By Rebecca Alowo
The extent to which Uganda’s groundwater resources can be exploited without unduly compromising the principle of sustainable development is a question that must be answered. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, according to The World Commission on Environment and Development.
In Uganda, there is generally a lack of a system regarding water rights and permits especially, where water availability is limited. In dry periods for instance, as many permits are issued, the aquifer becomes stressed and thus competition for access between different water users emerges. Competing demands and conflicts on land use, clearly affecting farmers become apparent in the absence of operating principles which would otherwise assure fair access for different users.
None regulated water rights and permits can cause aquifer depletion, pollution of water sources and damage to infrastructure. It is important that policy monitoring on water rights of privately owned boreholes for irrigation and farming are put in place or improved, where they exist as the void has affected regulation of water use. And to do so effectively, data from private farms have to be collected. Water Rights have to be closely policed by government if they are not to lead to over abstraction and shortages along the water chain.
The impacts of groundwater depletion are many and varied. The first and most direct impact is the loss of ground water known as base flow. The loss of base flow can trigger a chain reaction of negative impacts to various components of the landscape. Direct, or primary impacts to the landscape can be expressed in terms of: drying up of wells, increased cost of pumping and well infrastructure, land subsidence and related climate change.
Meanwhile, excessive pumping can lead to groundwater depletion, wherein groundwater is extracted from an aquifer at a rate faster than it can be replenished. Depletion can have significant effects on surface and unsaturated subsurface (vadose) waters, and on the terrestrial, riparian, and other ecosystems which depend on these waters.
Of importance to note is that there have been changes, trends and threats that are negatively affecting water resources along the Nile. These include population growth and urbanisation which have led to increasing water demands, increased degradation of the environment, high levels of natural climate variability, and the effects of man-made climate change. The net effect has been depletion and prolonged periods without water.
In arid and semi-arid areas farmers and communities only have a limited number of water provision points. This has put more pressure and increased the number of wells and boreholes being drilled where they can access groundwater which is needed for multiple purposes including agriculture and drinking water provision. These and more, unless urgently checked and reviewed, will put undue pressure on aquifers and catchments. A system is needed – urgently.
Rebecca Alowo is a DEng student at Central University of Technology Free State South Africa. The writer works as a Senior Consultant Research Studies at Quantum Executive Education. The writer also free lances under Kenyonyozi properties.