Earth Finds

Earth Finds

Waste Dumping Threatens Lake Victoria

By Spencer Pedun

Recently, in the media, the residents and factories neighbouring Lake Victoria were warned against the pollution of the water body which spreads across Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. Lake Victoria, the world's second-largest fresh-water lake, is threatened by the uncontrolled flow of pollutants into its waters, researchers warned recently.

Lake basin is used by communities and industries as a source of food, energy, water and transport. The lake is also a sink for human, agricultural and industrial waste. The Lake provides employment for up to 30 million people. The Lake’s catchment area of 258,700 square kilometres has a GDP of US$ 300-400 million and supports nearly one–third of the total population of East Africa. The Lake is the source of River Nile, which is renowned for whitewater rafting and flows to Egypt through Sudan.

The pollution in Lake Victoria is worsening so fast as industries located near the lake like fish processing factories, oil processing plants, discharge large quantities of untreated waste, the sewerage dumping of industrial waste, fertilizer, chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides and other microbial organisms that have adverse effects on humans and aquatic life end up in water body and this could lead to the collapse of the lake's multi-billion fish industry.  

The human activities are ironically suffocating and killing the lake and the main source of human’s livelihood and each of the three East African nations is culpable. The Lake has for a long time been a sink to excessive nutrients and untreated effluent that have led to fish die-offs, algal blooms and the spread of hyacinth, ferocious waterweed. Although mostly eradicated now, the remnants of hyacinth on Lake Victoria deplete dissolved oxygen, sunlight and are an obstacle to water transport. Along the shoreline, hyacinth provides a habitat for malaria mosquitoes and snails which harbour bilharzia parasites.

This is the very water that National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) is disturbing to Ugandans. We are not very sure whether this water is safe for domestic use.

It’s so sad that in urban centres where Ugandans are struggling with communicable diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid caused by poor sanitation and ingesting contaminated food or water.

Therefore, l call upon the Uganda National Bureau Standards (UNBS) to check the standard and quality of water that is consumed by people if it really meets its standard and also the government should also expedite lake rejuvenation by employing sustainable and eco-friendly technologies, dredge lake beds. Restrict entry of sewage into lakes and build wetlands around the lake.



Free Connection Alone Won’t Increase Electricity Access; Off Grid Solar Offers Better Option

By Cirrus Kabaale

I recently read a story that noted that government is planning to resume the electricity connection policy (free connection policy) to enable Ugandans to connect on the national grid. The story pointed out that the free connection policy aims at addressing the challenges of low connection rates that previous policies did not address.

The policy was unveiled in 2018 with aim of increasing the number of connections made annually from the average 70,000 before the policy to 300,000 customers annually at full implementation.

However, the initiative was suspended last year in 2020 because government had failed to increase the rural electrification rate in Uganda. The policy had only managed to attain 7% rural electrification yet 80% of the Ugandan population lives in rural areas. The failure had left the majority of Uganda’s rural population without power.

The government intends to increase demand for power through increasing the number of industries in industrial parks in addition to expanding the domestic consumer base through implementing the ‘Free’ Electricity Connections Policy. However, just last year, UMEME informed electricity sector players that while the company experienced an average growth rate of 16% in its domestic customer base between 2012 and 2018, consumption only grew by a half, at 8%. In addition, the manufacturing sector has consistently complained about the high power tariffs.

As you are aware, a poor and highly indebted country that is struggling with COVID-19 impacts, citizens cannot afford to for high power tariffs.

While I commend the government’s efforts to increase access to clean energy, the government must increase investment in off grid solar energy to meet the energy needs of all Ugandans.

Access to clean and affordable energy is crucial in the eradication of poverty through advancements in health, education, water supply and industrialization, to combating climate change.

Initiatives such as the sustainable Energy for All, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal seven and others highlight the need to have equal access to clean, affordable and reliable energy.

Although the Government of Uganda is making heavy investments in the construction of hydro-power dams and extending the grid across the country to provide electricity to all Ugandan, Government needs to broaden its scope and focus more on investing heavily in other renewable energy sources particularly off grid solar energy. 

Electricity access in the country stands at 24% in urban and less than 7% in rural areas and of the population with access, over 90% cannot afford to use electricity for cooking or to meet other key energy needs due to unaffordable high power tariffs. They remain stuck on using biomass to meet most of their key energy needs such as cooking, boiling water and others.

Increased investment in off grid solar energy would not only increase access to affordable and clean energy for, especially rural households in Uganda, but it would also help to reduce carbon emissions from use of fossil fuels especially urban centres, thereby, addressing of the biggest drivers of global warming and climate change.

Secondly, increased investments in solar powered water irrigation systems could improve agriculture production in rural areas, thereby addressing poverty and the challenge of food insecurity, contributing to the SDG on zero hunger.

Further, solar powered water pumps would enable rural households to access clean water and would improve the quality of education and life of girls and women respectively. With less household chores such as fetching water from wells, girls would better be able to stay in school.

Good health and wellbeing would be ensured through increasing access to safe water and sanitation as poor sanitation contributes to diarrhea, the second leading cause of death in children under five worldwide with Uganda not being spared.

Therefore, for Uganda to achieve the current Rural Electrification Strategic Plan target 2013-2022, which is to achieve electrification access of 22 percent and contribute to the global initiative of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) seven, the Government must plan and invest in off grid solar energy. We must know the energy sources that are more relevant to the needs of the poor. 

Cirrus Kabaale, Project Officer at Environment Governance Institute (EGI)




Invest In Clean Renewable Energy To Fight Climate Change

By Patrick Edema

The government of Uganda with UK signed the Compact Agreement in line with power Africa and Energy Africa in 2016 under which the country committed to promoting and expand investments in off grid solar opportunities for people as opposed to reliance on hydro and fossil fuel based grid.

It was recognized that the grid electrification could not improve access to clean energy for Ugandans especially for vulnerable groups such as women, youth and others where over 80% of the population remain reliant on biomass energy and other dirty sources.

The agreement was a recognition that grid electricity and use of fossil fuels were the biggest obstacles to improving clean energy access to uplift the living standards of people especially for the vulnerable groups such as women.

It is clear that grid and fuel based electrification remains unaffordable, unreliable and consequently this undermines efforts to improve services in education, health, clean water, environmental conservation and others.

The country is richly endowed with abundant energy resources, which are fairly distributed across the country with an average of 5.1 kWh/m2 of solar energy, access to quality solar energy remains low with progress in the sector curtailed by a number of challenges like poor coordination by government for off-grid connections.

In the presence of COVID-19, the pandemic should be an opportunity for us to rethink our economic growth path that has come at a heavy cost to the people and planet to bring about a fundamental shift for the clean energy transition. The policy makers should not lose sight of the looming climate crisis, but rather design economic stimulus packages with social inclusion and environmental sustainability built into every decision in particular sustainable energy development.

It is clear that we are living in truly unprecedented times, and the country faces unique energy challenges that undermine the ability of government to respond to this crisis and build economic resilience. Renewables can underpin these efforts and therefore can play an instrumental role in both the response and the recovery.

According to International Renewable Energy Agency’s recently launched Global Renewables Outlook report, renewables can supply more than half of all power needs in Africa alone by 2030, boosting the regional economy by more than 4.4 per cent and growing jobs by close to 50 per cent in the process.

For instance, in the recent COVID-19 policy report for Asia and the Pacific, it identified renewable energy as one of the main sectors to stimulate countries’ economies with people’s standards of living.

Therefore, government should deploy renewable energy and if clean energy is rapidly and well-placed can support immediate crisis response efforts including electrification of public health value chains, improving the education system, improve businesses opportunities among others.

Patrick Edema, Environmental Engineer



Electricity & Debt: Does Government Have An Escape Route?

By Patrick Edema

The parliament of Uganda is currently reviewing the Budget framework paper 2021/2022. The pro­posed na­tional bud­get for FY 2021/​2022 is projected at UGX 45.658 tril­lion which is a slight increase of 164 billion shillings of the current budget of FY 2020/2021. A total of UGX 10.330 Trillion Shillings is expected from external borrowing, with Shs 6.744 trillion coming in form of project loans, while Shs 3.585 trillion is expected as budget support loans. 

While debt repayment will take the lion’s share with nearly 80 percent of the country’s total tax revenue, the government continues to borrow billions of shillings to invest in sectors (infrastructure, electricty and oil) which have further increased the national debt. By end of 2020, Uganda’s total debt was Ugs 56.526 trillion that’s about 48% of the value of the economy (GDP) and this is expected to grow to about UGX 66 trillion by 2021 as stated by the Bank of Uganda report. 

Indeed, the infrastructure and energy sector are among the sectors that are compelling the government to borrow exorbitant funds which has greatly attributed to the increasing debt burden. Recently, it was noted that the government was in advance stages to borrow more UGX 1.4 trillion to support the free Electricity Connections Policy (ECP).

The ECP project was launched in November 2018 thinking that this would increase the number of connections made annually from the average 70,000 before the policy was made to 300,000 customers annually at full implementation. However, the policy has not achieved its targets and electricity access is still low because of the high-power tariffs for the poor consumers. 

A huge amount of money has been invested in the energy projects. For instance, an estimated $3.5 billion was invested in the sector during the first exploration phase and over $20 billion is expected to be injected Uganda’s East African Crude Oil Pipeline, oil refinery, the finished petroleum products pipeline, roads, an international airport, airstrips and other infrastructure to commercialize Uganda’s oil and gas.

Further, three hydropower projects of Bujagali, Karuma and Isimba dams alone are responsible for Uganda's $12.55 billion debt burden yet such investments have not performed at their expectations of providing cheap and reliable electricity in the country. 

It is true that the electricity industry has high potential to unlock the production capabilities of the country but because of the exorbitant power tariffs on poor Ugandans, this has lagged behind the country’s ambitions to increase access to electricity from 19 per cent to 67 per cent by 2027.

In Uganda, over 22% of the people live below the poverty line meaning that about 9,400,000 million Ugandans survive on less than $1 dollar per day and cannot manage the most important areas of wellbeing such as food, education and health at the same time with the debt burden, which stands at almost UGX 66 trillion. 

The continued investment in expensive electricity even when it is evident that grid electricity has failed to benefit citizens especially for the rural households, clearly indicates that the borrowed money to invest in electricity and oil will not realize the returns. Currently, electricity capacity in the country stands at 1268.9MW as of October 2020 by Electricity Regulatory Authority.

Out of the available 1268.9MW, only 700MW is consumed at peak demand majorly by industries and few citizens while an estimate of over 526MW remains un consumed. This has created a puzzle because government has to spend over UGX 2.3 billion annually to compensate for unconsumed power which is huge dent to the budget consumers that have to pay for unconsumed power. 

The government commissioned the 183MW Isimba dam and 42MW Achwa 2 dam bringing the total installed capacity to over 1200MW, yet Ugandans can only consume 700MW at the peak and lower than that off-peak. This year 2021, the country will commission the 600MW Karuma dam, availing more power that must be consumed.

With the issue of low consumption taking centre stage, it also means that Ugandans have to wait longer to have the tariffs lowered. Ugandans pay 19 US cents (700 Shillings) per unit of power, they consume, making expensive for households which has made poor citizens to resort to just lighting to keep the bill low. 

This is therefore, the time for the parliament of Uganda to save the poor citizens by rejecting approvals of loans by the government to invest in failed energy projects that don’t translate into the economic development of the country. There is also need to increase investments in renewable modern energy options particularly off-grid solar that have the potential to meet the energy needs of majority of Ugandans especially the poor women and men who live in rural areas. Electricity and oil will not save the country from the chocking debt burden as well as meeting the needs of communities.

Patrick Edema, Environmental Engineer at AFIEGO

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