By: Hannington Tumuhimnise Katehangwa and Annitah Matsika
In Kyarugaju cell, Rwamurunga parish, Kabingo subcounty in Isingiro district at the farm of Francis Mbagaya, a renowned cattle farmer in the area, construction of a new dam is ongoing after a test on the wrath of water scarcity in the area.
Isingiro district is a water-stressed area and cattle farmers have been the worst affected over the years.
Located in south western Uganda, Isingiro has two main water bodies; Lake Nakivale and river Kagera also known as Alexandra Nile which originates from Lake Rweru in Rwanda.
In a bid to mitigate water scarcity challenges in the area, the majority of cattle keepers are now tirelessly expanding their small water dams while others are constructing fresh ones.
Mbagaya, initially had a dam that sits on one acre of land, he explains that it is not enough, a reason why he is constructing a bigger one worth two and a half hectares of land.
“Once I finish constructing this new dam, plus the other old one, my cows will have enough water” he explains.
Much as the district has two main water bodies, cattle keepers and other people in the district still have a predicament water scarcity especially those who are far away from lake Nakivale and Kagera river respectively.
Some cattle farmers used to graze across the border in Tanzania. After the outbreak of coronavirus, Uganda in March 2020 instituted a raft of measures that included total lockdown, closure of all borders and a ban on cross border movements. This exacerbated the suffering of hundreds of cattle farmers who relied on Tanzania territory for pasture and water.
According to Mbagaya, little has been done to extend piped water to people in the area. “Though we have river Kagera and Lake Nakivale, our leaders are reluctant to help us bring water closer to us to help us and save our animals from dying,” he laments.
The Government of Uganda has already borrowed funds from the Agency Francise (AFD) to establish the Isingiro District Water Supply and Sanitation Project. This aims to improve water supply and sanitation services in the district. This is now raising hopes among the cattle keepers in the area
According to the area Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Herbert Muhangi, the project will benefit close to half a million people (132,000 refugees and 208,000 non-refugee inhabitants).The water will be extracted from the Kagera River that forms the southern border of Isingiro District and simultaneously the international border between Uganda and neighboring Tanzania. The raw water will be pumped to a location where a new water purification plant will be constructed.
RDC Muhangi is optimistic that the Kagera River water extraction project will contribute to addressing water scarcity challenge that has been affecting masses in the district especially the cattle keepers who have been walking long distances to Tanzania to get water for their animals.
Isingiro district has 190,000 cows and 255,000 goats, according to the data from Isingiro veterinary office.
Apparently, herdsmen are relying on three government dams and a few individual dams which are not enough to cater for the number of animals in the district.
Much as these dams are in place, they benefit from a few individuals especially those in the proximity, leaving others stranded with no water for animals
Once Kagera river project is completed, the water collected will be able to serve for sixty years in covered areas.
Over 90 Million Euros will be spent on the project.
Reuben Arineitwe Kaneete is also a cattle keeper in Kakamba village in Nyakago Sub County. This is one of the sub counties at the border with Tanzania.
Cattle keepers in Kakamba Sub County have been benefiting from cross border pastoralism.
Since the Covid-19 lockdown when cattle keepers were barred from crossing to Tanzania, Kaneete has so far lost eight cows on top of selling ten due to lack of water.
According to Kaneete, the boarders were closed abruptly without prior warning to enable cattle keepers at the boarder think through how they will take care of their animals. “This was a challenging development to the majority in the area,” he explains.
Kakamba, Masha, Bukanga, Endinzi and Kamwema are the most water-stressed sub counties in the district. These have traditionally been hit by drought in Isingiro district, Dr. Bruhan Kasozi, the Isingiro veterinary officer, says the scarcity of water in the area and the closure of boarders greatly affected herdsmen in the district. He notes that some farmers registered losses on their farms due to either complete lack of water for cows to drink or animals drinking dirty water.
Cattle keeping and other agricultural ventures in the district are in peril because Isingiro district has not received substantial rain fall in years and thisis threatening livelihoods..
Dr. Kasozi is optimistic that once government successfully draws water from Kagera river, cattle keepers will have a reason to smile
The Isingiro district Chairman Aaron Turahi explains that “It’s difficult for the cattle farmers to sustain their animals without cross border pastoralism that has been a practice for generations.”
However, Turahi notes that the closure of boarders is temporary and after the Covid-19 pandemic, , cattle farmers will return to their normal ways of grazing.
In 2016, Isingiro district suffered the worst of the dry spell in decades. Water in eight government dams was consumed and dams dried up, according to a story by one of the online news outlets – Chimp Reports.
The drought that lasted for a month left nine people dead as well as over 250 cows, before many non-government organizations and individuals intervened to offer food relief and other items to help people.
Following this calamity, a cross section of Isingiro residents relocated to other neighboring district for safety.
This story was supported by InfoNile with funding from IHE-Delft Water and Development Partnership Programme.