Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, will likely face increased heatwaves, droughts and severe flooding over the next 67 years. These changes will pose risks to public health and infrastructure. They’ll also be felt most acutely by the city’s most vulnerable residents: those living in informal settlements.
Addis Ababa is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa, and its current metropolitan population of about 5.4 million is projected to reach close to 9 million by 2035.
This increase in the city’s population will be absorbed by informal settlements, the prime destination for most migrants. And informal settlements are characterised by poor or non-existent infrastructure, and face the twin challenges of worsening climate change and poor urban environmental policy.
To investigate the city’s vulnerability to climate change, researchers at Tufts University and the Woodwell Climate Research Center analysed flood risk and temperature data for different time periods, projecting from the past to the future.
We predicted that the city’s extreme daily maximum temperatures would increase by about 1.7°C over the period 2040-2060, compared with 2000–2020. An increase of 1.7°C would result in a rise in the frequency, duration, and intensity of heatwaves.
For the warm-season months of March, April, and May, a temperature increase of 1.8°C is projected. This suggests that the peak temperature for the hottest day of the year will rise by an average of 1.8°C compared to recent data. From 2000 to 2020 the average temperature in the Nifas Silk-Lafto sub-city was 24.70°C.
Increases in temperatures of this magnitude will lead to public health challenges such as increased malaria risks, disproportionately affecting vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, and women.
Over the past two decades, Addis Ababa has endured an average of three months of extreme drought yearly. Using the Palmer Drought Severity Index to assess temperature and precipitation data in a geographical area, our analysis suggests that extreme drought events will become more frequent between 2040 and 2060. The city is expected to experience an additional 1.6 months of extreme drought annually, a 53% increase compared with 2000-2020.
This rising frequency of droughts, along with the city’s growing population, is intensifying water insecurity. Groundwater reserves for drought emergencies are already being depleted.
These droughts will affect health, hydroelectric energy production and urban agriculture.
Too much rainfall, particularly if it occurs within a short period of time in an urban area, leads to flooding. Flooding poses a significant environmental risk to Addis Ababa, especially because the city has developed around three primary rivers.
Climate change will increase water-related challenges by affecting the flow of rivers and the replenishment of groundwater.
Currently, 67% of the population in Addis lives in flood prone areas. The parts of the city that are most at risk include central Addis, which has the greatest density of impervious surfaces like tarmac and concrete. These contribute to flood risk because water can’t seep into the ground.
Other parts of the city that are at risk include the southern half – where the slope is relatively flatter, so water doesn’t flow away – and the Nifas Silk-Lafto region, where considerable development has taken place in the floodplain.
The effects on the city’s residents will be substantial.
Health is just one example.
Our data show that average temperatures in the city will make year-round malaria transmission a risk. There will have to be sustained policy measures to deal with the risk.
Older adults and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change. The elderly are more sensitive to heat and pollution due to existing health conditions, limited mobility, and compromised immune systems. Pregnant women face risks from thermal variations and mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria and Zika.
Many urban residents will be prone to increasing floods. Already 10% of the city’s newly developed areas are within a 100-year floodplain, threatening lives and infrastructures.
People living in informal settlements are particularly at risk – that’s about 70% of Addis Ababa’s residents. These settlements crop up in limited and unused spaces, such as riverbanks. They are at a higher risk of flood impact, and the risk is growing.
Our data shows that currently the percentage difference in vulnerability between formal and informal settlements is 0.6%. The figure illustrates the extent to which buildings within formal and informal settlements would be affected by flooding events. It is expected to rise to 1.3% by 2050 and 1.6% by 2080.
There’s an urgent need for policies that can rise to these challenges. We suggest:
Yala River is a famous river, known to many not only in Kenya but worldwide; this river comes from Kakamega forests like most rivers draining into Lake Victoria from Kenya. It covers the span of Siaya county, whose sub-counties include; Alego Usonga, Bondo, Gem, Rarieda, Ugenya, and Ugunja.
In its wake, it supports millions of communities with water for domestic, livestock, and even agriculture. It is no surprise that the Gem community is not aware of the famous Yala Swamp because they only know of the river, which is a long one.
Gem community embodies co-existence
A few meters from the flowing river is a government institution, the Lake Basin Development Authority, a Yala Integrated Technology Transfer Center. This is a community-based organization that helps farmers feed the community better with tilapia, fish bred via ponds.
According to Infonet Biovision, a simple drilling rig can easily reach shallow groundwater near a river bed with a permanent or seasonal water source.
The organization is utilizing the richest water resource available; groundwater. They dug underground to form water reservoirs, sourcing water through siphoning to several other smaller ponds after breeding in the hatchery.
Fish fingerlings are released into ponds and fed pelleted food, a mix of silverfish “omena” and other small fish locally known as “ochong’a” and sunflower, among other nutritious foods that make the tilapia grow faster. When the fingerlings are old enough to be table-sized fish, farmers buy them from the institute.
The institute is a breath of fresh air to the fish-farming communities; they get table-sized fish at a subsidized cost compared to privately owned fish ponds. The institute also offers extension services to local farmers. They help farmers extract underground water and feed them into fish ponds where the table-sized fish can mature into mature tilapia ready for the community market.
In some cases, the institute cannot successfully extract groundwater for farmers when building ponds. River Yala water is handy; water is pumped into the farms to supply the various ponds with sufficient water for fish farming.
The institute faces some challenges, especially during prolonged scarce rains, and the reservoirs need more water to supply the other ponds.
Ann Mwasi, an intern at the institute, says they sometimes pump water from River Yala which flows a few meters to the ponds, to ensure sufficient water during dry seasons.
“The kingfisher, cormorant, and monitor lizard are some of the predators that feed on the table-sized fish in the ponds, which is one of the challenges the fish farming institute faces; we don’t kill them because nature has to run its course, so we have learned to live with them as much as they cost us some fish.”
“Fish farming is an economic activity in Yala that not only helps to provide the farmers with a means of livelihood but also ensures the community as a whole gets sufficient food,” noted Ann.
A few meters from the institute is a water treatment center, a provision from the government to help supply the community with clean water. It was officially opened in 2021 by the former president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta.
This Lake Victoria South Water Works diverts water from the River Yala and directs it to treatment plants to supply clean water to Siaya County
There has been so much goodness from river Yala, but some students from Maseno University have fallen to their death while sightseeing at the river’s falls. Due to the death trap, the river’s most rapid regions were fenced.
Eric Otieno, a 28-year-old resident born and bred in Gem Yala, says the community is keen on biodiversity; the river hosts dangerous animals like the crocodile and hippopotamus.
“The community knows the animals exist; we also know where they are; the community keeps clear of areas they frequent, like hippos leave the water at a particular time, so the community knows and stays away; I would say we have learned to coexist with the animals,” adds Eric.
He says they used to have sitatunga antelopes in their numbers. Unfortunately, they were hunted by neighbors from the Luhya community using hunting dogs, and even though this kind of traditional hunting is prohibited, they still engage in it.
“I grew up here, but I have never witnessed our community hunt wildlife; our community values their animals and has learned to live together with them; it is such a tight-knit community, and I am glad to be part of a community that has learned to coexist with wildlife,” says Eric.
Yala Swamp, a fallen giant
Still, in Siaya county, 34 kilometers from Siaya town is Kadenge Village is one of Kenya’s most extensive freshwater wetlands called Yala swamp; as river Yala flows from Gem, it is met by Lake Kanyaboli, and an artificial lake called Lake Bob, and here, Yala swamp spans across a large stretch of land building a solid ecosystem within it that the community of Kadenge village largely depends on.
In its vastness, the Yala swamp is rich in reeds that help in water purification before entering Lake Victoria.
The community, surprisingly, is sandwiched by large water bodies but suffers from unpredictable rains and water scarcity. A society that has an underused resource and is undervalued; however, it depends on its waters for livestock, farming, fishing, and household use.
The community relies on livestock rearing as one of its sources of livelihood. According to Linet Andiego, an environmental scientist based in Kisumu, Kenya livestock feeding and drinking on wetlands affects its diversity in different ways. The frequency of livestock in the wetland region loosens the soil/ground around that area. It, therefore, interferes with the quantity of water the ground holds for some time. “This leads to drying up of the wetlands or reduction in size which leads to an automatic reduction in flora and fauna habiting the area,” she adds.
Linet adds that wetlands should be handled with care, laws, and regulations put in place, and protection should be provided to insulate them from unwarranted pollution and misuse of the ecosystem.
A boy fetching water by the swamp’s bed interlinked to Lake Bob says he brings water using a boat to reach cleaner water closer to the Lake; the shallow swampy ends are not clean enough. They boil to drink, then sieve to dim it clean for consumption.
Fishing is one of the main economic activities in this community. However, it is not just left to adults who fish on Lake Bob, but children who engage in swimming on the shallower ends of the swamp, and using their hands, they catch little tilapia and mudfish and sell at the local market or take home for a hearty meal.
What does science tell us about harvesting premature fish, and how does this affect the ecosystem?
According to Linet, harvesting fingerlings threatens biodiversity. Fingerlings are food to different fauna in the wetlands; therefore, gathering them in large numbers interferes with the wetland’s food chain and causes biodiversity loss.
“Harvesting fingerlings in large numbers may also pose extinction of these fish species in the wetlands, and therefore it is not advisable to harvest until they have matured,” explains Andiego.
Where is the glorious Yala Swamp, which hosted a rich biodiversity
A few years back, in its plush reeds, was a rich ecosystem; in it, endangered species were safe, and due to rice farming, it was home to hundreds of bird species. Sadly, the community is counting its losses because the swamp is knee-deep in scandal after scandal (Broken Promises, Idle Land).
Motorcyclist turned tour guide is a resident since childhood and has seen the swamp go through many phases, transitions and finally neglect and so they resigned to fate.
“This place used to be so full of life; it was a small, independent community, and we had good schools, hospitals, and jobs. Dominion farms made it so. We had it all, and then in a snap, we lost it all; now we have lorries transporting sugarcane and blowing dust everywhere; if this swamp matters to anyone at all, then it needs to be revived to former glory,” says Francis Ochonga, Siaya town motorcyclist.
What is left now is a shell of what used to be.
Wetlands are among the most important and productive ecosystems in the world. They are the leading suppliers of fresh water for human use and provide water, habitat, and refuge to thousands of animal and plant species. But their rate of decline is alarming, according to a publication by the Australian government on wetlands and the community.
The publication encourages Non-government organizations and community groups to contribute significantly to educating the broader community about wetlands through publications, websites, and teaching resources and through participation in awareness-raising and capacity-building events and activities.
Yala swamp is counting its losses when it comes to biodiversity; it has been managed privately for years by several individuals that helped promote the conservation of some endangered species like the sitatunga antelopes and hundreds of bird species. Due to private management, the animals were protected from rogue hunters. Still, due to political plays, the swamp has been left vulnerable for years, which has led to its degradation and biodiversity loss.
All is not lost; there is hope with activists speaking so strongly against the neglect of the Yala swamp. The Yala River Basin is a lifeline for millions of local communities who have ‘no voice’ but are deeply connected to this river. It is time to revive and restore our wetlands.
South Sudan is losing its wildlife population due to illegal poaching, exacerbated by several factors which have serious consequences for both wildlife and humanity.
Since the signing of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in 2018, a peace agreement now in place, there has been an improvement in the arresting and prosecuting of perpetrators of wildlife crimes. But more needs to be done, said Brigadier General Mathieu J. Machonyjok, the spokesman for the Ministry of Wildlife.
Machonyjok believes poaching and trafficking are still rampant in the country despite the government’s efforts to stop it. He says wildlife crimes are committed in all national parks in the country.
These parks include Badingilo, located in the central equatorial state; Boma, located in the greater Pibor Administrative area; Nimule, in Eastern Equatoria State; and Western Equatoria State Park, in Western Bhar Ghazel.
“The targeted species are ungulates poached for meat,” he said. “Poached and trafficking items are confiscated as exhibits, and fines and imprisonment are applied on the traffickers, who are mostly after tusks, horns, skins, scales and bones.”
Citing Pibor, and Badingilo conservation areas in Central Equatoria, Machonyjok says that in June 2023, these areas experienced what he terms an “extraordinary massacre” of White-eared Kob and Tiang species by poachers who were after bushmeat.
“Also, the ministry lost one of its personnel to poachers,” stresses Machonyjok, further narrating that massive seizures and many arrests were made after this incident. The suspected poachers who allegedly carried out this act are being prosecuted.
“Juba is the main city that poachers bring their products to; however, products like tusks, horns, or skins illegally exit the country through Juba airport and through posts on our borders with Sudan or Kenya,” he said.
For seven months during the course of our #WildEye Eastern Africa investigation, we attempted to acquire data on arrests and court cases of wildlife crime in South Sudan from 2017 onward from the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism. This quest included many correspondences and meetings with officials of this authority. Access to information in South Sudan is governed by the 2013 Right of Access to Information Act, which gives broad rights to citizens for access to public records.
But after spending several days in the wildlife ministry offices, we were only able to acquire official information on nine recent arrests made by law enforcement and wildlife officials between January and April 2023. Two of the seizures occurred around Bandingilo National Park to the northwest of Juba, including a case where 200 animals were killed.
The ministry declared that the suspects in these cases were arrested and that the court cases were ongoing. However, the ministry does not keep information on court proceedings or outcomes, according to Lt. Gen. Aggrey Lasu Wani, Assistant Director General for Law Enforcement at the South Sudan National Wildlife Service.
After visiting the South Sudan High Court for several weeks, we were only able to get information on five recent cases regarding unspecified bushmeat: four from arrests that occurred during the first months of 2023, which have not yet been prosecuted, and one prosecuted case from 2021. Most occurred in Mangala and Bandingilo National Parks.
Most of our pre-2023 data is therefore based on publicly available news reports.
Before the war broke out, South Sudan's forests and savannah were home to about 2,500 elephants, hundreds of giraffes, the endemic Nile Lechwe and white-eared Kob, Tiang, Mongalla antelope, Wild Dog, Chimpanzee, and Bongo populations.
But this is no longer the case. These numbers have tremendously reduced due to poaching.
A 2018 UN Environment report estimates that the number of elephants in the country declined from about 80,000 in the 1970s to less than 2,500 in 2007. During the same period, buffalos declined from 96,000 to less than 10,000, while giraffes reduced from 13,000 to about 500.
Insecurity in the county, especially after the 2013 and 2016 wars, has led to a steady flow of firearms into the civilian communities at such a time when the country is facing economic hardships.
Subsequently, some civilians and security officials reportedly use these easily assessed guns to poach for bushmeat, which they sell for income generation.
According to information we collected for #WildEye Eastern Africa from news reports and the wildlife ministry, people arrested with bushmeat have included soldiers and a major from the South Sudan army, a commissioner of Lafon County (which includes Bandingilo National Park), and a national security officer. The army major was released without charges or explanation, according to a report by the Enough Project.
Clement Liba, a member of the State Legislative Assembly in Western Equatoria, Yambio, argues that the declaration of a state of emergency in the country during the war helped to skyrocket wildlife cases there.
"These are people who are outlawed, and then when they are in the bush, sometimes they spend two days, three days without food. The only way to survive is to hide and kill an animal, so this drastically reduced the number of animals. Even the rampant gunshots scare the wild animals,” he says.
Wildlife experts argue that antelopes and deers are the most poached wild animals in South Sudan, primarily for bushmeat. Close to this list are the elephants killed for ivory smuggled out of the country through Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Egypt and Sudan to markets as far as China and Malaysia.
Edward Yakani, the Executive Director of Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), says this illegal activity results in the loss of wild animals for tourism.
"We know poachers are doing large-scale poaching nationwide. We are losing a huge number of animals, and we are even losing the value of our tourism due to illegal poaching activities,” insists Yakani.
In 2016, 10 kilograms of frozen pangolin meat were discovered by sniffer dogs at Juba International Airport, reportedly belonging to a Chinese national working in the oil fields of Paloich as an engineer. The suspected smuggler was released shortly after his arrest, according to information we collected for #WildEye Eastern Africa from the Enough Project.
Clement Liba, a member of the State Legislative Assembly in Western Equatoria, Yambio, laments that last year in Mvolo County, community members killed one of the hippopotami in a river there.
"This was a big shame," he notes. Several arrests were made after this crime. He also cites a case of locals killing an elephant in this area.
"Some few years back, particularly in Ibba County, there was that instance where the poachers killed an elephant. I think the government had to campaign and arrest the poachers."
Lack of strict laws and prosecutions of wildlife crime
South Sudan’s neighbour in the south, Uganda, established a wildlife court to hear wildlife crimes in 2017. The court has been credited for clamping down on wildlife crime. This court has handed criminals several punishments, including a jail term of life in prison for an ivory trader.
Upon our visits to the South Sudan High Court, it appears there exists a special court for wildlife crimes with a judge assigned to these cases. However, wildlife cases were still mixed up with other cases in the manual ledgers - one of the reasons they could not be retrieved, according to a source in the police court who asked to remain anonymous to protect their job.
Yakani of CEPO laments that some law enforcement officers, who have access to guns, usually go unpunished when they engage in poaching.
Simon Kalesto, an environmental conservation consultant in Yambio and Torit, says that in Western Equatoria, bushmeat is sold openly, and there are no restrictions on trading and eating bushmeat.
"Whenever the hunters are arrested with the bundles of meat, returning from poaching, the only punishment they get is confiscation of their guns and the meat," narrates Kalesto.
Such punishments, he narrates, are not deterrent enough to stop the crimes from happening.
But Brigadier General Mathieu J. Machonyjok, the spokesman for the Ministry of Wildlife, believes the current law is strong enough to control wildlife crimes in the country.
"Our Ministry has put forward severe punishment for those who violate the rules for wildlife conservation. The law protects these species. We have the right to capture and seize all items used in poaching and illegal trade, such as the vehicles, bicycles, weapons, or anything used, " insists Machonyjok.
Ray of hope
Edward Yakani, the Executive Director of Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), believes that the presence of wildlife offices across the country in areas including parks and airports, coupled with the sensitization of communities against depending on bushmeat, will help to minimize poaching in the country.
Likewise, Kalesto, says the western Equatoria state's fauna and flora team is carrying out a census of all wild animals in the game reserves and parks around the state to ascertain their numbers. This is hoped to boost efforts to conserve the animals and fight against poaching.
Through the Ministry of Wildlife and Conservation, the government has also introduced regular inspection of goods at Juba International Airport and all entry points for wild animal products.
The presence of wildlife officers at checkpoints on major roads in the country to detect bushmeat or any other wildlife products is also a boost in the fight against poaching.
“We must stop poaching in South Sudan to conserve wild animals for national development,” advocates Clement Liba, a member of the State Legislative Assembly in Western Equatoria, Yambio.
However, lack of funds hinders scaling up activities of the wildlife ministry to fight wildlife crime.
“We planned for an operation to Major Roads entering Juba which we suspected are facilitating trading on meat and other Wildlife Tropes finding its way to other countries through Juba Airport. This can only be possible if funds are available to us,” wrote Lt. Gen. Aggrey Lasu Wani, assistant director general for law enforcement at the National Wildlife Service, in an official statement submitted to InfoNile.
While growing up as a child, Ben Afidra Amorimvapi, a resident of Degiya village, Olali parish-Ogoko Sub County developed a fondness for White Rhinos.
With his village home sitting on what was a controlled hunting area of Ajai Wildlife Reserve, Amorimvapi points to a bare ground next to his house.
“That is where white rhinos used to defecate once in a month. Each day they chose a different place for easing themselves,” he recalls candidly.
A retired civil servant and proven conservationist, Amorimvapi says in the evening, the rhinos would lie on the road on warm sand and then graze at night where they would move up to Rhino Camp, coexisting peacefully with the local community.
However, things became precarious for white rhinos in 1972 following the infamous economic war declared on Asians by the late former Ugandan President, Idi Amin.
Amorimvapi explains that some of the Asians fled to South Africa whereupon the apartheid regime demanded for their compensation for lost businesses.
This, he says, prompted the government to hurtle white rhinos in crates to South Africa to compensate the Asians and when the sanctuary guards saw that the animals were being taken away they began killing those left behind for ivory.
The animals were eventually finished by poachers during the lawlessness that followed the violent ouster of Amin. Only baboons, vervet monkeys and black and white colobus monkeys were left to dominate the reserve for a long time.
It is for this reason that the community is calling for the reintroduction of the white rhinos.
They are revered for playing a critical biodiversity role as natural lawn mowers of their habitat that in turn helps other small animals, birds and insects such as beetles to thrive.
As they paddle around swampy areas in search for water, white rhinos create pockets of water dams that provide a source of drinking water for birds and antelopes thereby avoiding crowding and reducing the risk of being targeted by predators.
UWA steps in
In the quest to reintroduce the rhinos back into Uganda’s wildlife-protected areas, the government of Uganda, through the national wildlife watchdog Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has since 2006 been running a breeding program at the ZIWA Rhino Sanctuary in Nakasongola district to multiply the original stock of six Southern White Rhinos.
To date, the rhinos have increased to 35 individuals and are now ready for re-introduction into the Wild at Ajai Wildlife Reserve.
Before the White Rhinos became extinct from the wild in Uganda, Ajai Wildlife Reserve and its environs in the current Madi Okollo district were the known White Rhino ranging habitat in the country.
Since the 1930’s the reserve sitting on 166 square kilometres has evolved from a wildlife sanctuary, game reserve and now a wildlife reserve.
According to the Ajai Wildlife Reserve General Management Plan 2021/22-2030/31 drafted in February 2021, the Management of the reserve has also evolved over time; it was initially managed by the colonial officials with Chief Ajai being the most known, followed by the Uganda Game Department and now the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
The UWA in 2010 and 2015 carried out an animal population census of Ajai wildlife reserve after contracting the Uganda Wildlife Safaris to develop the wildlife reserve.
The results showed that the reserve was dominated by primates such as baboons, black and white colobus monkeys and vervet monkeys. These are followed by antelopes like kobs, duikers and orbi while the pig family has bush pigs and warthogs.
A second census carried out in 2015 established an increase in the number of some of the dominant wildlife species from 1,189 to over 1,202.
But by 2020, UWA was forced not to grant an extension of Uganda Wildlife Safari’s contract for failure to develop the reserve for tourism.
The authority then proceeded to conduct a feasibility study to ascertain the suitability of Ajai for white rhino reintroduction.
Among the recommendations of the study was the need to acquire additional land from the Lali and Madali communities measuring approximately 26.58 square kilometers which provides a suitable breeding ground for the rhinos.
The studies further show that the block marked 1 on the map would be for non-breeding male rhinos and River Gazi which separates it from the southern sector would form a natural barrier to deter the non-breeding male rhinos from crossing to the southern sector.
Based on these recommendations, the UWA Board of Trustees at its meeting on June 16, 2022 at Buhoma in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park resolved to have the white rhinos at ZIWA trans-located to the Ajai Wildlife Reserve.
The UWA board further directed management to consult and work closely with the Madi Okollo district local government to ensure the re-introduction exercise is done smoothly and fast tracked to shorten the duration within which the entire re-introduction exercise is concluded.
Dr Margaret Driciru, the Acting Chief Warden of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area that includes Ajai Wildlife Reserve affirms that a decision has been taken to re-introduce the White Rhinos to its natural habitat at Ajai Wildlife Reserve. She adds that a substantial amount of money needs to be found to bankroll the process.
She says consultations are ongoing with different stakeholders and hopes that by 2024 the rhino species will be re-introduced to Ajai conservation area.
Representing the UWA executive director during the launch of the translocation of kobs from Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve to Kidepo National Park recently, John Makombo, the director for ecological monitoring at UWA disclosed that it will cost sh4b to create a conducive environment, set up facilities and translocate 20 white rhinos and other species to increase the animal population at Ajai by 2024.
However, the community wants UWA to handle the reintroduction process differently and more transparently.
Local resident Amorimvapi is afraid that the reintroduction of the white rhinos will lead to erosion of some cultural values that are dear to the Madi if removal of people residing inside the protected area results in the separation of families.
“What happens when I am forced to move away to say Bwiyale (in Kiryandongo) and my young son who is just near this reserve boundary remains behind? Who is going to give him guidance and knowledge on our culture?" he wondered aloud.
Amorimvapi insists that as elders they have a lot of information to pass on to the younger generation ranging from traditional marriages to folk dance and age-old art of anklet smelting, smithing of arrows, spears and cowbells; papyrus mat making, fish traps, arrow quivers and granary crafting and this makes the moves to relocate people to new settlements ill-advised.
Citing his case, Amorimvapi complains that he grew up with the animals in the wild but wonders why the UWA wants him and the 11 homesteads in the Degia sector to be resettled away from the reserve yet he has well understood the value of the wildlife.
He says the only alternative to preserve the Madi culture is to allow the communities neighbouring the reserve to continue to coexist with the animals in the reserve and not curve them out of the reserve.
Amorimvapi cautions the government against psychologically torturing locals through threats of eviction but rather appreciates the re-integration of various traditional values and practices with modern approaches to effectively conserving wild animals.
But Rebecca Aniku, a native of Degiya village who also is a conservationist, believes the re-introduction of the White rhinos will enhance efforts to preserve the rich culture of the Ma’di by attracting people from the outside world to buy the cultural artefacts thus boosting the tourism potential of the entire Northern region.
She asserts that many old people, especially women are dying without passing on knowledge and skills of making cultural artefacts such as winnowing pans because the values attached to them have dwindled due to lack of demand and market, a trend that could be revitalised when tourists start pouring in to see rhinos and other animals at Ajai.
“This is a poverty alleviation project. Our place is poor with no hotels and many youths are jobless but we shall have tourism jobs. This reintroduction of white rhinos will also preserve the land, the trees and the environment in the wildlife reserve,” explained Aniku.
Odama Rokoni Ma’dimva, the community Wildlife Association Vice Secretary for Ajai says the planned re-introduction of the White Rhinos presents a huge opportunity for the communities living around Ajai Wildlife Reserve and the region through jobs creation arising from the various social services that shall be established around the sanctuary and in other parts of the region.
Ma’dimva says land is however a key factor in the planned re-introduction of the White Rhinos at Ajai. He says while the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is seeking for expansion of the wildlife reserve land there has to be a win–win situation.
Ma’dimva says the communities neighbouring the Ajai sanctuary need improved water, health, infrastructure, electricity, markets and other services, in addition to fencing of the gazetted sanctuary to avoid human-wildLife conflict.
Madi-Okollo District Chairperson Ismael Drabe says the communities neighbouring the wildlife reserve were sensitized in February this year and what now remains is compensation for the affected households.
According to Drabe, the White Rhinos may be re-introduced by the end of next year to allow UWA to secure the sanctuary by fencing.
On the planned expansion of the sanctuary, Drabe says the ultimate decision to get additional land for expansion of the reserve lies solely in the hands of the communities who are the owners of the land but not the local government of Madi-Okollo.
Ben Lacam Ojara, a former Game Assistant at Ajai Game Reserve, says Ajai is the natural habitat of the Northern White Rhinos, not Ziwa Rhino Sanctuaryand so the re-introduction of the White Rhinos is long overdue.
Ojara said the significance of the White Rhinos led to the naming of a Hotel in Arua then as the White Rhino Hotel which provided both recreational services and employment opportunities for the people of West Nile.
He adds that the reintroduction of the White Rhinos provides socio-economic and political benefits to the people of West Nile and the country, besides the grass at the game reserve is the most suitable for the white rhinos.
“Prepare the people to receive their white rhinos because the species has to come back to its natural home. The pride of Uganda which has been missing for over 40 years will bring joy to the people,” Ojara said of white rhinos.
The consumption of bushmeat is a major public health problem in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Bushmeat is the meat of wild animals such as antelopes, monkeys, snakes and crocodiles. It is very popular in the DRC, but its unregulated consumption is endangering public health.
Bushmeat can be contaminated with parasites and viruses that can cause serious illnesses, such as Ebola, Marburg or dengue fever. These diseases can be fatal.
In March 2021, the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development and its partners in the DRC launched a campaign called “Let’s celebrate Congolese cuisine without bushmeat – Yoka Pimbo!” The aim of the project is to reduce bushmeat consumption in urban areas, particularly in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, which currently has an estimated population of over 15 million.
Resistance to the fight against bushmeat consumption
Despite the efforts of the health authorities, bushmeat consumption is still very common in the DRC. There are many reasons for this consumption:
Bushmeat is often cheaper than farmed meat.
Bushmeat is considered tastier than farmed meat.
Bushmeat is often associated with cultural traditions.
While health authorities try to combat bushmeat consumption through awareness campaigns and market inspections, they are finding it difficult to keep up with demand. Despite the risks, the sale of bushmeat is still very common.
A young boy told us that it is common practice in his community to eat bushmeat. He talks about their habit of eating rats trapped in the bush.
“I think the rat meat called dunaa that is sold in the streets tastes good. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no danger in eating it. This rat meat is appreciated in our cultures. It doesn’t take much to prepare or find it, compared with meat from cows or goats.
“Dunaa meat, i.e. rat meat, does not cost much. People eat it in abundance and never tire of it”, says Grâce Muhesi, a young man living in Rutshuru territory in the province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As Grâce testified, many local people turn to bushmeat because it is cheaper. Nonetheless its consumption is a major public health problem in the DRC. It is important to raise awareness of the risks associated with eating bushmeat and to put in place measures to reduce its consumption.
Zero bushmeat in the Virunga central market in Goma
In the pirate meat markets along the streets of Goma, the risk of buying contaminated or uncontrolled meat is increasing. Mr Masumbuko Sinzahera Pierre, Managing Director of the Virunga Central Market, is calling on his fellow citizens to be wary of meat that does not pass inspection by the relevant authorities.
As part of the fight against the spread of zoonoses, the meat sold at the Virunga Central Market in Goma comes from approved abattoirs such as those in Kahembe and Kituku. These abattoirs are subject to strict food safety standards, which guarantee that the meat is healthy and safe for consumption,” says the market’s Managing Director, Mr Masumbuko Sinzahera Pierre.
Risks associated with bushmeat consumption
Bushmeat can be contaminated with a variety of parasites and viruses, including :
Dengue forest fever
These diseases can be fatal, and can lead to serious complications such as brain damage, kidney and liver problems, and reproductive disorders.
How to reduce bushmeat consumption
There are a number of things you can do to reduce your bushmeat consumption:
Be aware of the risks of eating bushmeat.
Do not eat bushmeat that is not properly cooked.
Buy bushmeat from a reliable source, such as an approved market.
Avoid eating bushmeat imported from other countries.
While most risk assessments focus on the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans, some diseases can also be transmitted from humans to animals and have considerable repercussions on the health of animals, whether domestic or wild.
WHO explains that diseases such as COVID-19, tuberculosis and influenza, among others, can infect different animal species and even prove fatal. For example, gorillas and chimpanzees, whose genetic make-up is close to our own, are particularly susceptible to human diseases. As with other endangered species, veterinary services, wildlife authorities and researchers need to pay particular attention to them.
By John Dibaba and Jonas Kiriko
The hippopotamus in Africa’s Great Lakes is at the verge of extinction. The number of hippos is reducing in Lake Albert, at Murchison Falls National Park in Northern Uganda, and Virunga National Park, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Over the last two decades, these hippos’ habitats have witnessed a 95 percent reduction in the number of hippos, one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. In 2022, Virunga National Park had 1,300 individual hippos, a 95 percent reduction from the number recorded in 1970. Murchison Falls in northern Uganda is also grappling with the same challenge with fewer than 300 hippos remaining, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
It’s not known how many hippos are left across Africa, but during the past few decades, this animal that has been labelled the continent’s second-most dangerous after the lion – more dangerous than elephants and Cape buffalo – has become increasingly threatened by hunting.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which monitors the conservation status of species, classifies hippos as vulnerable because of threats of illegal, unregulated trade in their teeth, demand for their meat, and habitat loss.
At Murchison Falls, some members of the local community, influenced by international traffickers, are allegedly involved in poaching hippos, according to Scovia Acan, a resident of Olwiyo trading center, Nwoyo district.
But the benefits are not fairly distributed, according to the resident, who said that traffickers put the lives of these poachers at risk, yet they buy the hippo teeth at a meagre price of less than $10 per kilogram.
A former poacher, who has lived in Pakwach municipality for more than 30 years, said that like elephant ivory, hippo teeth and tusks are often used for decorative carvings in Asia and European markets. They are cheaper and easier to obtain than ivory.
“This is why traffickers now prefer dealing in hippos’ teeth as opposed to elephant ivory, which is relatively expensive,” the informer revealed, who prefers anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), hippos in Virunga National Park, eastern DRC are reported to be the most hunted for their precious canine ivory in East Africa. Out of more than 29,000 individual hippos recorded in 1970, fewer than 1,300 are reported remaining in 2022, according to Parc National Des Virunga.
The fate of the few remaining hippos in Virunga is also not guaranteed, given the presence of militiamen around the rivers and Lake Edward that serve as a habitat for these large mammals. These giant water and land animals are poached for their meat and the ivory contained in their teeth.
At Kyavinyonge fishery in the province of North Kivu, north of Lake Edward, which straddles DRC and Uganda, it was in the past unusual to find a small family of hippos of about 10 individuals, but this is normal now.
The source of River Semliki is not far from the tourist site of Ishango, which also serves as a base for a unit of park rangers.
“Hippos tend to come close to humans where they find assurance of safety. Look where we come from; these animals spend their days not far from the landing site next to humans. Here, they are protected by game rangers,” Jackson Mumbere, a fisherman in Kyavinyonge fishery, said.
Stéphane Paluku, a resident of Kyavinyonge, said he remembered hippos in “large numbers” in the 1970s when he lived together with his family at the shores of Lake Edward, which have since diminished.
“No one could venture alone around the lake, fearing to be killed by these animals. Incidents involving hippos killing people were so common. At that time, we were afraid of the hippos; whereas today, they are the ones who are afraid of us,”Paluku said.
Hippos impact on fisheries
Hippos influence freshwater food webs and can impact fisheries yield, according to a 2010 research on the status of hippos in Virunga National Park by Deo Kujirakwinja.
“Even though there have been no studies conducted on the contribution of hippos to fisheries productivity, they do import nutrients (urine and excreta) into aquatic systems, promoting phytoplankton growth and improving system productivity,” Kujirakwinja said.
He added; “Grazing activities of hippos alter the surrounding ecosystems, making them beneficial to other species such as warthogs and bush pigs, who take advantage of the grasslands created by grazing and over 14 species of birds that feed around and on hippos.”
The presence of the hippos also benefits tourism. According to Neema Nginga, a tour official at Kyavinyonge Fishery Tourism Service, the hippopotamus at Lake Edward is one of the species most visited by tourists. “Tourist guides and local traders here benefit from the hippos tourism. I find it necessary to protect them,” she said.
Despite the drastic drop in hippo population since the 1970s, the numbers started to increase again in 2005, according to Pascal Mbusa Muko, director of the Virunga fisheries cooperative (COOPEVI). This was due to a successful awareness-raising initiative by the fishermen’s cooperative with the support of the Virunga National Park, of which Lake Edward is a part. This included the creation of a radio on which they broadcasted reports, awareness workshops, as well as forums for popular expression.
According to Pascal, the communications campaign intended to show the surrounding communities the benefits that can be drawn from the preservation of species, such as the fertility of the lake, increased youth employment in tourism, and other benefits to all of humanity from conservation.
Muko says that since hippo families are showing signs of recovery, there is also a positive change in the fish productivity of Lake Edward, and this is a good sign for the future.
But in 2019, hippo numbers started to drop again due to activism by armed groups, which did not allow the park rangers to carry out their activities properly. This is an estimate according to the park, as the real count was not possible.
Currently, the population is around 1,300 pending a count which will take place at the end of the year. However, due to continuing armed violence, park rangers are still unable to carry out their activities normally within the park.
Arrests of traffickers
In February, June and July 2021, arrests of ivory traffickers were conducted in Butembo, one of the three main cities of the province of North Kivu in the DRC. This large shopping center is located near the Virunga National Park, near Lake Edward.
According to the police as reported by Mongabay, the suspects were in possession of around 30 kilograms of hippo ivory and two leopard skins. Those arrested were preparing to cross the eastern border into Uganda where they wanted to sell the trafficked wildlife products. It was the third arrest of wildlife traffickers in less than a year in Butembo.
In late 2021, in the same city, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) in collaboration with the police succeeded in arresting the militia leader Jackson Muhukambuto. Muhukambuto and his armed men in the territories of Lubero and Rutshuru, North Kivu (DRC), were accused of having killed 19 agents of Virunga National Park as well as numerous civilians and members of security forces during the various operations of wildlife trafficking, mainly ivory.
Congolese law severely punishes poaching of protected wildlife species, according to Valerie Lumande, a public prosecutor at Butembo High Court Prosecutor’s Office.
Hippo body parts can still be legally traded under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), though most countries only offer permits for hippo ivory acquired from carcasses. This is a likely reason for continued underground trade, as traffickers seek permits under the pretext of having acquired the tusks from carcasses.
Between 2002 and 2022, more than 84,000 hippo teeth and 2,500 hippo skins were exported from Uganda, according to the CITES Trade Database.
According to a TRAFFIC report, Uganda was the top country to export hippo products, contributing 40 percent of the worldwide trade between 2009 and 2018.
However, exports tracked by CITES have slowly decreased over the years.
Between 2009-2018, the European Union (EU) was one of the largest importers of hippo ivory, primarily going to Germany, Spain, France, Austria, and Denmark, according to the TRAFFIC report.
Data downloaded from CITES show that between 2002 and 2022, Hong Kong reported importing almost 90 percent of the hippo ivory exported from Uganda; about 75,000 teeth.
Hippo carvings are more popular in Asia because they are generally cheaper than elephant ivory.
Uganda has historically been known as a trading hub for wildlife and its products in East Africa, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, due to the country’s porous borders, light penalties, and limited capacity to combat wildlife crime. However, the country is making stringent efforts in enforcement. This can be seen from the life sentence of one Pascal Ochiba, by the Uganda Standards, Utilities and Wildlife Court in October 2022 for possessing wildlife products.
Between 2018 and 2021, InfoNile and Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism tracked 28 wildlife crime cases in Uganda involving illegally poached hippo meat or teeth, published on the #WildEye Eastern Africa map, most arrested in western and northern Uganda.
While most cases were either still in court or had been convicted, punishments meted out ranged from fines of 500,000 to 3 million UGX (around $130 – $800 USD) or between 16 months and 5 years in prison.
The new 2019 Uganda Wildlife Act replaced the 1996 law, which conservationists said was weak because it set a maximum jail sentence of only seven years for poaching and wildlife trafficking. Now, convicts face a maximum fine of UGX 20 billion (USD $5.4 million), life imprisonment, or both for poaching. Many conservationists look at the new law as a step ahead to conserve endangered species by having tougher punishments to discourage poaching and trafficking of wildlife products.
In DRC, the law classifies the hippo among the totally protected species. Regarding trafficking, the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation has trained migration and customs agents to fight against trafficking. In March 2023, 30 rangers from Virunga National Park were sworn in before the public prosecutor as officers of the judicial police, which gives them the power to investigate cases relating to the trafficking of wild species, in particular hippos.
In our investigation, we discovered a passage that serves as an ecological corridor between Virunga National Park, eastern DRC and Queen Elizabeth National Park, western Uganda. This corridor, commonly called Kibumu, is located between the Congolese city of Kasindi-Lubiriha and the illegal fishery of Kasindi port. The route has become a porous track used by ivory traffickers, who use it to access the Kayanja fisheryon the Ugandan side.
“Poachers and other traffickers use it without going through large cities or border crossings to avoid being caught by customs,” testified an anonymous former park warden.
He added; “Traffickers use it night and day. Once in Kayanja, in Uganda, Congolese traffickers then contact their counterparts in Uganda who understand Uganda’s geography to finish the job. Two other routes used by ivory traffickers are Kamukumbi and Kabiriti, still located between the city of Lubiriha and the illegal fishery of Kasindi port. These two tracks lead to Nyavugando in the Bwera region of Uganda.”
To reach Kampala, the Ugandan capital, the ivory is carried away in baskets of fresh fish, whose carriers enjoy a certain favor because it is supposed to transport perishable goods, hence going unchecked by the authorities at the border. While there is no law exempting perishable goods from going unchecked, some authorities consider that the fish can rot if they hold the carrier for a long time.
From Uganda, the ivory is trafficked to the Indian Ocean coast in Kenya where it is then transported to Asia on the sea.
To try to control these porous tracks, park rangers from the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) have set up an active patrol post at Vimbao.However, trafficking still continues.
On the Ugandan side, Bashir Hangi, the Uganda Wildlife Authority communications manager, says that they have instituted checkpoints at Entebbe International Airport and major landing sites on Lake Edward, Lake Albert and Lake Victoria, but the several porous border points have allowed the illegal trade to continue.
Map showing hippo distribution in Africa and Status Report by IUCN (2018)
Support communities to mitigate poaching and ivory trafficking
According to a former poacher only identified as Harles, who is settled near Virunga National Park in DRC, a lack of projects that benefit the nearby communities around protected areas is one of the factors leading to poaching.
Harles stopped poaching after authorities killed and injured several of his fellow poachers. He believes that the involvement of the community is key to conservation.
“I personally killed a hippo as well as a few other animals in this Virunga Park,” he revealed. “Without a job, I find it unbelievable that I would be prohibited from hunting in the park, the only way to make quick money.”
“When officials recruit workers, they bring people from elsewhere; this is what pushes many to destroy wildlife and invade protected areas,” he added.
Bashir Hangi, the spokesperson of Uganda Wildlife Authority, recommends the involvement of the community members near the protected areas in conservation. “The game guards and rangers cannot be everywhere. We need the support of the local community to protect these hippos. The benefit of conservation is for all of us. Let’s involve everyone in protecting the already endangered hippos,” Hangi said.
Conservation researcher Deo Kujirakwinja also advocates for an integrated conservation program including development projects, livelihood programs and revenue-sharing schemes.
With the support of WWF, UWA livelihood projects have been initiated to provide alternative food and livelihood sources to various community groups living near national parks, which has helped them leave poaching. These include support to beekeeping, apiary and fish farming projects.
In 2021, James Okware, the senior warden of Rwenzori Mountains National Park in western Uganda, was quoted by the WWF news team saying that UWA had signed a memorandum of understanding with groups including ex-poachers’ groups to promote “legal and regulated access and utilization of resources from the park.”
The Congolese government and neighbouring countries of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan should also set up common legal and border surveillance mechanisms to fight against poaching and hippopotamus trafficking, according to Claude Sengenya, an environmental journalist based in Butembo (DRC).
In Uganda, Abdulatwaib Asiku, the chairperson of Yumbe district that borders South Sudan in the northwest, calls for the establishment of more customs border points in the West Nile region to reduce wildlife trafficking in this border area.
“We need to have more customs points in Busia, between Maracha and D.R Congo, between Koboko and D.R Congo, among others, to reduce the porosity of our border,” Asiku recommended.
Steen Omito, the chairperson of Pakwach district, north of Lake Albert, said that East African countries should establish a similar response strategy to combat poaching.
“We need a joint conservation taskforce, where all the East African countries have representatives and jointly pull resources for operations,” Omito noted.
Chepkitale Forest is one of the oldest protected forests in Kenya, and is home to over 1,500 tree species, including endangered species like Juniperus procera, Olea chrysophylla and Vachellia xanthophloea.
Numerous species of birds and animals, such as the bateleur eagle, bushbuck and impala antelopes, can also be found in the forest. The elevation of the forest is around 1500m above sea level, and it receives an average of 1300mm of rainfall each year.
It is an enchanted place, filled with secrets of nature and the earth. Here, you’ll find towering trees, both living and dead, that spread across the forest floor like gentle giants.
As you wander through this enchanting landscape, you will come upon the remains of fallen tree species that are slowly decomposing. As you observe closely, you can see that mushrooms are thriving on these decaying trees, as if they are feeding off their remains. The area is known for its chilly climate conditions that cause visitors to shiver.
Chepkitale is located in Mt. Elgon, an important natural resource in western Kenya’s Bungoma County, and serves as one of the big water towers that feeds water along the Nile basin all the way to Egypt. Mt Elgon forest sits on 50,500 hectares of land, 17,000 hectares being part of Chepkitale area. This is also the ancestral land of the Ogiek have who have lived here for many years, governed and bound by their traditions.
Since the inception of bylaws to protect the forest, there is no deforestation that has happened. Emmanuel Kimtai, a member of this community said that the Ogiek elders came up with their own traditional bylaws which prevent the cutting of trees in the region.
Kimtai argues that trees are very important in their lives as they depend on them for food, medicinal value, production of honey and preventing soil erosion.
Kimtai says that the Ogiek community is not also not allowed to burn charcoal, adding that the smoke from the burning charcoal scares bees in the forest.
“The Ogiek depend on bees for honey production, some of the beekeeping is their major source of income therefore if the trees are cut it threatens to scare the bees,” Kimtai said.
He adds that women are only allowed to collect firewood from the fallen trees but not to cut fresh trees, noting that those who want to construct new houses use fallen trees.
George Wara, a Bungoma County forest conservator applauded the Ogiek Council of Elders for forming traditional bylaws and elaborate systems that have helped conserve the environment.
Initially, the government had evicted the Ogiek from the forest but last year the court upheld the eviction order allowing the Ogiek to settle back in the forest.
“These bylaws have really helped us conserve the forest on the upper side of the mountain, they are a very elaborate system of environmental conservation, if you go there you find indigenous trees that have fallen many years ago left and no one to harvest them,” Wara added.
Wara pointed out that the Ogiek have protected the forest compared to other communities who have caused massive destruction to the forest adding that on other parts of the forest, there is cultivation, illegal logging, charcoal burning and firewood harvesting which is a threat to the forest.
By Aimable Twahirwa
Felicita Niyigena, 48, who has more than two decades of experience growing maize at Mubuga, a mountainous village from Nyamagabe, a district in Southern Rwanda, is very confident in her water-saving irrigation practice.
While other farmers across Rwanda lament the dry season for lack of rain, Niyigena, like many smallholding farmers in this remote rural area, has adopted small-scale irrigation schemes to meet crop demand while reducing water wastage from over-application in this part of Rwanda’s Nile Basin.
In this remote rural area, water is channelled via open furrows, canals from Nyabarongo River, which is part of the upper headwaters of the Nile, and its large tributaries, including Mwogo, Rukarara, and Mbirurume rivers, into the farmland in various ways to minimize the impact of the drought on their agricultural production.
“Water is pumped to these maize plantations, and with the current type of irrigation, less water is required, and less energy is wasted as it needs less pump operation,” Niyigena said in an exclusive interview.
Official estimates indicate that Rwanda’s 7,000 hectares of cropped area are equipped with the necessary infrastructure for irrigation. Still, not all areas might be cultivated in any given year or growing season.
According to the study conducted by the Nile Basin Initiative on the current and project demand and water used in the Nile Basin, the current estimation of the water requirement of crops in Rwanda stands at 28.71 million cubic meters.
While irrigation is the biggest consumer of water, estimates by researchers show that the growth in water demand in the Nile Basin largely depends on the expansion of irrigated agriculture, whereby out of 58.6 million cubic meters of water demand for irrigation, Rwanda is only able to extract 97.9 % of the available resources mainly water from the river.
The irrigation upgrade on the Nyabarongo River is part of Rwanda’s efforts for water conservation in the agricultural sector. Expanding the total area equipped for irrigation is currently estimated at 48,500 hectares against a target of 102,000 hectares by 2024.
The total estimated area fully equipped for irrigation in Rwanda is 8,900 ha against an estimated cropped area of 7,700 ha, according to data compiled from various official sources.
The updated irrigated (cropped) area in the Nile Basin part of Rwanda is estimated at 7,698 ha compared to 7,053 ha in 2015, primarily using a gravity irrigation system.
According to the official data, rice accounts for 100% of the cropping pattern in Rwanda for the two wet seasons (Season A and Season B), where 88.9% and 84.3% of the farmers are engaged in rice production.
Reports indicate that vegetables are the dominant crops during the dry season. Of the 26 irrigation schemes identified, 13 schemes (4,627 ha out of 7,698 ha or 60%) are swamp-based schemes used for growing rice over two seasons a year; then, the schemes are used for mainly producing vegetables in the dry season (Season C).
Mapping land sustainability
The land suitability for irrigation in the Nile Basin was estimated at 92 million hectares. The land suitability estimates for the entire basin and each country are provided separately.
Except for Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda, most countries fall predominantly outside the basin. Latest official estimates show that at least 37.5 percent of the land in Rwanda needs to be managed before being cultivated. Overall, an estimated 39.1 percent of the land has a high erosion risk, especially on the Rwandan side of the Nile Basin.
The land cover of the planned irrigation schemes in the Nile Basin shows that Rwanda has a cover of 71.598 hectares of highly suitable land for irrigation ahead of Eritrea (12,701 ha) and Burundi, which has the lowest ranking in terms of suitability of land in the Nile Basin.
The total area equipped for irrigation in Rwanda is estimated at 11467 ha. With an estimated cropped area of 7000 ha, the overall cropping intensity is 61%. The main crop planted in most irrigation schemes is rice. The total estimated irrigation water demand for all schemes is about 58 MCM.
Rwanda Water Resources Board has so far conducted a study to review the water resources supply and demand for major rivers and their catchments, plan the resource allocation to key economic activities and sectors, and prioritize strategic investment that will reduce the risks while building on water resources opportunities that are reflected by the existence of a network of wetlands in various parts of the country.
Due to the retention of flood flows, the marshlands are important to downstream users as they maintain relatively steady flow rates in the dry season.
Irrigation master plan
Developed in 2010, Rwanda’s irrigation master plan’s primary objective is to develop and manage water resources; promote intensive and sustainable irrigated agriculture; and improve food security with a critical focus on six areas, including runoff for small reservoirs, dams, direct rivers, lake water resources, marshlands, and groundwater.
In terms of historical magnitude, the irrigation area of Rwanda expanded from 150,000 hectares in 1997 to 464,665 hectares in 2020.
Rwanda’s irrigation master plan targets about 40,465 ha of potential irrigation areas. Still, estimates show that the contribution of irrigated agriculture to food security in many upper-riparian countries is almost nil. This phenomenon is related to affordability and the lack of irrigation technology.
The value of irrigation water for maize was staggeringly high in Burundi and low in Tanzania, with values of 2.75 and 0.02 USD /m3, respectively.
Sweet potato and rice are main crops along the Nile basin, creating a value ranging between 0.20 and 0.03 US dollars by consuming one cubic meter of water each year in four countries namely Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
The efficiency of surface irrigation systems is relatively high at 70%, while that of sprinkler and drip is between 50 – 70% and 70–90%, respectively.
Analysis trends show that the value of water for sweet potato in Rwanda is 1.45, 0.31 USD /m3
Groundnuts are grown only in Rwanda, while cassava is grown in Uganda, with values of irrigation water for these crops being 0.02 and 0.09 USD/m3, respectively.
The value of irrigation water of vegetables in Kenya and Tanzania are 0.37 and 0.05 USD/m3, respectively. Rice in Kenya and Burundi has a water value of 0.03 and 01.0 USD /m3, while it is infeasible in Rwanda and Tanzania.
However, Sweet potatoes in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda have 0.63, 1.45, and 0.21 USD /m3, respectively, but it is infeasible in Tanzania. The values of irrigation water for groundnuts in Rwanda and cassava in Uganda are 0.03 and 0.09 USD /m3, respectively.
The efficiency of surface irrigation systems is relatively high at 70% in the significant Nile Basin riparian, including Rwanda, while that of sprinkler, pumping, and gravity is mostly between 80 – 90% in Sudan and Ethiopia.
In a business-as-usual scenario, Egypt, which depends mainly on canals that take water from the river Nile, applies modern irrigation techniques, including drip irrigation and sprinklers at 85%.
Past studies show that the productivity of rainfed agriculture across the Nile Basin is among the lowest in the world, which tends to fuel food insecurity.
With the current situation where most countries apply rainfed agriculture, a new study stresses the need to double crop productivity in the Nile upper riparian countries like Rwanda, where the current cereal yield is estimated at 1.28 tons per hectare.
Irrigation water use efficiency
Given these facts, estimates by the World Bank indicate that it is reasonable to assume that yields from rainfed agriculture can potentially be improved by more than 100% in several upper riparian countries.
Furthermore, rainfed agriculture productivity enhancement benefits a more significant number of farmers. Despite the attractive benefits of investment in rainfed agriculture, the total investment cost due to the scale of rainfed agriculture and its vulnerability to climate change shocks may discourage countries from shifting from irrigation to enhanced rainfed agriculture.
High-efficiency water-saving irrigation measures, such as sprinkler and pipeline irrigation by 25% in 2030, are expected to sway Nile basin countries, including Rwanda, into shifting their investment priorities away from irrigation to enhancing rainfed productivity.
In water-stressed regions like the Nile Basin, current cropping patterns are essential points of concern regarding water saving. They must be modified for long-term sustainable use and better irrigation management within a voluntary or legal cooperative framework.
Given the possibility of future water scarcity and the critical need for basin-wide water-use sustainability, priority should be given to introducing optimal cropping patterns, at least partially, by replacing some of the more water-intensive crops with less water-consuming ones.
Kagera River basin
The Nyabarongo is a significant river in Rwanda; it begins in Nyungwe Forest and flows up to the north-western part of the country, then down through the center to the south-east, eventually forming the main tributary of the Kagera River watershed, the principal affluent of Lake Victoria, which drains into the Nile River.
With 34% annual tributary flow, Kagera, along the border with Rwanda and Tanzania, is the single most significant river part of the upper headwaters of the Nile and carries water from its most distant source that drains into Lake Victoria.
The Kagera is characterized by wetlands and agricultural areas, with the latter increasing and encroaching on both forested and wetland areas, leading to land cover change and, respectively, to changed runoff patterns.
With a total length of 597 km from its source located in Lake Rweru in Rwanda, the new study shows that water abstraction for irrigation is leading to a reduction of flows with respective impacts on the environment, especially during low flow conditions.
Incentives for the policy framework
Although water and environment policies in all the Nile Basin countries have been evolving over time and invariably have gone through a series of updates, the latest findings show that frequent changes in institutional arrangements may also pose problems for the implementation of policies and strategies due to discontinuities and loss of institutional knowledge.
The process would need to start with a needs assessment exercise followed by a research-based proposal for policy modification, which it said an encompassing awareness-raising campaign might precede.
Development of the Nile is considerable, with intensive development in the downstream part, with new dams emerging in the upstream catchment, e.g., the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia, Bogagali Dam in Uganda, and Rusumo falls in Rwanda, among many others.
The downstream countries of Sudan and Egypt are primarily irrigation-based, while significant rainfed agricultural developments exist in the upper catchment.
Water reuse and desalination
Environmental experts emphasize that water reuse in the Nile Basin can enhance water security through portfolio diversification. This is because of water shortages and sometimes extreme seasonal droughts within a year.
For example, even if the country decides to pursue water reuse for non-potable purposes, if a certain municipality is under high water stress, the municipality might decide to invest in water reuse for potable purposes within the city rather than diverting the recycled water to agricultural lands nearby.
Transboundary cooperation, according to experts, is necessary to preserve water quality for the common good. If all the Nile Basin Initiative countries could agree to a water resources plan, it would enhance water quality protection for the entire basin.
To prevent uncontrolled irrigation drainage water reuse that could lead to soil salinization problems, experts emphasize the importance of putting in place a structure for knowledgeable parties to monitor the irrigation drainage water quality and determine whether it is suitable for reuse.
Water utilities may desalinate brackish groundwater for regions close to the coast rather than seawater. However, withdrawing groundwater near the coast might lead to saltwater intrusion.
Seawater desalination is another vital aid to steel plants, allowing them to tap into the vast seawater resources and reuse the waste heat to render the production eco-friendlier in the Nile Basin, experts said.
Poaching and illegal trafficking are the major threats to the conservation of many wildlife species globally. Elephant, cheetah, leopard, rhino and lion are some of the key wildlife species targeted.
According to World Wildlife Fund, African elephant populations have fallen from an estimated 12 million a century ago to about 415,000 today.
In recent years, at least 20,000 elephants are killed in Africa annually for their tusks, with African forest elephants taking the most hits.
In Ethiopia elephants are found in Gambella, Omo, Mago, Chebera Churchura, Gura Ferda, area, Kfta Sheraro, Babile, Geralle, Dabus, Altash and among other areas. Unfortunately, they are the most poached wild animals according to analysis by IFAW.
Today, the country has lost 90% of its elephant population in the past years mainly due to the ever increasing demand for ivory.
Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) has formulated a wildlife protection project to end ivory poaching and trafficking. It also launched sniff dog control to curb trafficking of animal products.
Babile Elephant Sanctuary is one of the country’s most important elephant-protecting areas but according to officials, the park staff is always truggling to secure the sanctuary. Park rangers have been killed by poachers in their line of duty and poachers calculate and attack during the holidays when the parks are less protected.
Climate change also leads lack of water for food thus elephants flee from their habitats. The inevitable human-elephant conflict also threatens the elephant populations. These among other factors could eventually lead to the extinction of African elephants.
If this continues, we will miss the elephant’s contribution to ecosystem. To protect our future we have to protect wild animals including elephants!
From the end of June to the beginning of September each year, wildfires occur nationwide in Burundi’s wildlife reserves, caused by first farmers who use traditional agricultural methods as well as breeders in search for fresh pasture. The flames last around 16 weeks, according to environmentalists.
“Approximately 1,000 hectares are burnt to ashes nationwide due to bushfires nearby reserves and forests. More than 200 hectares went up in smoke at Rukambasi in the commune of Nyanza-lac,” said Léonidas Nzigiyimpa, an environmentalist at Conservation et Communauté de Changement-3C, who is also a representative and former director of the Burundi Environment Protection Authority (OBPE).
The technique of methodologically burning areas of land is a traditional method used by breeders to create fresh grass for animals to breed, or to remove existing vegetation to allow farmers to replant. However, these fires can also have destructive consequences on the ecosystem. In Burundi, bushfires are also prohibited within the boundaries of the protected areas.
“It’s a worrying phenomenon because the devastation caused by these bush fires is extremely numerous and harmful, especially as they are slow-burning fires as opposed to premature ones”, said Nzigiyimpa.
In July 2023 for example, a wildfire started on Gatsiro hill in Vyanda commune, in Rumong province, southwestern Burundi. According to local authorities, the reserve caught fire when the wind swept into an area of burning grass. A local farmer was arrested for allegedly starting the fire, said Bayaga Larisson, the chief of Gatsiro locality.
“The prosecutor will carry out and shed light whether [the farmer] started it willingly or not,” Larisson said.
A country-wide problem
The extent of the wildfires depends on the region, according to the general director of OBPE, Jean Berchmans Hatungimana. In 2017 and 2018, nationwide, between 700 and 900 hectares were burnt in total. In 2019, about 800 hectares were decimated nationwide, he said.
However, these estimates conflict with data collected by InfoNile and Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism for the #WildEye Eastern Africa map. According to information reported in local news outlets in Burundi, there were at least 13 cases of illegal wildfires between 2010 and 2020 that burned up about 8,000 hectares of land, mostly in northern, western and southwestern Burundi.
These included a case in 2020, where around 100 hectares were burned by unidentified criminals in the Rukoko forest in Bubanza province, western Burundi. About 170 hectares of trees were burned later in the same year in Ngozi province in the north of the country.
In Rumonge, southwestern Burundi on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, there were eight cases tracked of fires in Vyanda Forest Nature Reserve and nearby reserves. However, no investigations were conducted to identify or charge perpetrators.
More data is needed to elaborate on the extent of the fires across the country, the environmental experts said.
However, in Kibira National Park, Hatungimana said this phenomenon is starting to disappear, which he thinks shows that local residents are becoming more aware of the problem.
While the fires mainly destroy grasslands, some tree cover is lost as well. According to forest monitoring tool Global Forest Watch (GFW), from 2001 to 2021, Burundi lost 17 hectares of tree cover from fires and 31,800 hectares from all other drivers of loss.
In addition, according to GFW data, the regions of Bururi, Cibitoke, and Bujumbura saw 55 percent of all tree cover loss between 2001 and 2021. Bururi, which contains Bururi Forest Nature Reserve in southern Burundi, had the most tree cover loss at 7,550 hectares compared to a national average of 1,870 hectares.
Hatungimana, the director of OPBE, said that between July and September, people set fire to most natural reserves in Burundi at least twice. The period refers to summer when the sun hits hard and no one can stop flames.
According to Hatungimana, bushfires have recently been observed in Bururi and Rukoko forests (western Burundi), as well as in Ruvubu National Park (eastern) and Vyanda Forest Nature Reserve (southern). In these areas, more than 950 hectares are reported to be burnt each year, he said.
Jeanne Bukuru, 32 and a mother of 4, resides at the edge of Kibira forest in northwestern Burundi and said she has been depending on the forest for ages.
“My small farm is some miles from Kibira; I have been cultivating since I was younger. I farm mainly beans, maize, and cassava,” she said. “At the end of a busy working day, my kids and I ran into the forest to search for firewood. We catch only fallen wood branches.
“Also sometimes, we collect leftovers of charcoal; there are people who illegally tiptoe inside the forest to cut trees for charcoal, which is a very lucrative business.”
For years, Bukuru said she has witnessed people who have been cultivating on the edges of the forest to add to their plots of land. Sometimes this is done by setting wildfires. In addition, it is often done in the sight of authorities, she said.
Eric Manirakiza, a resident of the same locality, said some animal species seem to have disappeared from when he was young.
“For example, there are mammals that run away in summer when wildfires are recorded and they do not come back. Most of the time, bushfires start around 5 p.m. in Kibira; this is the time cattle breeders return home,” he said.
Manirakiza added that when flames are high, they call authorities, but sometimes it takes hours for them to arrive. Sometimes, he said, they come the next day after hectares have been burnt to ashes.
“Early fires commonly named slow-burning are management fires. They occur in April and May when there is still rain to manage the pastures and create fresh grass. In protected areas where there are mammals such as cattle, small and large mammals, that's where these fires are needed because these animals need pasture,” said the environmentalist and former director of OBPE, Nzigiyimpa.
However, we need to fight fiercely against late fires that occur in June, July, August, September and early October, which are highly destructive, Nzigiyimpa said.
“In the summer, the grass is already hot; the biomass is dry and when there are fires, they devastate everything, destroy everything. All the flora and fauna is washed due to the flames,” he said.
On August 1 in Rukoko, northwestern Burundi, police and soldiers alongside the local community quashed the bushfires that were raging the perimeter of Rukoko not far from the national road 5. According to the police, around five hectares of land had been ravaged by fires.
“In the dry season, it's good to know that it's prudent to guard fire carefully to avoid any risk relating to bushfires... Dry grass can catch fire even from a small cigarette butt left somewhere, without taking into account the danger that this act can cause to the environment,” issued the police in a statement.
Early fires are less violent and are called management tools for the natural ecosystems of protected areas, Nzigiyimba said. They are used to monitor and control the forest canopy. Nzigiyimba said that this was done in the past in the Ruvubu park aiming at creating pastures for the buffalo that live in these protected areas.
But experts stress that it is necessary to burn with very precise objectives to create pastures. Otherwise, the fires can destroy ecosystems.
First, there is the loss of biodiversity, reported by Claver Sibomana, Lecturer and Researcher at the National University of Burundi in the faculty of Science. Soil is denuded, which accentuates or leads to erosion. Then there is the loss of carbon sinks. Trees build up their stocks. Forests are also water towers. With their disappearance, you stop water infiltration, Sibomana said.
“Almost all the protected areas in Burundi are water reservoirs. When you light late fires, the vegetation cover is erased. As a result, during the rainy season, the water is no longer retained and does not infiltrate into the shallows,” he said.
“The other consequence is that when greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), are released back into the atmosphere, you are contributing to the worsening of the harmful effects of climate change,” added Sibomana.
Nzigidahera Bénoît, an environmental consultant who conducted research on vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in Burundi, said that early firescarried out while it is still the wet season, between April and May, do not cause much damage.
“First firebreaks are opened. These are paths that we build and clean up. They vary in width from 3 to 6 meters. The taller the grass, the wider the firebreaks have to be. When there are bushfires, the flames won't jump these spaces. This is an ancient technique, even used around artificial woodland,” he said.
Advanced techniques, mostly practiced by specialists, also include setting fire to a 100-meter strip and extinguishing it over a certain length. If criminals set a fire and the flames reach this strip, the fire will stop. It's a way of putting out fire with fire and getting ahead of accidental fires, Nzigidahera said.
“Other, more sophisticated techniques use new information and communication technologies for surveillance. With remote sensing and satellites, fires can be monitored from a distance, from an office or a base. Unfortunately, Burundi does not have this technology,” he concluded.
Burundi’s Forestry Code, established in 1984 and amended in 2016, prevents the destruction of forests by bushfires. In the old law, when someone was caught burning a woodland area of 1 hectare, the fine was BIF 10,000 (USD $3.50). But in the amended law, there are fines of up to BIF 2 million and prison sentences of up to 5 years for such crimes.
Sadly, the enforcement of these laws remains problematic. Nzigiyimpa testifies that he has seen cases of people who were apprehended for burning a nature reserve who were quickly released.
Experts, advocates, and scientists converge on the lack of proper resources to protect various reserves.
“The officers in charge of protecting protected areas are not sufficiently equipped. They are barefoot. They can't intervene quickly. They have no means of transport or communication. They don't have any fire extinguishing equipment, even though there is appropriate equipment for this kind of activity", said Kazungu Pierre, representative of the hub of cooperatives to protect reserves in Bururi.
Added to this is the lack of a bushfire monitoring centre, as is customary in other countries, he said.
For Jean Marie Sabushimike, a lecturer at the National University and an environmentalist, new information and communication technologies are now being used to help combat bushfires through monitoring and prevention.
“Sadly in Burundi, there is no technology that allows us to detect fires at any time using satellite images to monitor the whole country. When we talk about the size and recurrence of these bushfires, we see that the figures do not reflect reality,” Sabushimike said.
Protected area agents do not have the means to go to the scene of the fire to record the exact data, and very few forestry officers have a GPS (Global Positioning System).
"There are no environmental police.” The legal representative of 3C, Nzigiyimpa, said that at one point an environmental police force was set up, but was later abolished. “The OBPE uses on-the-ground trained forest guards and eco-guards. They are not organized as they are in other countries,” he said.
“In other countries," he points out, "the water and forestry services are called paramilitaries or corps habillés. Compared to our forest wardens, these are people who are better equipped, who have paramilitary training to meet the challenges of protecting biodiversity in terms of flora and fauna.”
“In our country, these are people who are not equipped and who work like other civil servants. Environmental crimes that occur in these areas can be committed at any time, and they don't have the means to deal with them. In terms of numbers, there are fewer of them, and in terms of quality, they don't have enough skills.”
They are also not sufficiently motivated due to very low salaries, Nzigiyimpa said. According to him, improving the living conditions of the local population is very important in conservation activities, because one of the causes of the destruction of natural resources is poverty.
For him, "lighting bushfires means making communities suffer.” Indeed, he said, agriculture and livestock farming are badly affected. He also mentioned desertification, the direct consequences of which are the destruction of biodiversity and famine.
The solution, according to Ambassador Albert Mbonerane, former Burundian Minister for the Environment and current President of "Ceinture Verte,” a local environmental protection organisation, is to apply the law and punish offenders effectively.
“To deal with them, the ministry of environmental protection must provide substantial resources (men, vehicles, aircraft, helicopters) to support the local fire brigade. The system must then be complemented by preventive measures and surveillance of the mountain ranges, as well as increased vigilance on the part of the forces of law and order,” Mbonerane said.
Sensitisation of communities
The environmentalist and lecturer, Jean Marie Sabushimike, said that protected areas preserve biodiversity, preserve ecosystem services, and promote tourism and ecotourism. Ecotourism is centred on the discovery of ecosystems and involves the active participation of local populations and tourists in safeguarding biodiversity - in short, ensuring protected areas are there for the people.
In some reserves such as Vyanda in southern Burundi, local residents have been sensitized to protect the reserves, mainly Twa ethnic groups who belong to cooperatives monitored by Conservation et Communauté de Changement-3C.
Marthe Nyinawabo, one of the beneficiaries, said that now she knows how to coexist with animals and respond in the case of emergencies, for example when fires erupt.
“Now, I am aware that I have to cohabitate with chimpanzees. Even my kids know that it is forbidden to bully them,” she said. “Again, we have been restricted to approach when there is fire; it might be fatal. Rather, we were asked to run to authorities or forest guards.”
However, though the community members are tasked with reporting fires to authorities, they said they have not been able to catch any suspects. By the time the fires have spread, the suspects have already traveled far away.
In Ruvubu reserve in the east of Burundi, residents are investing in income-generating activities, for example producing briquettes for energy instead of charcoal.
“I have a traditional oven. I use leftovers of maize corn to cook instead of woodfire and charcoal,” said Georgette Manariyo.
Manariyo added that since the forest conservation initiative began, she has never struggled again to find school fees for her two children.
“I can sustain my family needs while also protecting the forest,” she added.
This story was supported by InfoNile, in collaboration with the Oxpeckers #WildEye Eastern Africa project, with funding from Earth Journalism Network's Biodiversity Media Initiative project.Photo Credit Arthur Bizimana.
By Jonas Kiriko
Seizures of ivory and other items from protected wildlife species are a frequent occurrence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, due to corruption and the lack of adequate mechanisms for storage and traceability, these objects remain for long periods in the premises of the institutions that seized them, exposing them to repeat thefts by traffickers.
To put an end to this situation, wildlife protection activists are urging the government to create several reserves to accommodate rescued wildlife, strengthen the security of existing reserves, and start burning ivory and other seized wildlife items to prevent them from falling back into the illegal circuit.
One of the record seizures was recorded at Uvira in South Kivu province in 2022, with almost half a ton of ivory, equivalent to around 20 elephants slaughtered, according to estimates by Kahuzi Biega National Park officials.
Some of the ivory bore markings (place, weight and date), suggesting that they were objects stolen from a stockpile somewhere in the DRC – the subject of another previous seizure or storage. However, traffickers also sometimes use fake permits or mark the ivory themselves in an attempt to deceive officials that it was part of an authorised operation, according to an environmental activist based in Uvira, who asked for anonymity to protect himself.
Worse still, despite the arrests, the destination of the seized ivory is not currently known, regrets Josué Aruna, president of the environmental civil society of the province of South Kivu.
“That is what is happening. I’ll give you the example of Uvira. It [ivory] was seized, but today we don’t know its destination. We are not certain that they [ivory] were transmitted to Kinshasa… For this case of Uvira, it is to return to the black market, since nothing has filtered on the destination; nothing leads us to know that they were handed over to the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) or transferred to Kinshasa (capital of the DRC),” Aruna said.
It is becoming increasingly common to find seized items in the hands of traffickers. In July 2022, four traffickers, including a pastor of a local church arrested three months earlier in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, were sentenced by the Bukavu High Court for detention and illegal possession of elephant tusks.
The #WildEye Eastern Africa map by Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism in partnership with InfoNile tracked 134 cases of wildlife crime in the DRC between 2017 and 2023. However, most cases stopped at arrests and did not document the status of court cases and convictions.
Many traffickers of illegal wildlife were arrested as they were en route to Uganda through eastern DRC cities and towns, including Butembo, Beni, Goma, Bukavu, and Garamba National Park on the border of South Sudan.
Arresting traffickers and bringing them to justice is not enough to fight wildlife crime in the DRC. Although there have been some prosecutions and convictions, there is no guarantee that the seized ivory will not fall back into the hands of other traffickers, either due to lack of a storage mechanism or through corruption.
In July 2021 in Butembo, a large urban center located near the Virunga National Park in the province of North Kivu, an operation by ICCN to shadow an alleged poacher failed, dumping around 50 kilograms of ivory into the hands of the inhabitants and thus escaping the control of state services, according to police estimates.
In Lubumbashi, further south in the country in the province of Haut Katanga, baby chimpanzeeswere stolen from a sanctuary. The kidnappers demanded USD $200,000 from the sanctuary owner before handing over these animals.
Examples multiply where police stations or ranger patrol posts are attacked and dispossessed of seized objects or even release detainees including poachers and traffickers.
These attacks are the work of local and foreign armed groups that are active in and near national parks and protected areas in the DRC. Since the end of 2022, the southern part of Virunga National Park has been largely under the control of the M23 rebels as well as the Nyantura militia. As a result, monitoring of the gorilla groups has stopped.
This lack of surveillance increases poaching and exposes baby gorillas to trapping by poachers, worries Bienvenu Bwende, who is in charge of communication at Virunga National Park. He added that in the center of the park the Mai Mai and FDLR militias attack the park’s fauna and flora, while in the north there is the threat of the ADF rebel group.
Kivu Security Tracker, a project by New York University's Congo Study Group and Human Rights Watch, lists more than half a dozen armed groups that practice illegal cross-border trade between the DRC and Uganda. Revenues generated by traffic of the park’s natural resources are estimated at USD $175 million per year, and more than 100,000 people derive a direct livelihood from these illegal activities.
Between 2017 and 2020, an estimated $50 million contributed to the enrichment of militias and armed groups. Money from kidnappings, robberies and murders adds to their power. The fees collected at the various randomly established tolls also represent indirect revenue for the militias.
International trafficking mainly involves ivory and precious wood. These represent a serious threat, especially for elephants, but their impact remains relatively low compared to local trafficking.
Effective security systems are lacking in DRC’s reserves and other protected areas. Sanctuaries managed by private individuals organize their own security, and national parks are protected by often understaffed and ill-equipped eco-guards. This predisposes them to intrusions by poachers from armed groups, illegal miners and loggers, or wildlife traffickers. Some authorities are also part of these illegal groups.
Anicet (alias) has trafficked in elephant tusks. In a village located in the Beni territory, North Kivu province near Virunga National Park, he is known as a butcher specializing in the sale of beef. He testifies that given the resemblance between ox horns and ivory, it is easy to pass one off as the other, without being detected by the police or other state services.
“To move our herds, we leave at night to allow the animals to move long distances without getting tired. I took the opportunity more than once to transport ivory to big cities like Butembo without anyone noticing,” revealed this man in his 40s.
During the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), held in Sri Lanka in 2019, CITES said it is “aware of a number of thefts of ivory from government-held stockpiles in recent years” around the world.
Existing but silent laws on storage of seized items
National efforts to combat poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife products are hindered by decentralized management of existing ivory stocks and challenges in tracing the origins of some stocks. A 2020 report by TRAFFIC, an international organization fighting against the trafficking of fauna and flora, affirms the fact that in the DRC, “there is no national system for managing ivory stocks.”
This decentralization predisposes the ivory to theft and corruption, because each service that seizes can keep the ivory or cash for an unlimited period.
In 2022, CITES DRC released a progress report on the implementation of its National Ivory Action Plan (PANI), stating that DRC was “on track” in regards to “inventorying existing ivory stocks and developing, at the national level, a reliable system for the storage and management of confiscated ivory.” However, it provided no other details expounding on this progress. Two years after the publication of the TRAFFIC report, there is still no centralized storage mechanism in DRC for illegal wildlife products.
DRC’s national legal and regulatory framework does not address the management of elephant ivory stocks. However, in practice, protected wildlife species such as ivory that is seized or found on the carcasses of dead elephants or on the ground are entrusted to the ICCN.
“This institution stores it in its offices and/or sites while waiting to consign them to the Mint of the Central Bank of Congo, which would hold fairly large stocks of ivory. Other ivory is stored in the prosecutors’ offices, customs warehouses, provincial environmental coordination offices or even in the stations of the various protected areas (products seized by guards during anti-poaching patrols) of the ICCN. The stocks held are not inventoried and no exact figure has, to date, been given or the way in which they are kept,” according to the TRAFFIC report.
The 2014 Congolese law relating to the conservation of nature provides in its article 83 that "the specimens and products, as well as the objects used in the commission of offenses against this law, are confiscated and entrusted to the public body responsible for conservation.”
However, the law did not clearly mention the specific body that should ensure the custody of the seized objects. In Article 36, instead, the law mandated that “the province sets up a public body whose mission is to manage protected areas of provincial and local interest. A decree deliberated in the Council of Ministers or an order of the provincial governor, as the case may be, fixes the status.”
The name of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), which was created in 1975 and modified in 2010, does not appear in this law as the body responsible for storing seized objects, whereas the ICCN’s establishment was prior to the passing of the wildlife law. In addition, the law provides for the establishment of similar bodies at the provincial level for the management of protected areas of provincial and local interest. This also clearly suggests that the legislation was planning for the establishment of new future bodies to manage wildlife items.
Corruption and influence peddling undermine this sector
“When it comes to biodiversity, it is often very difficult, in a corrupt judicial system, to bring evidence before a judge. Currently with corruption, we happen to contribute to the arrests of poachers with elephant meat for example, but tomorrow before the judge, this meat or the remains will be declared as belonging to a goat. These are cases that we have encountered,” testifies Olivier Ndoole, who has worked as an environmental and land activist in the DRC for 10 years.
“It is the same for the flora. An individual can be arrested making embers in the park or in a protected area. But, in court, we will ask the difference between the embers that come from the park and those from elsewhere to really prove that they come from the park,” he said.
This view is supported by wildlife activist Adams Cassinga, who founded Conserv Congo, a local conservation NGO. Using a network of around 100 focal points (agents) across the DRC, Conserv Congo carries out investigations into crimes against fauna and flora in the Congo Basin.
“In fact, it is a phenomenon that we have never understood. And, it gets tough when there's a dark hand behind it,” Adams said. He added that he has examples, but won't go public due to fear of his safety. The fight for conservation also comes up against influence peddling - the use of position in exchange for money or favours - which is very common in the DRC.
“The people who are supposed to know and contribute to the protection of wild species, in reality they don't know. This ignorance is even rooted in our leaders, who are supposed to tell us what to do about it. All because conservation, like the rest of the sectors in the DRC, is always politicized,” Cassinga adds.
According to Cassinga, in the DRC sectors that should be managed by scientists or technicians, such as the conservation of fauna and flora, are penalized by the interference of politicians. This makes it difficult to fight wildlife crime and wildlife trafficking.
For five months during the course of our #WildEye Eastern Africa investigation, we attempted to acquire data on court cases of wildlife crime in DRC from various authorities, including police, courts, customs services, airports, ICCN and CITES DRC, to no avail. This quest included multiple meetings with the managers of these services and their communication officers, where unfulfilled promises were made to share the information.
For the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, where a state of siege has been in place since May 2021, all cases under investigation by the civil courts have been transferred to the criminal courts. The latter were overwhelmed by piles of files to process, which meant that our requests fell on deaf ears. Our data therefore is based on publicly available news reports and data collected by the Environmental Investigation Agency between 2017-2023.
This is despite the passing in March 2023 of a new law in DRC on the exercise of freedom of the press. In Article 96, this law obliges any holder of information of public interest to make it available to media professionals.
Ensure that seized cash and items no longer fall into the hands of traffickers
According to TRAFFIC, it is necessary to define a national management system for elephant ivory stocks for the DRC, taking into account the various sources of ivory, the services competent to collect them, the measurements and marking, recording, storage and securing of stocks, and tools and means for good management. The system should also include regular audits.
The same is true for other wild species for which reserves must be created. In addition to this, there is a need to strengthen the security of existing reserves. For example, the headquarters of Virunga National Park in Rumangabo houses the Senkwekwe Centre, the only facility in the world for orphaned mountain gorillas. Each of these orphans has lost its family as a result of poaching. They are now cared for by expert staff who provide daily care.
As far as policies are concerned, in 2015, the DRC developed a National Ivory Action Plan (PANI). Its overall objective is to "strengthen the fight against elephant poaching and illicit trafficking in ivory and other elephant specimens in collaboration with all relevant actors.” This plan revolves around seven specific objectives, including that of “improving the system of management and traceability of ivory stock in the DRC. If this plan is implemented, positive progress can be made in the future.
For Adams Cassinga, awareness must be raised to educate the entire Congolese community about the endemic species that the country abounds in and the need to protect them. He proposes to draw inspiration from Kenya and other countries in southern Africa, including South Africa, which, instead of keeping ivories without any assurance of doing so, incinerates them outright. This will prevent them from falling back into the illegal circuit.
For his part, Olivier Ndoole believes that it is necessary to restore the authority of the State, not only in protected areas, but also throughout the national territory. According to him, the black economy of illicit trafficking around Virunga National Park feeds armed groups who promote poaching, cutting wood for embers and fishing illegally on Lake Edward.
Ndoole also urges for the education of local communities to help them become “intelligence agents” in the fight against crime around fauna and flora.
To fight against poaching and wildlife trafficking, the organization Conserv Congo has already initiated several community projects in livestock and agroforestry. They are found in the Bateke plateau on the outskirts of Kinshasa, in Mokoto in the province of Tshuapa, and in Ikoma in the province of South Kivu. Here, Conserv Congo supports the local communities to practice livestock farming and agroforestry to give them alternative livelihoods instead of poaching and contribute to the preservation of forests and food security in households.
“The objective is to dissuade those who can go into the forest to become a poacher to choose to breed. But also, people in rural areas live only on bushmeat. If someone tells you that they ate meat, you must immediately think of bushmeat. Thus, we allow them to have access to meat near their homes with the aim of contributing to food security,” said Cassinga, head of this organization.
Conserv Congo plans to soon set up a similar initiative in Sake near Virunga National Park in North Kivu province.
As part of this investigation, we collected the testimony of a former poacher, who now works as a journalist within a community radio station broadcasting from Kyavinyonge, a fishery on Lake Edward located in Beni territory in the province of North Kivu, in the heart of Virunga Park.
He explains that poaching is often considered the main source of income for the poacher, with the meat intended both for sale and home consumption. He said he only abandoned the practice after becoming aware of the dangers involved in poaching. This awareness has now been reinforced by recognizing the need to conserve wild species for the good of the whole community.
"In radio broadcasts as well as in public speaking forums organized here at home by the partner organizations of Virunga Park, I have been made to understand that if I kill a hippopotamus, I contribute to lake infertility, on whom several families in my locality depend. I also understood that tourism can generate a lot of jobs here at home, if we do not kill the species that are in the park,” he confided.
This former poacher insists on the urgency of giving jobs to the inhabitants who are around the protected areas to dissuade them from violating the parks and getting involved in the illicit trafficking of ivory and wild species.
Today with his microphone and through the Kinande language mainly spoken in the region, he sensitizes his community and raises awareness to lead the protection of fauna and flora, for his own good and that of all of humanity.
High population growth rate and dwindling money from the government are Uganda’s two greatest challenges to achieving universal access to water in the country.
“We are going backward, though the figures had been increasing earlier,” said Callist Tindimugaya, the commissioner for water resources planning and regulation at the Ministry of Water and Environment before he left for the UN Water conference in New York in March. “We are unlikely to achieve universal access by 2030 as envisioned in the SDGs.”
The Water and Environment Sector Performance Report 2020 for 2019/20 indicates that safe water coverage in urban areas dropped to 70 percent from 79 percent the previous year. The safe water coverage for rural areas was 68 percent from 69 percent the previous year. The budget was reduced from 1,939 billion shillings in 2018/19 to 1,820 billion in 2019/20.
Another 46% lacked access to safely managed sanitation. Many of these people are in what is commonly referred to as the Global South: sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
Universal access is the main target of Sustainable Development Goal 6 which focuses on clean water and sanitation..
Apart from the target of universal access, Uganda’s water commitments to the UN Water Conference were; water for health, water for cooperation, water for climate resilience, water for sustainable development, and Water Action Decade. These were highly debated by stakeholders including the government, the private sector, and the NGO world. They looked at successes and challenges.
“We have too much water (flooding) when it rains, and no water a few days when drought sets it,” Tindimugaya argued during one of the meetings, calling for investments in water storage programs like wetland and water catchment restorations.
He said that the much-publicized Rwizi River that serves Mbarara City in western Uganda would have 15 times more water than it has today if the water catchment areas of Buhweju and Ntungamo were restored.
Wetlands that used to store and purify much of the rainwater like the Port Bell wetland have been cleared, with statistics from the Water Sector Report indicating a reduction from 15.6 percent of the country’s land cover in 1994 to 8.9 percent in 2020.
The international UN report added that 85 percent of wetlands were already lost in 2020, and 75 percent of the land surface is significantly altered, affecting the ability of the Earth’s ecosystem to support sustainable water.
Wetland degradation has led to silting and pollution of lakes, including Lake Victoria, which provides much of the drinking water to Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
Sam Apedel, the public relations manager at the National Water and Sewerage Corporation, says the corporation spends Shs 1.5 billion (about $400,000) monthly to treat water before it can be pumped into the system for the residents of Kampala, Mukono and Wakiso.
Prof Charles Niwagaba, a lecturer and water researcher in the College of Engineering at Makerere University, explains the role of swamps in managing the water cycle.
He says swamps play an important role in the storage and purification of stormwater, blocking erosion soils and pollutants from entering water bodies.
He added that the plants we see in swamps feed on bacteria and metals like NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium).
“We have destroyed all recharge areas,” he says. “If we would for a start restore the Icm of swamps. This would have a big impact on the amount of water stored. This also helps in balancing the recharge on their natural cycle.”
He predicts that town councils will run out of water because of the change in the balance of the water cycle in the aquifers.
“We are losing a lot of water. There is also a lot of wastage of water and resources,” he argued.
There is some progress: The Water Sector report indicates wetland restoration of 16,906 hectares since 2012. Niwagaba calls for alternative livelihoods for the wetland encroachers if the program is to succeed.
Tindimugaya also boasts of some success in efficient water use, citing institutions like Uganda breweries that have reduced their water used in beer production significantly. More resources are needed for the upscale and expansion of these initiatives, sector leaders said.
To fill the funding gaps, Tindimugaya said Uganda is looking at alternative sources of financing water. He said they had won some grants under the Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Funds.
They are also promoting a co-financing model with the beneficiaries like the one used in the mini-irrigation program, explaining that it is not how much money there is that matters most, but how that money is used.
“The success rate is high when the beneficiaries feel they own the project,” he revealed.
He also called for cooperation with the private sector and WASH in the NGO world.
Onesmus Mugyenyi, deputy executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), called for the creation of a green fund with its basket away from the consolidated fund to finance environmental activities. Mugyenyi was presenting a paper on alternative financing for climate change during the Uganda Water Week in March.
John Walugembe, the executive director of WASHFIN, who is involved in private funding for water and sanitation, considers the water sector as virgin, but also risky.
“People see water as a free resource and they don’t want to pay for it. Funding for projects like water springs and boreholes is a risky business. Commercial banks don’t want to avail capital,” he explained to this publication after he participated in the alternative financing debate as a panelist.
He said his microfinance organisation had already financed sanitation facilities (latrines) in Mbuya and they were availing finances to households installing water tanks.
Niwagaba says water is a public good that requires heavy initial investment that can only be afforded by the government. It is not easy to make profit from the investment.
He says there is a need for programs like the Parish Development Model money economy so that the citizens have money in their pockets to pay for such services.
This story was produced with editorial support from InfoNile