Environment Local

Climate change threatens Uganda’s glaciers

BY ALEX BALUKU

Glaciers on Mount Rwenzori in Uganda, the highest non-volcanic and non-organic mountain in the world and most permanent source of River Nile, is at risk from rising temperatures.

Over the last decade, temperatures on the Mountains of the Moon increased by 1.5 degrees centigrade causing a decrease in the glaciers from 15 square kilometers in 1900 to 1.5 square kilometers in 2021.

Residents, including 60-year-old Selevst Kule Walyuba, who has lived on the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountain have seen it in transition since he was a child.

“Every morning as a child when I could move out for our normal duties, I could see the snow, the mountain was so clear and beautiful back then. There was snow everywhere covering not only the Margarita Peak like it does today, but stretching close to the mid-section,” said Walyuba.

“In the past, it would rain cats and dogs, from morning to evening, for almost a week,” Walyuba said. “There would be a lot of fog, even down to the lower elevations, these days, that is not happening.”

Walyuba added that he fears climate change may set off a domino effect of forest decline that could one day diminish the range’s ability to soak up and store water, putting downstream villages at risk.

Selvest Kule Walyuba, is an environmental conservationist in Kasese Municipality.

Josoniya Biira, a 40-year-old business woman from Kisubuzi Cell in Katiri Ward in Bulembia Division of Kasese Municipality, resounded the same feelings saying that when she was also growing up, her parents used to tell her that there was so much snows on the mountain adding that even their grandparents used to tell them folk stories about the Rwenzori Mountain and the snow, but to her dismay, Biira says they can’t tell their Children such stories today because they are no longer seeing the snows on the Mountain.

Samuel Ociti, a senior guide at Rwenzori Trekking Services in Kasese Municipality, says that the glaciers on the Rwenzori Mountain have been reducing for a long time due to climatic conditions which are characterized with rise temperatures resulting into the melting of the glaciers. 

“For all the 11 years I have been here, the glaciers have moved in a rapid pace, and I confirm that the receding of the snows is happening up”. “Probably we believe global warming on climate change is real, so we need to fix this up otherwise in just few years to come, the Mountain will be in a different shape” Ociti added.

Ociti says Global warming is real in the Mountain.

Joram Bwambale, an environmentalist working with Rwenzori Mountaineering services in Nyakalingijo in Bugoye Sub County of Kasese District, the Rwenzori Mountain used to make an impressive sight but they have disappeared.

He narrated that in 1990 snows used to be found during the heavy rains at the second hut on the Rwenzori Mountain at the elevation of 3350 meters above sea level, but because of the climatical conditions, the snows have seriously gone.

He added that the snows are no longer found at those points saying that they can now be found at the fourth hut at the elevation of 4550 meters above sea level. “This is an indication that the glacier is significantly disappearing.” Bwambale added

Edwin Mumbere, an environmental biologist and Coordinator for Center For Citizens Conserving Environment and Management-CECIC, also says that glaciers have reduced in a cover from 10km of snow to now less than 7km as of 2022 and downstream its evident with the flood of rivers that flow from Mount Rwenzori which means that the glaciers have always melted due to rise In temperatures causing the rivers to flood. 

Since 2013 to date, major rivers around Kasese district have flooded causing widespread destruction of houses, crops and facilities such as bridges, roads and power lines. Major infrastructures such as hospitals and sewage treatment units have also been damaged.

One of the worst affected public facilities was Kilembe Mines hospital. This central health facility had been serving the Kasese district community and neighboring communities in Uganda since 1951. It was, however, submerged by floods after River Nyamwamba burst its banks in May last year 2020.

While science has provided an explanation for these happenings associated with the receding of the glaciers on Rwenzori Mountain and flooding of major rivers around the district, the locals (Bakonzo Culture) have a different way of describing them according to their cultural beliefs.

Walyuba approves that these events happen because the “god” of the Mountain is angry. Selevest Walyuba, a conservationist has more to share.

Walyuba says gods of the Mountain are angry.

Zephania Bwambale Kameli, team leader at Kasese Youth in Tourism Association, “The snow and ice you are seeing are a tourist attraction,” said Kameli. “Tourists come to see the snow and we get employment opportunities.” and when the glaciers disappear it means most of our Youth working in the tourism sector will lose their jobs.

Zephania Bwambale Kameli-Team Leader at Kasese Youth in Tourism Association.

Augustin Koli, the Kasese District Senior Environment Officer, also asserts that the glacier on Rwenzori Mountain was rapidly disappearing and has since warned that melting glaciers will lead to fewer water resources for communities living around the mountain especially on the Kasese side.

He says that streams and rivers originating from the mountain will either dry up or have low volumes of water.

Koli mentioned river Lhubiriha in Kitholhu sub-county of Bukonzo County West which he said was on the verge of drying up.

While asked about who to blame for the receding of the glaciers, the senior environment officer said that, it is not enough to blame anyone or the international community or the international companies or the government or the people of Rwenzori, but rather should jointly think of what should be ‘done to address the problem.

Kasese District Environment Officer-Augustine Koli.

CONSERVATION EFFORTS

Edwin Mumbere, an environmental biologist at CECIC, says restoring and protecting areas affected by climate change was key to preserving cultural heritage too and subsequently bring back the glory of Rwenzori Mountain.

As part of a project to do this, Mumbere says, at CECIC, they are in their final stages of finalizing on a research proposal which will bring on board two American professors, UWA and the tourism community to document much more about the receding of the glaciers and lay down possible solutions to curtail the problem.

The question of what could have gone wrong is the one that is lingering in the minds of natives of Rwenzori and Kasese in Particular.

Now, Rwenzori indigenous Journalists, environmental activists and community leaders have since embarked on a tree planting campaign as one way to advocate for the preservation of the Rwenzori Mountain and the glacier. On 27th of Nov 2022, these groups of climate activists participated in the Kasese Climate Change Walk.

The walk that saw over 100 different tree species planted at the Kasese Industrial and business park in Kasese town, was also aimed at creating awareness about the effects of climate change and also making known the National Climate Change Act of 2019.

Consequently, a group of concerned indigenous activists suspected that the cause of the unprecedented weather patterns experienced around the region could have been as a result of the depletion of Forests and forest reserves around the region.

The 2017 records from the Uganda National Forestry Authority indicate that the people of the Rwenzori Sub-region cut down 23% of the region’s trees and green cover on a monthly basis, mainly through collecting firewood, Charcoal burning and clearing land for farming.

Isaac Sinamakosa, a team leader IDEAS FOR US-Uganda, a movement of Ugandan Citizens working on environmental and humanitarian sustainability, says the nature has been tempered with beyond limit the reason why the mountain is suffering the consequences today.

He says as people of Rwenzori they are very much concerned that their future is in danger thinking of what the future portends.

Sinamakosa says climate change is something that affects everyone regardless of any affiliation, saying the question should now be what do we do and how do we help the situation.

Isaac Sinamakosa, Team Leader at IDEAS FOR US-Uganda.

According to Uganda Wildlife Authority’s report produced on 28th Oct 2021, the agency charge with conservation with funds from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is attempting to conserve the Rwenzori mountains area by facilitating the neighboring community to reforest and create a buffer zone around the mountains, with financial support from World Wildlife Fund.

In 2020, UWA marked up to 54 square kilometres of the degraded area around the park, and this year distributed 100,000 tree seedlings to the locals to increase the tree coverage and reduce their heavy reliance on the trees near the park.

According to their report, UWA intends to plant more than 2 million trees near the park as most of the trees have been cut.

“Besides, UWA is supporting the locals with income-generating activities such as beekeeping, goat rearing, rabbit keeping, fish farming to minimize their reliance on the park,” Part of the report reads.

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