Friday, December 4th, 2020 | By

When Moses Byarufu, a resident of Kasenyi village lost his two pieces of land to oil developments in Buliisa district, he used his 58 million shillings compensation money to construct an 8-roomed permanent house at Wanseko landing site.

Wanseko being a busy place, Byarufu had strategically constructed a house for both residential and commercial purposes. And indeed, it had started fetching him more than 400,000 shillings per month from rentals and this had prompted him to resign on his job as a potter at Kigwera Health Centre 11 to cater for this and other businesses.

“My land was taken away by government to pave way Central Processing Unit Project Kigwera village and road construction under Uganda National Revenue Authority in Buliisa Town Council. I bought a plot and constructed a house at Wanseko. I then resigned on my job that was earning me 90,000 Uganda shillings,” he narrated.

However, hardly a year after construction, the dreams of a 38-year-old father of 7 were shuttered after the overflowing water of Lake Albert submerged the business premises at Wanseko. This brought him back on the knees and struggles of what to feed the family.

“I put in 75 million shillings to finish that house which is far beyond the compensation. I have now resorted to riding a motorcycle to feed my family which is also in a rented house. Life has become hard. One may think this oil money is cursed,” he narrated.

Byarufu is one the business community members at Wanseko landing site that are crying foul as the lake continues to submerge their business premises.

The area now looks isolated with boats floating on top of water weed in front of abandoned buildings. Shops, restaurants and a fish market are among the business premises that have been submerged by rising water levels.

Grace Katusabe, a fishmonger at the landing site says the rising water and COVID-19 pandemic have affected her business leaving her with no source of income and heavily indebted.

“Early this year during a market day, we were chased by security officers saying they don’t want people to gather due to COVID-19 pandemic. I had just got a loan to put in my business. When the businesses were put to halt, my business was affected and my money wasted. The rising water levels at Lake Albert have also displaced me so life is not easy. We now eat one meal a day because COVID-19 got me when I had just got a loan and I had not saved money,” she narrated.

The case is no different from Kaiso landing site. The beach management unit house has also been submerged and other houses that were constructed near the lake.

Kyamanywa Alfred, one of the former beach managers says when they were constructing the beach, it was not anticipated that it would at one time be submerged. The beach was used for cleaning fish before taken to other markets and it was used by community members as a meeting place.

The houses of some of the members of Kaiso Women’s Group, which is supported by National Association of Professional Environmentalists(NAPE), have already been affected. Constance Nyamisana whose house is a metre away from the water levels says she is worried of losing her shop to the water levels and is pondering the next move.

“The water is submerging our houses slowly but the conditions are not good. People have made makeshift houses in the upland where they are sleeping with the whole family. Prices for small poles have increased to Uganda shillings 5000 per pole. They lack water and other basics needs,” she said.

Most of the affected persons and facilities are within the 200-meter buffer zone recommended by National Environmental Management Authority(NEMA) Act for lakes. Though this time the rising water levels are going beyond the buffer zones, encroachment has happened as mandated authorities like NEMA and the respective district environment offices and land boards look on.

While visiting the area, Allan Kalangi, the Sustainability School Manager at NAPE, said the government should have sensitized the communities and forewarned them on the need to protect the buffer zones. He, however, urged the communities to learn from this disaster and spearhead the fight against environmental destruction.

“This time I don’t put a blame on the communities. The government should have protected the buffer zones and forewarned the communities. But even the beach management unit shelter was constructed with in the buffer zones with support from government,” Kalangi said.

Thousands of people have been turned into climate change refugees by rising water levels on Lake Albert, Lake Kyoga and Lake Victoria.

Frank Muramuzi, the Executive Director National Association of Professional Environmentalists, NAPE says people residing and working close to environmentally and ecologically sensitive areas to vacate voluntarily.