By PATRICK JARAMOGI
KAMPALA-SHIFTMEDIA- Uganda risks missing out on the Sustainable Development Goals (SSD) target due to underfunding of the Water and Environment sectors, experts have warned.
These were the sentiments resonated by over 40 keynote speakers, and 65 scientific papers delivered during the 4th Ministry of Water and Environment Water Week held between Sunday, March 21st to Friday, March 26th 2021.
The theme of the weeklong event attended by 1329 participants, online and physically was “Water and Environment security for socio-economic transformation of Uganda.”
The discussions come at the backdrop of increased forest and land degradation due to increased demand for cooking energy, coupled with increased rates of encroachment on riverbanks, water catchment and wetlands.
Experts warned that the high rate of disposal of plastics and untreated industrial effluent in water bodies has compounded the problem.
Just like Eng. Joseph Eyatu, the Director Department of Water Development (DWD) said, much can’t be achieved unless government increases funding to the sector. “All of you present here have bottles of water in front of you, but there are people who have to trek for hours to access water. The government gives us only 3% of the total budget yet the population is increasing daily,” said Eyatu.
He said government needs to invest in irrigation. “The climate is not reliable anymore. We can’t tell when it will rain. To achieve the sustainable development goals we need Shs7.6 trillion, which is nine times what we are given annually.”
Julius Mukunda the Executive Director Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) said government is not supporting the water sector. “Out of Shs100, the water sector is getting Shs3, why is this so? It is because water doesn’t matter to us.” “When Covid 19 came they said wash your hands, which other sector does that? Yet when people washed other diseases reduced, We need to spend resources where it matters,” said Mukunda.
He warned that if government doesn’t invest in climate change, the problem will double. “Government is willing to invest in key priority areas, and to me, water is not one of them,” he said. Mukunda noted that the issue is not lack of money, but unnecessary expenditures. “We have the money but when we have so many districts, MPs and ministries, what do you expect,” he said at the closure of the water week in Luzira, Kampala.
Dr Alexander Danilenko, the World Bank Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist urged the government of Uganda to ensure that funds received are used for the purposes its meant for.
“Government must be held responsible for this low budget funding towards the sector,” said Danilenko. He advised the Ministry of Water and Environment and National Water and Sewerage Corporation to start thinking of writing project proposals that will sustain the sector. “Prepare projects that will generate funds for you because things may not busy in the next 5- 10 years,” he said.
The Head of The EU Delegation in Uganda Amb. Attilio Paciffici (above) said Uganda has very rich potential and robust environment that should be promoted and conserved.
Issues at hand
During the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda in a speech read by Water Minister Sam Cheptoris said the forest cover has declined from 24% in 1990 to 12.4% in 2020. He noted that the demand for fuel for cooking, expansion for agricultural land, sporadic urbanization and industrialization was fueling the pressure on the environment.
State Minister for Water Hon Ronald Kibuule however cautioned against encroaching on the wetlands as the country moves towards industrialization.
Dr Florence Grace Adongo, Director of Water Resources Management in the Ministry of Water and Environment said more than 600 tons of plastic are disposed on land and water bodies every day. “A number of stakeholders are unaware of the relevancy of the water sector. People take water and the environment for granted,” said Dr Adongo.
Dr Callist Tindimugaya the Commissioner Water Resource Planning and Regulation in the MOWE said the Uganda Water and Environment Week provides an interface for knowledge exchange and dialogue on pertinent water resources issues among sector actors.
Panelists speak out
Oliver Greenfield from the Green Economic Coalition urged government to set up a natural capital committee to take nature into the heart of economic planning.
Speaking about water and the environment in a creative economy, Dr Nagaraja Rao Harshadeep, the Global Lead (Disruptive Technology) Environment and Natural Resources at the World Bank noted that a creative economy is characterized by the notion that everyone is part of the solution as opposed to being a problem.
Dr Harsh cited a number of disruptive innovations including the Flipflopi, a dhow made from recycled plastics and how drones are used to deliver Covid 19 vaccines. The session chair Jane Nabunnya the Country Director IRC noted that the issue of drones would be something Uganda should consider adopting.
Dr Daisy Owumugasho the County Director, Hunger Project and Vice-Chair Food Rights Alliance (FRA), one of the events funders said noted that Uganda has a lot to do to catch up with the rest of the world.
Peter Kuria the Director Innovations and Business Incubation described water as a culture that brings everybody across the globe together.
Dr Stuart Worsley, the Country Programme Director Green Economy Coalition extracting resources without replacing them is like milking a cow without feeding it.
David Duli, the Country Director WWF Uganda urged CSOs to take a critical role in ensuring that innovations and creativity are adapted as part of water and the environment.
Managing water and Environmental Shocks
The issue of water and environmental shocks was discussed exclusively. Dr Musonda Mumba the Director UNDP, Rome Center for Sustainable Development reiterated the need to strengthen systems and leaderships that curb in deforestation and environmental degradation. “Because we have destroyed homes of animals, we shall pay for what we have done,” said Mumba.
Due to poor management of the eco systems, a total of 500,000 Ugandans were displaced in over 70 districts in 2020, according to Rose Nakabugo, the Acting Commissioner Disaster Preparedness, Office of the Prime Minister.
Collins Oloya, the Director Directorate of Environmental Affairs MOWE emphasized the need to design an awareness strategy program for all stakeholders on environment shocks.
Three Youth who emerged best in the climate debate were each awarded cash prizes of shs500,000 by Minister Ronald Kibuule.