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ON THE SPOT: How ignored warnings sparked flooding on Katonga River

In 2019, Mr Jude Mbabali, the chairman of Masaka District, reported that a Chinese company had filled up a section of the river near the bridge at Kayabwe with earth to reclaim land for the construction of a factory.

Residents gathered at the flooded section of Kampala-Masaka highway at Katonga Bridge on May 11, 2023.

MASAKA, UGANDA: The current flash floods experienced on River Katonga have been attributed to failure by the authorities to stop a Chinese company from dumping soil in a section of the river before reclaiming it for industrial and farming activities.

In 2019, Mr Jude Mbabali, the chairman of Masaka District, reported that a Chinese company had filled up a section of the river near the bridge at Kayabwe with earth to reclaim land for the construction of a factory.

While the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) had promised to institute punitive measures against the Chinese company, this did not happen and the rice farm and factory was set up, hence blocking the water flow leading to the current flooding.

NEMA, in a statement issued on Sunday, September 29, 2019, said the Chinese company had ignored their warnings about encroaching on the wetland.

“A Chinese company acquired 40 acres of land in Kayabwe, Mpigi district from one Mwebasa, and applied to use the land to develop ware housing units. A team of inspectors from NEMA visited the site and discovered that only 6 acres of the land was dry while the rest was not. NEMA issued a user permit and approval to the company restricting activities to only the 6 acres of dry land,” the NEMA statement read in part.

“Following an alert from a whistleblower we inspected the premises and discovered that the developer was undertaking activities beyond the approved 6 acres of dry land. We issued an improvement notice to the developer, instructed them formally to remove the dumped soil and to stop all activities taking place outside the approved area,” the statement added.

The district chairperson, Mr Jude Mbabaali, said the Chinese defied his directive to halt excavation. (PHOTO/File)

NEMA said they discovered that the company had continued to pursue the use of more than 40 acres of land by encroaching on the wetland.

On Saturday, 13 May 2023, Mr Mbabaali said the effects of the Chinese company’s activities are now being felt.
“Why Katonga River has flooded at the bridge? This is was what the Chinese investor was doing at Katonga bridge at that time I visited and the effect is what you see today,” he said.

Former Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga on Friday tweeted: “Amid the flooding that has paralysed transport on Kampala-Masaka Road, the Committee of Natural Resources of the 9th and 10th Parliament had visited and made resolutions that sand mining should be halted immediately, but this was ignored and the Chinese were given extra security.”

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However, NEMA attributes the challenge to climate change.

“Because of the enhanced rainfall above the normal average and above the Long Term Mean (LTM), the country is experiencing flooding. We have seen floods in areas of Kigezi, Mbale, Sembabule, Rwenzori, Kampala and more recently Katonga river flooding that damaged the Katonga bridge. Severe flooding has also been experienced by neighbouring countries in the Great Lakes region with scores of lives lost,” NEMA said in a statement early this week.

“At River Katonga, the current water levels are still below the highest recorded levels of 2022 (about 5.0m) and 2021 (about 5.3m). The current water levels are approximately 4.6m meaning that there is a likelihood of further increase in water levels and hence more flooding,” they added.

Mzee Saulo Kitto , a resident of Katonga, said for the years he has lived in the area, he has never seen the river flooding to such magnitude .

“Even during the late 1990s and early 2000 when many streams rivers submerged including Lwera, Katonga Bridge was not affected,traffic flow continued interrupted,but I am surprised that this time it is a no go area,” he said.

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Cars struggling to go through a flooded Katonga bridge

River Katonga flows from Lake Wamala in Mubende to lake Victoria and travels over 100 miles while its western shores empty into Lake George. This river drains through a number of districts that include Ibanda, Sembabule, Mpigi, Bukomansimbi, Kalungu, Gomba, Mubende, Kiruhura, Mityana and Butambala along its main course.

This river is also the foundation of the popular Katonga Wildlife Reserve, the home to over 40 species of mammals as well as more than 150 species of birds worthy billions per year in foreign exchange earnings

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