Omugurusi Ezra Kisigo Mulera in Mparo, after the rains (late 1980/early90s). Photo by Edward Nobel Bisamunyu

After the dry season, the rains. That is how things worked in my childhood in Mparo, Rukiga, Kigyezi. The rains of Katumba (March) soaked the hills and mountains, with millions of liters infiltrating the rich soil. The runoff was slowed down on its steep descent by the verdant blankets of thick bushes, grasses and Blackwattle trees. Weakened sheets of water arrived in the V-shaped valleys and gently found their way into the large streams and rivers, and headed down to the enormous swamps that were everywhere.

From Noozi to Nyakarambi, from Sindi to Ibumba, from Rwakijabura to Rushebeya, seemingly endless swamps stood proud, home to an ecosystem that was not there by accident. Cyperus papyrus, the dominant plant in these swamps, would sway gently in the breeze after the rains. When night fell, the call of the frogs was a sweet symphony of a thousand, albeit unnerving to a young lad walking in the dark.

These papyrus swamps were part of a nearly continuous system of public wetlands stretching from Lakes Mutanda and Murehe in Bufumbira, through OmuRubanda south of Orugano, Mafuuga and Kiirima forests, continuing south through Omuruhita and Rwakaraba, along the River Kiruruma.

At Kabaare (Kabale), the swamp branched southwest, along River Mwisi to Kitumba, all the way to Rubaya and Rwanda. The main swamp at Kabaare continued down through Kyanamira to Maziba, hugging the Kiruruma, whose name perfectly described the power of its roar as it hurried towards the waterfalls downstream.

From Muhanga to Rushebeya was all swamp. Here it would rendezvous with its sister from Mparo and head north to Kashambya and Nyarushanje, feeding the River Rushoma, along which the 30-meter waterfalls at Kisiizi lie. The swamp continued to Kebisooni in Rujumbura.

Cyperus papyrus

The swamps were not just beautiful things to look at. They controlled floods, provided moisture (therefore rain), cleaned, purified and stored consumable water. They retained sediments, absorbed potentially harmful substances and detoxified the water. They recharged our underground water sources.

They were habitats for various fishes, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and numerous insects. They were holiday homes for migratory birds that flew south during the European winter, and were favorite breeding places for crested cranes. They were a source of raw materials for ebirago and emikyeeka (mats), ebitukuru (baskets), ebishakaazo (thatch) and other building needs.

Things changed from the 1970s onward. Progressive overpopulation increased pressure on the land. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, whereas the population density in Kigyezi in 1969 was 170 per sq. km., it was 314 per sq. km. in 2014.

The mountain tree cover was cut down for firewood, charcoal and construction. Every meter of soil was viewed as cultivable, resulting in cutting down of precious trees, and the grass and shrubs along the terraced edges, and outright destruction of terraces as farmers tried to maximize arable land.

Tired and bare hillsides became the perfect accelerators for torrents cascading towards the valleys. Weakened and unprotected hillside soils were easily brought down as landslides. In some areas, hillside rock and iron-ore mining created huge holes that became potential sources of rocky landslides during the rainy season.

Huge swathes of swamps were drained and turned into farms and private ranches. The one in Bubaare near Kabaare has now been turned into an airfield, celebrated by educated Banyakigyezi as development. Experts report that up to 70 percent of the swamps in Kabaare District have been drained! The remainder are being encroached upon, one meter at a time, with local leaders watching, perhaps participating in the desecration of our heritage.

The symphony of the frogs is long gone from Mparo, their sweet nocturnal song replaced by an oppressive silence that mourns the madness of man. The occasional mooing of a cow and the bleating of a goat remind one that even these animals have been deprived of watering places.

Meanwhile, silting and blockage of streams and rivers has reduced their ability to serve as drainage channels. Once great rivers like Kiruruma, Mwisi, Mineera, Rushoma, Ncwera, Birira, Ishasha and Noozi have become smaller, with some downgraded to streams. The future of Kigezi’s main lakes (Bunyonyi, Mutanda, Murehe, Chahafi, Rwitanzigye (Edward) and Kanyabaha) worries conservationists.

Whenever the great rains come, the river water often overflows, flooding riverside farms, destroying crops, animals and other property. Human lives are lost on a painfully regular basis. The latest such occurrence was last week. Severe flooding hit parts of Kabaare District, including Kamuheesi (Kamwezi), Rwamucuucu and Kyanamira sub-counties. The Kabaare-Mparo road via Omurukiri was closed.

Some people declared it an act of God. Others prayed for God’s intervention. Yet others called upon the Uganda Government to rescue the people.

We sympathize with those who have suffered as a result of the flooding. We urge the Government and others who can, to assist them with emergency support against hunger, disease and homelessness.

However, we believe that this and similar disasters are a result of human greed and folly, not an act of God. It is urgent that citizens recognize and abandon the behaviors that have caused environmental degradation. This should be immediately followed by action to restore and protect what God so carefully and purposefully created for the benefit of all generations, not just for the super-greedy lot that passed through Planet Earth in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Terraced hills and mountains, Kigyezi, Uganda

Five key roles that the Government should play are:
(1) mass education about environment restoration and conservation;
(2) legislation of mandatory return and restoration of the drained swamps and the deforested hillsides;
(3) escalation of family planning programs to slow down population growth in areas like Kigezi;
(4) abandonment of policies that put industrialization and other economic pursuits above environment protection;

(5) creation of a national Tree Planting Day.

God gave us a verdant Earth, complete with great wetlands that serve many functions. Humans altered it. Only humans can restore the Earth to what God meant it to be.

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9 Responses to “Floods and landslides are not God’s will”

  1. It excites when you read something that challenges you and at the same time, you find similar solution thought of. At Omutima project -Rumbugu P/S, we have agreed to give each child 4 fruit seedlings to plant in these rains of April. And how are we going to monitor and make sure they survive? A child who will be able to have 2 or all of them survive for 2 years, will have a gift of visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park!!!!

    Reply
    • Muniini K. Mulera

      That is the spirit Lillian. Thank you! We must educate the young ones. Hopefully they will do better than our generation.

      Reply
  2. Thanks Muniini Mulera for the informative write up. The hills of Rukiga have been planted with eucalyptus, which does not provide the undergrowth to help to control erosion. I suggest that our local leaders and every Munyarukiga should advocate for planting of indigenous trees that used to support the under growth that helped to control erosion as well. Emburara, ebisiru and grasses covered our hills alongside other shrubs and tall indegenous trees that produced better charcoal and timber than eucalyptus and pine that are now covering our hills. Its not too late to revamp our natural vegetation and reduce gongo and other associated disasters.

    Reply
    • Kanyamugara Maria

      Thank u Dr Muniini for always throwing in excellent articles.
      We urge our local Leaders to ensure Govt implementation of the above suggested roles if we have to make Kigyezi great again!

      Banyakigyezi, it’s high time we all became watch dogs over our environment. Where are we when all the havoc is being done? Ekintu “okutin’obwisho” is killing not only our region but the whole nation.
      If we can’t stop the destroyers directly let’s at least be whistle blowers!
      Honestly we must all own up instead of having the “nfunilawa” attitude. Villagers who would otherwise come together to stop the encroachment are compromised with as little as a miniature satchet of crude waragi and they zip up!

      Dr, did u have time to talk to the communities the last time u were in Rukiga? Or it required prior permission from the RDC/DPC, else u are misunderstood!
      Some of the roles that Govt has failed to play can be attempted at local level. Someone has the kind of knowledge to do with environmental protection, pse don’t wait for heaven to come down. Find a way of disseminating that knowledge, may be via our church leaders. Our media houses in Kigezi should also give back by airing the anti encroachment campaigns!

      “Together we can”, Lets all Endeavour to work towards restoration of the Switzerland of Africa.

      Great day

      Reply
    • Jennifer Bitalabeho Kagugube

      Thank you Muniini for another great piece. Every week I know there is some good stuff from you in the monitor newspaper every Tuesday. Recently I was in Kangema Muranga Kenya. The vast hilly country side is all tree covered at the same time well cultivated by the rural communities for their livelihood. They are cultivators like Bakiga and make a living from their family fields. Tree planting was supported by the great Nobel Laureate Prof Wangari Maathai RIP. Her scouts provided graviria tree seedlings to women to plant around the edges of their fields. Now Kangema has a very good tree cover. The families use trees for fuel and farm work. The fields are replenished by the tree leaves. As trees are cut, more are planted. This species grows fast. What do I do in my fields? I plant 1000 every rainy season. I have kalitusi and pine. Now I will plant graviria. That’s my effort for environmental balance. Mubegye barunginwe

      Reply
  3. Great and educational piece. I miss and nearly cry every time I drive from Kabale to Kanungu via Kisiizi. All swamps are diminishing at a fast rate. We can invest in buying these wetlands and leave them untouchable. Or even plant papyrus on our private lands and let frogs sing again.

    Reply
  4. Davis Muhumuza

    I got sad when recently I found the whole swamp cleared. from Shooko to Rushebeya the whole swamp has been cleared for Irish and eucalyptus tree planting. Man is punishing fellow man. but I believe that God is watching

    Reply
    • Valence Arineitwe

      It’s true “man” is destructive in nature. We’ve gone to the extent of making our own environment unsuitable for our own lives, as we persue economic development…

      Since 2011, People die every rainy season as a result of landslides, which never used to happen during the days when forests covered the hills of Kigezi. We are spending all the money treating cancers which are on the rise. Even though I can’t conclusively attribute them to environmental degradation, surely there is a big connection.

      The national forestry statistics depict a very gloomy picture… As a country we are losing more than we are planting by more than 20 times…. Actually on private land, we are left with just over 600,000 hectares of natural forests. Between 2005 and 2010, we established just over 100,000 hectares but the deforestation rate stood at 200,000 hectares per year.

      On the roles/ recommendations:restoration of degraded hills can only be achieved if we ditched some of our laws….. the land act that puts land solely in the hands of Ugandans and this is complicated by politics…..

      On creation of national tree planting days, we have 4 gazetted tree planting days already but the operationalisation bit of it is missing.

      Reply
  5. Christine AMpumuza

    Dr. Munini, thanks for such an elaborate and scientific perspective on floods and I am in total agreement with your analysis. Is it possible to, as one of the activities for the 2017 ICOB – Uganda Chapter to launch a tree planting week for the region accompanied by educating fellow Banyakigyezi on individual level conservation strategies as well as group and district level actions needed to deal with this problem? As Kabale University, we conducted assessments with late Dr. Ferstus Bagora (then in NEMA) and organised a public debate that drew over 500 Banyakigyezi to deliberate on those. Now I realize that we need these regularly. As an out come, one of our colleagues is doing his PhD on the same topic and hopefully he can share his findings and recommendations to the gathering in December- if that is possible?

    Reply

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