UGANDA: Works On Pece Channel Drainage; A Delicate Balance Between Convenience and Environmental Disaster

Environmentalists blame say pitching the bed of Pece stream will cause drought in the region
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Pece channel drainage improvement work going on July 29, 2021
GULU CITY-UGANDA: There is a beehive of activities on Pece stream channel between Gulu Avenue and Dr. Lucille Road in Gulu City. Children as young as twelve, boys, girls and women come here on daily basis to earn their daily bread during this second wave of lookdown as schools are closed.

There are two separate projects going on here; one being stone pitching the bed and bank of the channel to carry huge volume of storm water from upstream to downstream towards Aywee suburb and the second one is the establishment of a community leisure park along the stream.

In May 2021, the City Council signed a Euro 630,000 contract with Fitchner to rehabilitate Pece stream channel drainage as a measure to control flooding during rainy seasons, something which had been a major challenge to the local community of Kony Paco slum and neighboring Limo cell.

Pece stream channel, whose journey to Tochi River, a tributary of Rive Nile has its source at Kaunda Ground is just about four hundred meters west of Gulu Avenue which connects the administrative center to the north to the central business center in the south.

The major objective of this work which is being undertaken by Destiny Construction Company is to manage Pece stream channel water, a major spot for flooding and its effects in the City by preventing and sending away stagnant water by stone pitching the channel.

However many people, including environmental crusader, Mr. Langoya Council Dickson, believe that pitching Pece channel will result in draining and drying out of the wetland which in the long run will affect the entire Tochi River catchment area, a tributary to the Nile.

“You cannot argue that the flooding which these people complain of cannot be compared to flooding which are witnessed in other continents like India or China. This cannot last for three hours and will drains off. To make it worst, they are even concreting the bed of the river. This is not good at all as it will prevent the soil from absorbing water into underground”, says Mr. Langoya, in an interview, July 29, 2021.

The City Environment Officer, Mr. Michael Ocan agrees with the observation of the environmentalist, saying that he advised the leadership of the City against making the bed of the stream pitched with stones but they did not take his advice.

“I am a very small person who does not take decisions. I advised them but they did not listen to my advice”.

The spokesman of Fitchner, Mr. Patrick Ogwang says the constructor did not make any mistake of pitching the bed of stream since National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) did a very comprehensive Impact Assessment and approved the design of the work.

“Ugandan law stipulates that before embarking on any work on wetland and its environs, one must first obtain an impact assessment. We are executing the work because that assessment was done and we got the permit in July 2020, a move that paved way for the signing of the launch of the construction work in May 2021”, says Mr. Ogwang.

According to the Spokesman, the constructor will only pitch the bed of the stream for a total of 600 meters leaving the other stream sector not pitched in a deliberate move to allay fears of the environmentalists and maintain the ecosystem.

96 year-old Severino Lukoya Kibero, the self-style “god the father” and father to the late priestess Alice Auma Lakwena of the Holy Spirit Movement, who has lived in Kony Paco slum which is located opposite the Central Market since July 27, 1989, says the era of ‘flying toilets’ where inhabitants of the slum used to defecate in polythene bags and throw it anyhow in the open in the morning is now over with development now taking place of the stream.

He remembers that the worst flooding of the stream occurred in 2004 and 2007 which put down the few pit latrines serving the residents of the war slum and waste contaminate the channel making it unhealthy to use.

Wetland absorbs the run-off water from surrounding countryside where much of storm water did not reach the wetland but was absorbed by the natural ground.

Another resident of the slum, Mr. Saidi Matta (75) recalls that the valley through which Dr. Lucille Road runs was name “twol ojero”/twol ojero/, literally meaning that the snake has had its fill and has belched. The valley used to be infested with so many snakes that it was very dangerous to even try to cross it. He recalls that a mad man was bitten and killed by snake in this valley in 1988.

He observes that with the return of peace in the region, many temporary huts in Kony Pace slum, which used to be home to internal refugees because of the Lord’s Resistance Army war, most people have returned back to the village. Permanent buildings with flush toilets have replaced flying toilets.

With developments taking place in the City, increasing surface areas ae sealed by roads and buildings, etc, where volumes of water flowing into the wetland will continue to increase. New road constructions direct their water to the channel while encroachment has reduced the surface of Pece channel wetland.

This is not only the work going on here as the same community of Kony Paco and Limo are engaged in. Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF III), a multi- million shillings Farm Income Enhancement Forestry Conservation project is ongoing to rehabilitate degraded Pece Channel upstream wetland which feeds Tochi River with water, a tributary of River Nile.

According to Mr. Ocan, JC Holdings Limited is contracted to rehabilitate the degraded Pece wetland is to enable the channel conserve water and soil to avoid siltation of the wetland to maintain high quality and quantity of water into the wetlands serving irrigation scheme in Oyam district in Tochi River from its origin in Pece stream.

He says the source of Pece stream, where it begins its journey into Tochi River, is left intact without being tempered with because of its critical impact on hydrological and ecological functions. Pece stream has its source at Kaunda Ground in the central business district but it has suffered much degradation because of encroachments with several illegal buildings just along the stream.

Ocan says the community of Laroo Division in the former Municipality got a NUSAF funding to open up Pece channel which flows through their area for opening the drainage of the channel which had been filled by waste plastics bottles and sand. They wanted to destroy where robbers used to hide at night and earn some income through their labor on the project. However the work was halted in 2018 because the community was violating wetland policy on use of wetland by compacting the wetland with hardcore and murrum.

“The city wants to maintain this site the community is rehabilitating as a green eco-park where people can come to leisure and rest under trees which JC Holdings Limited planted. Unfortunately, we cannot continue establishing similar park beyond western side of Dr. Lucille Road because of heavy encroachments along the stream”, says the Environment Officer.

On Monday, July 25, 2021, cabinet has decreed that all illegal land titles issued for building on wetland be concealed with immediate effect.

Environmental crusaders like Mr. Langoya, who can only advise but have no teeth to bite apart from raising descending voice, will have a long time to wait to see if this short term convenience of trying to avoid temporary floods will not have long term environment disaster.

Gulu City has difficulty in enforcing proper planning of settlement activities like construction of buildings which has led to encroachments on wetlands and contamination of water bodies with human waste.

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