Uganda’s challenge on water sustainability

Posted on June 30, 2015 12:03 am

Uganda’s government investment plans for agricultural water tend to focus on the construction and expansion of irrigation infrastructure. But has the Kampala government invested effectively to secure the availability of water to support the agriculture sector, and to protect food crops from too much water availability, i.e. floods in Kasese district that have become synonymous with rainy season.Tens of thousands of hectares experience drought, and a similar size of area faces floods in increasing frequency.Every year Ugandans hear about dams not being able to provide water for crop fields or produce electricity for so many hours per day due to dry spells. And still Uganda continue to build dams and irrigation networks assuming that water will be available forever.The declining number of water springs within or downstream of catchment areas and increasing frequency of drought throughout Uganda are clear signs that the East African country is facing the risk of increasing water scarcity.Degradation of 60 percent of hectares of the protection forest that Uganda has that is, forest area designated for water catchment and ecosystem protection can be blamed as the main cause of the increasing water scarcity.With the forests gone in most of the country, the soil can no longer hold large amounts of water for an extended period, hence flooding during the rainy season.Unfortunately for ‘Pearl of Africa’ as Uganda was described by Winston Churchill, climate change are making the situation worse. According to a friend of mine who was born and bred in Masaka district, the climatic seasons in Uganda are shifting compared to his schooling days. The dry and wet seasons now are more difficult to predict.

The seasons are getting shorter but peaking with extreme intensity.In Masaka, Contador Harrison we have a shorter wet season but with extremely high intensity.Another friend who was born and bred in Jinja town, the home of Owen falls, told me they have a shorter dry season with extreme heat, which also significantly increases forest cover in the area.In short, climate change makes dealing with water issues more challenging in Uganda.Small farmers have been urged to join various government and non governmental initiatives that teaches about new patterns of local climate so that they can adjust their farming patterns accordingly.Amid these escalating challenges, Ugandan government continues to maintain control over the country’s water resources, but at the same time technocrats have been accused of ignoring the natural characteristic of water as a local-specific renewable resource. To maximize its value and productivity as a local resource, water availability and provision can only be sustained if governed and managed to represent the primary interests of local stakeholders. Even if the water is to be used in a different location, local governance and management of the resource is an absolute prerequisite to ensure its sustainable supply.In my opinion,it is simply illogical to believe that under the current policy setting, National Water and Sewerage Cooperation, an extension of the central government, can represent local interests, govern and manage well the water catchment area or protection forests in every corner of Uganda.The situation is worsened further by the incentive provided through the central government budget allocation. Such allocations have been blamed for incentivizing local governments to destroy more water catchment area.

An added incentive to destroy comes from various large-scale national reforestation programs that amount to only 20 percent real implementation at best.Such programs have been long dubbed by civil society organizations as a “corrupt projects.”The situation is the same in irrigation infrastructure. Investment in irrigation hardly includes investment to ensure good governance and management of the catchment area.National and Local government continues to maintain control over irrigation infrastructure by giving very little room for local authorities and stakeholders to assert their interests. As the results, the irrigation infrastructure suffers degrading quality due to lack of investment in operation and maintenance. As more money is always associated with more control, the local government has very little incentive to invest in maintenance and operation.To have a more sustainable agriculture sector in Uganda, it is inevitable to look at the water issues in a comprehensive manner. This needs to be prioritized as agriculture will continue to be important in Uganda’s economy and society.It is time for the government to firstly reform the approach for water resource governance and management system toward a more decentralized/localized system.Developing land and water accounts for annual monitoring of agriculture sector sustainability as part of the overall move toward a green economy in Uganda.Kampala government needs to finalize the long overdue regulation for ecosystem service management that includes a more sensible sharing of costs and benefits for ecosystem products, especially water.I do also think they should decentralize effectively the operation and maintenance of irrigation infrastructure and institutionalize a cost-sharing arrangement.It is also important that future water infrastructure development covers investments in both physical capital and the natural capital to ensure water availability as is happening in Kampala.

Contador Harrison