As the world slowly recovers from the aftermath of the Covid 19 pandemic, climate change continues to present massive challenges to an already fragile situation. Our network of journalists stayed put in documenting their ripple effects on water, agriculture and the environment. Moreover, we launched the NileWell platform and Whatsapp Chatbot, and collaborated with our partners and fellow journalists to produce new cross-border projects. Here are our 2022 highlights;
Shrinking Lakes: Can East Africa avoid water resources apocalypse?
Many East African lakes are slowly receding, reducing in depth and drying up. So bad is the situation that you can walk or drive through some of these lakes during the dry season. This is coupled with an ongoing decline in biodiversity and the fisheries industry that is impacting the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on water and fish across the region.
The Shrinking Lakes cross-border investigation, produced in partnership with Code for Africa, is the result of the collaboration of 12 journalists from the Nile basin region. The project was produced by an international team of journalists, designers and data experts from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda and it took over two years. It contains original data analysis, visualization and field reporting on threats to biodiversity in lakes across East Africa due to climate change and global warming.
The Shrinking Lakes multimedia project combines 9 stories that were published in top media houses across the 4 countries in 2021 and 2022. The stories looked at the impact of oil drilling on Lake Albert in northern Uganda; Lake Wamala and how traditional spiritual practices are influencing conservation in central Uganda; the endangered Jipe Tilapia fish in a small lake that straddles Kenya and Tanzania; the threats facing Lake Nakuru and its famous flamingo population in Kenya; Lake Manyara, a lake that is drying up in Tanzania; how refugees are conserving Lake Nakivale in western Uganda; and the scientific factors that hinder the development of fisheries in Rwanda, despite its abundance of lakes.
Explore the multimedia story here.
Flowing Underground: Groundwater holds promise of closing the gap between water supply and demand in the Nile Basin
Within the Nile Basin, more than 70 percent of the rural population is dependent on groundwater. It is one of the most important sources of drinking water for people and livestock as well as wildlife watering. There is also an increasing use of groundwater for other economic activities including in irrigation, mining and other industries.
Groundwater holds the promise of closing the growing gap between water demand and water supply as well as buffering the effects of climate change and variability. In this cross-border multimedia story by the Nile Basin Initiative produced by InfoNile, 11 journalists from the countries of the Kagera aquifer – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda – tell stories of how their communities depend on and conserve this important water source that flows underground.
Check out the story’s four podcasts, two documentaries and variety of interactive data visualizations to understand the science behind groundwater and its importance to sustaining human life.
Explore the multimedia story here.
Healed by the Sun: Solar energy lights the way for quality rural health in East Africa during Covid-19
A slew of projects across East Africa have endeavored to bring solar energy to rural health centres located off the electricity grid. Though many began before the onset of the pandemic, they have seen cascading benefits during Covid-19 – as many urban dwellers moved back to villages, and movements were restricted, leaving people to resort to walking to their nearby rural health centres for treatment.
During the pandemic, solar power systems in rural health facilities in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have been essential for keeping vaccines cold, providing light for mothers in labor, and supplying power for medical procedures such as laboratory tests, injections and blood transfusions. This, despite major challenges posed to the off-grid solar energy sector as Covid-19 took a heavy toll on East African economies.
In this cross-border story supported by Clean Energy Wire, six journalists from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania tell the stories of rural communities that have seen great benefits to their health from energy powered by the sun.
See the multimedia story here.
What are law enforcement agencies and the legal systems doing about illegal wildlife trade and other environmental crimes? In the post-Covid-19 era, this question is not only a concern for environmentalists focused on saving endangered species. Until now, there has been no single place to access information easily on efforts to crack down on environmental crimes in East Africa. #WildEye addresses this gap by tracking and sharing data on justice in action.
With support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, in 2021-2022 Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism partnered with InfoNile data wranglers to produce the #WildEye East Africa interactive mapping tool that publishes data on wildlife crime in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Journalists can use #WildEye East Africa to track specific data, patterns or trends for use in their investigations. #WildEye can demonstrate where law enforcement efforts are concentrated in a specific part of the region and whether this is leading to judicial certainty. #WildEye can also demonstrate whether the punishments meted out for wildlife crime are in line with legal standards. Journalists can also use the data to identify cases on which to build new stories.
Explore the interactive map here.
Have you ever been working on a story and wanted to integrate science and data, but didn’t know where to access it? We have an answer for you with InfoNile’s new NileWell platform launched in 2022.
On NileWell, journalists and scientists can create a profile and connect directly with other journalists and scientists focused on various issues of water and environment in the Nile Basin. The platform allows you to search for a journalist or scientist in a particular field or location and send a message that goes directly to their email, allowing you to easily set up interviews.
The open-source Resources section also contains a wide variety of scientific reports and presentations, science stories, data visualizations, and resources to improve scientific communication. In the Community section, users can post opportunities, share insights and comment on each other’s posts.
In 2023, NileWell shall host regular events for journalists including opportunities to gain story ideas from recently published research, develop data and science journalism skills, and score story grants and fellowships. More than 300 journalists and scientists have so far signed up in 2022: Join us, as we grow the platform into your home for science journalism in the Nile Basin. Sign up today!
The InfoNile Chatbot was launched on Whatsapp in 2022, delivering Mobile Magazines, Stories, Data, and Opportunities via the mobile phone. The bot is currently available in English and operates on trigger words prompted by the end user.
The bot is updated every two weeks to include top stories and data visualizations on water and environment in the Nile Basin in a mobile friendly format. Click here to start a chat.
Mobile Magazines are updated quarterly and are based on themes. Check out the #WildEye Mobile Magazine here in English and here in Swahili for a collection of stories and data on wildlife trafficking and conservation in East Africa.
Discolouring Climate Change: Youth in East Africa Innovate Climate Solutions (Documentaries: Part 1 and Part 2)
Africa is the most vulnerable continent to the changes in climate that are affecting the world over. This phenomenon, caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, is leading to warming temperatures and erratic rainfall across Africa. This has greatly impacted agriculture, the backbone of many African economies.
In East Africa, young people have risen up to help their communities to combat and adapt to climate change, innovating solutions around reforestation, clean energy, circular economies and sustainable agriculture and much more: all of them making a difference to fight for a greener future.
In these documentaries for the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change produced by InfoNile’s Andrew Aijuka with contributions from journalists from Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda, we have captured some of the innovations that the young people are taking against climate change. The documentaries aim to inspire other young people to do similar initiatives and activities and draw the attention of partners that can support their work.
In 2021, InfoNile with funding from IHE Delft Water and Development Partnership Programme supported 10 journalists from nine countries to document everyday water stories around the Nile River and its tributaries. Published under the hashtag #EverydayNile, the photojournalism outreach project is meant to capture everyday life in the Nile Basin countries and aims at promoting cooperation and understanding of the water issues around the Nile River as a shared natural resource.
In 2022, InfoNile was able to support two of the photographers to take the photos back to the communities they covered for exhibition and discussion. The first community photo exhibition was held at Ripon Landing Site, the closest site to the source of the Nile River in Uganda that was impacted by flooding in 2020. Photos by Miriam Watsemba were exhibited from the Sinking Land photo story. Watch and read the exhibition experience here.
The second community exhibition was held at Rusinga Island, an island in Lake Victoria in Kenya, displaying photos about a group of fishermen who had switched to using solar-powered lamps to fish at night, rather than kerosene lamps. The photos were part of the “Powering the Ghost Town of Rusinga Island” photo story by Tony Wild, who comes from the Rusinga Island community. Explore the Rusinga Island exhibition experience here.
InfoNile’s model of community exhibitions aims to provide opportunity to the subjects of the photos to share feedback on how the photographer captured their stories for national and international audiences, in light of historical inequities between journalists and communities. The exhibition was also meant to increase trust between the local community and journalists and how they tell their stories, and encourage discussion around the themes of the stories and solutions to the climate-related issues pictured.
Along with community exhibitions, we also organised two regional #EverydayNile exhibitions that curated photos from all the photo stories along the Nile, with the first in Cairo, Egypt from June-July 2022 and the second in Kampala, Uganda in November-December 2022.
While making its way to the Mediterranean, the River Nile travels thousands of kilometers through 11 countries. One of its most distant sources is located in Burundi, a small country in the Great Rift Valley.
Photographers Selecous Ndihokubwayo and Helena Kreiensiek tracked the river’s flow through Burundi, from its source to the point where it leaves the country and continues to make its way through the continent and finally up to the Mediterranean Sea.
By following the flow of the river, they encountered many different stories: Stories from the present and the past, stories of hope and despair. The Nile has witnessed them all – and we would like to take you on a journey with us.
How hydroelectric power is boosting youth entrepreneurship and protecting Virunga National Park in eastern DRCongo
Almost five years ago, hydroelectric power was just a word in textbooks for the more than one and a half million residents of the cities of Beni and Butembo (North Kivu), in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 2017, a hydroelectric plant has been operational in Ivugha, a peripheral town of Butembo. It supplies the latter as well as its neighboring town with electricity.
This electric power has been a game-changer in several sectors, especially youth entrepreneurship. Now, existing small and medium-sized businesses are making good profit margins. They save expenses formerly allocated to energy. New and innovative businesses were suddenly born.
This brought several advantages: clean energy because it is renewable and non-polluting, as well as preservation of the biodiversity of the Virunga park because this energy is supposed to replace charcoal. Nevertheless, the coverage of the electricity network is still low and the price is not yet within the reach of all budgets.
This report by Hervé Mukulu uses videos, photos, text and data visualisations to tell the story of how hydroelectric power is supporting youth employment while protecting biodiversity and landscapes in eastern DRCongo. Read the story in English here and in French here.
It Is Still Home: A tale of humanity and resilience in Gambella, Ethiopia, where thousands make the annual journey to return home after floods
Gambella region in western Ethiopia has been hit particularly hard by annual floods, which result in crop destruction and subsequent malnutrition. In 2020, 11,749 people were displaced in Gambella, affecting their livelihoods.
Gambella is home to the Baro River. This river, after being joined by Akobo and Pibor, makes the Sobat that flows to the northwest to join the Bahr el Jebel and eventually form the White Nile. The Baro-Akobo-Sobat is a transboundary basin, shared by Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Even though Baro-Akobo basin is the fourth largest in the country, there isn’t much discussion and documentation around it. Most of the discussions around the Nile in Ethiopia focus on the Blue Nile.
In May 2021, #EverydayNile photographer Martha Tadesse traveled to Itang Woreda, Gambela to capture the stories of people displaced by annual floods – people who still make the journey to return back to their homes, year after year. “It is Still Home” is thus a story of humanity – a story of the tenacity of human resilience, despite the uncertainties and dangers of climate change. Read the story in English here and in Amharic here.
Al-Manzala Lake is one of the four biggest freshwater lakes in Egypt, bordered by the Suez Canal from the east, the Nile River from the west, and the Mediterranean Sea from the north. It overlooks four Egyptian governorates: Sharqia, Dakahlia, Damietta and Port Said.
The lake plays an important role in maintaining the balance of water between the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal. But in recent years, the growth of the water hyacinth plant has put the lake at risk – as Al-Manzala Lake has shrunk at a rate of 5.22 square kilometers per year. Sea level rise and pollution also threaten this freshwater lake, which harbors many types of fish important to the local economy, and supports navigation in the Suez Canal.
This multimedia story by Susan Marmar explores efforts to save this important lake, integrating research from the NIle Basin Initiative’s new Strategic Water Resources Analysis. Read the story in English here and in Arabic here.
Climate change, a lack of water and manpower formed the sides of the triangle of challenges facing the agricultural sector during Covid-19. But agriculture remained one of the most important ways to confront the pandemic: It is the source of obtaining the food necessary for the continuation of life.
In Egypt, one of the largest agricultural countries in the Arab region, it required solutions in the short and long term. Indirectly, the pandemic accelerated the implementation of some major projects that help raise the efficiency of water management in Egypt, such as the agricultural canals lining project.
During this project, canals were lined and rehabilitated, with a total length of 1,248 kilometers in a short period, and work is still being done to complete another 4,000 kilometers.
This television and multimedia story by Rawnaa Almasry integrates science, data and interactive maps to explain how agriculture in Egypt adapted to Covid-19 and climate change challenges. See the story in English here and in Arabic here.
Ozi village at the end of Tana Delta in Tana River County is an unrivalled coastal bread basket. It borders the Indian Ocean on one end and River Tana on the other. As the country shut down in 2020 due to lockdowns, farmers in Ozi location, Tana River County ventured into rice farming.
At the time, 245 farmers in Ozi were supplied with rice seeds by Nature Kenya under the REBUILD project. The availability of seeds and naturally flowing water into their farms from floods and high ocean tides provided natural irrigation for local rice farms, increasing their rice production.
Nonetheless, high salinity from sea water intrusion is a challenge. In instances where freshwater from River Tana is low, sea water dehydrates crops.
The Grevy’s zebras is a unique species of the zebra known for its striking, tall appearance, thin stripes and elegant gait. Found almost exclusively in Northern Kenya, it remains Africa’s most endangered large mammal.
But in Samburu North, poaching and resource-based conflicts have escalated against a backdrop of climate change. Human-to-human conflict often coincides with human-wildlife conflict, where local communities kill wildlife for survival, especially during drought.
In the late 1970s, more than 15,000 Grevy’s zebras roamed in the wild, but hunting and poaching has drastically reduced the numbers. The 2016 Great Grevy Census indicated that Kenya had 90 percent of the world’s population. Recent estimates indicate an 80 percent decline in their population. The 2018 estimate counted 2,812 grevy zebras in Kenya and 230 in Ethiopia.
In 2021, five Grevy’s zebras were poached in Samburu and the prolonged drought has increased the numbers. Between 2017 and 2022, most suspects involved in wildlife crimes against zebras were arrested with meat; 14 crimes involving zebras were tracked by #WildEye East Africa. The numbers are dwindling!
This story by Lenah Bosibori used #WildEye East Africa to track the arrests, seizures and prosecution of poaching cases of Grevy’s zebras in Northern Kenya. Read the full story in English and Swahili.
While Rwanda targets to have 512 megawatts of installed power generation capacity by 2023/24, hydropower takes up almost half of the total. Its flowing streams capable of generating power are few, leaving River Nyabarongo and its tributaries as the main route for hydropower dams.
As of 2020, Rwanda’s overall installed power capacity was about 224.6 MW. But despite the hydro plants producing much needed electricity, they are leaving behind an irreparable trail of destruction.
River Nyabarongo is experiencing heavy pollution from landslides, mining, encroachment, unsustainable agriculture, as well as domestic and industrial waste. Its mountainous terrain and hydro dams are worsening the rate of soil loss.
At 297 kilometers, River Nyabarongo has four hydropower dams. A fifth dam is under construction and plans to build a sixth are underway. On the contrary, River Nile stretches at 6,695 kilometers, and had only 25 dams as of 2019. Using the same variation, the Nile would have 133 hydro dams. Is this exploitation of River Nyabarongo environmentally sustainable?
This investigation by Fred Mwasa and Sylidio Sebuharara uses Google Earth satellite imagery to track the construction of dams along the Nyabarongo River. Read the full story in English, Swahili and French
The plumage of the adult grey-crowned crane is gray with white wings that contain feathers with a range of colors and a distinctive black patch at the very top. The head has a crown of stiff golden feathers, which makes it considered as a symbol of wealth in Rwanda.
While grey-crowned cranes are part of Rwanda’s wildlife species, the illegal domestication of these endangered birds for both commercial purposes and consumption has gained ground in recent years.
Previously, locals in Burera district in northern Rwanda were engaged in unsustainable practices of poaching cranes, but thanks to latest conservation efforts, most of the villagers have now stopped hunting.
Today, the number of grey-crowned cranes in Rwanda has reached impressive levels, driven by measures such as providing support and engaging communities in initiatives to reduce poaching. The latest estimates by the RWCA show that the population of this threatened bird species has grown by more than 105 percent — from 487 cranes in 2017 to 997 in 2021.
South Sudan, the youngest African nation, is a fragile nation. Food availability and access remain big challenges for the majority of the population due to the country’s prolonged conflict, which has disrupted agriculture and displaced many people.
While the South Sudanese economy is based on agriculture which is largely subsistence farming, livestock rearing, fishing, and wild food collection, the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic have affected the government, farmers, agro-dealers, and non-governmental organizations, impacting the agricultural sector in South Sudan in several ways.
The Covid-19 pandemic, therefore posed a serious threat to an already vulnerable situation, especially regarding food and water security. Livelihoods and agricultural production have been significantly disrupted, forcing many people from their homes in search of food.
Data Analysis: How Will the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Impact Agriculture in the Sudanese Blue Nile Basin?
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the largest hydropower dam on the African continent, cost Ethiopia $4.6 billion and is located just fifteen kilometers away from the Sudan-Ethiopia border.
Despite possible negative impacts on Sudan in the short term, the dam is expected to increase the available water for irrigation in Sudan in the long term. It could also assist Sudan in the growth and improvement of its electricity, economy, and agriculture in the long run, if Sudan and Ethiopia cooperate to manage the dam.
This investigation by Ahmed El-Affendi uses science and data visualisations to explore the potential impacts of the GERD on Sudan.
Tanzania is among the few African nations that have managed to curb serious cases of rhino and elephant poaching. However, the country is currently facing another wildlife predicament: the giraffe.
The national animal has just entered into illegal hunters’ manifest and is now under threat in the northern parts of Tanzania. Between January and March 2022, there was a surge of illegal killings of giraffes.
The majestic giants are being hunted for bushmeat and animal fat. The tall mammal’s bone marrow is also wrongfully believed to have medical value, further driving up the demand.
It is believed that villagers in the area collude with people from other regions in trapping and killing the giraffe, while crossing nearby wildlife corridors. Other villagers admit that the giraffe poaching schemes also involve some local ward and village leaders. Increase of human activities in the area including farming, grazing, and building of houses further acts to camouflage some criminals who move into the precincts targeting wildlife.
How the Rusumo Falls hydropower project is impacting access to clean water in northern Tanzania (Tanzania/Rwanda/Burundi)
The Regional Rusumo Falls Hydro Electric Project is set to benefit the three neighboring countries of Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi by producing about 80 megawatts of electricity on the Kagera River at the Rusumo Falls.
The project was also expected to increase access to clean water. Though Tanzania’s Ngara district has rich natural water resources including the Kagera and Ruvubhu rivers, only 68 percent of residents in the district accessed clean water in 2021.
Under a compensation scheme for communities who rented out their land for the hydropower project, the World Bank committed to construct a water source and supply system for the district. However, the project is currently stuck due to contractual challenges between the donor, contractor, and the Tanzania government.
Wastewater drainage from the hydropower project workshop was also found to be poured into the rivers and causing pollution. Wildlife had further been impacted.
This cross-border series produced by Prosper Kwigize in Tanzania (English and Swahili), Annonciata Byukusenge in Rwanda (English and French), and Ferdinand Mbonihankuye in Burundi (English and French) uncovers the unmet promises and pollution of the Rusumo Falls hydropower project, while highlighting its benefits in providing energy and water for irrigation.
The Karamoja region in northeastern Uganda is characterized by harsh climatic conditions, ranging from frequent droughts to high temperatures with hot and dry winds all year round. However, since October 2021, the area has experienced a shift in weather seasons, with erratic rains.
These climatic changes are disrupting the traditional lifestyle of cattle keepers, especially the pastoralist majority, who for generations have relied on livestock as their main source of subsistence. Short scattered torrential rains have also heavily contributed to an increase in soil erosion and land degradation, which has contributed to poor harvests and food insecurity in Karamoja.
Despite the torrential rains, there is still a lack of enough water resources as many rivers have dried up. Pastoralists have to move 30 kilometers or longer to find sufficient water for their livestock.
‘Shifting Seasons’ explores how Uganda’s last remaining pastoralist communities are searching for water as climate change increasingly disrupts traditional ways of life in the cattle corridor. In October 2021, photojournalist Stuart Tibaweswa made the journey to Moroto town, to spend eight days moving with a group of herders as they went about their days.
Uganda’s southwestern district of Ntungamo, together with Kabale, Isingiro, and Rakai districts, falls under the Kagera aquifer. Other countries that share this 5,778 square-kilometer aquifer are Tanzania and Rwanda.
Unfortunately, all districts in Uganda under this aquifer continue to face water insecurity, especially during the dry season. Like other parts of the country, the increasing population, coupled with climate change, is straining the available water sources in southwestern Uganda.
Hand-dug shallow wells have been particularly hit hard. Unlike in the past decades, well diggers now have to spend more days and energy digging deeper into the ground to find water. Sometimes they do not find it. And occasionally, even fresh wells dry up within months of excavation. Over the last six years, 12 shallow wells and 16 bore holes have dried up.
Amidst this water security challenge, the solution lies deep within the ground; the deep groundwater.
This story by Fredrick Mugira supported by the Nile Basin Initiative explains how groundwater is a solution to water shortages, and how communities can protect and restore it.
There are eight species of pangolins in the world, with four found in Asia and four in Africa.
Uganda has three out of the four pangolin species found in Africa. Sadly, the pangolin is threatened by both poaching and wildlife trade, especially nearby protected areas such as Murchison Falls National Park.
Prosecuted cases involving seizures of pangolin scales increased from 7 cases in FY 2018-2019 to 8 cases in 2019-2020 to 10 cases in 2020-2021, according to Uganda Wildlife Authority prosecution reports tracked on the #WildEye East Africa map.
The increased interest in trafficking this unique mammal has been attributed to its profitability in the Asian markets as well as the belief that the scales have special medicinal powers.
Although the government through the Uganda Wildlife Authority has increased legal interventions, corruption is still a challenge. Despite strict new penalties mandated in Uganda’s wildlife act of 2019, this investigative story by Benjamin Jumbe finds that penalties in the cases involving pangolins were generally much more lenient.