfall;
e) The emergence of several floating islands on major lakes have the capacity to block the flow of the Nile system and cause backflow and more flooding. Floating islands with potential threats will be removed or stopped from moving as soon as they are identified through surveillance;
f) Increase in water releases at Jinja will be inevitable in order to stop the increasing
Lake Victoria water level, protect major investments, lives and property. Unfortunately continued release and intensive rains will continue to have negative impacts on the people and property downstream of Lake Victoria. The affected people and property owners are requested to take note and prepare to stop their operations and vacate. With the current situation, evacuation of people from high risk zones will be inevitable;
g) Government has strengthened surveillance on water bodies to relay timely information and ensure that floating masses are handled in a timely manner before joining the Nile system or reaching any major infrastructure;
h) Government will continue to provide early warning information on the weather and change in water levels, as well as the impacts of the increase in water releases downstream. The country will continue to warnings to the affected people in high risk areas around Lake Victoria, Kyoga, Albert and the Nile system;
i) People living in settlements on the shorelines, river banks, wetlands, forests and flood prone areas in and around Lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Albert and the Nile system including landslides prone hilly slopes should move with immediate effect to safe places to minimize loss and damages caused by rising water levels and flooding.
Dear Citizens and all living in Uganda,
Finally, let me reassure you that Government is committed to addressing the challenge at hand and is ready to respond to any emergencies caused by intense rains, rising water levels and floods. The affected organizations or people are requested to take Government’s warnings and guidance seriously and cooperate during this period.
Wishing you a Happy International Labor Day.
For God and my Country
Sam Cheptoris (MP)
MINISTER OF WATER AND ENVIRONMENT