UN accuses Uganda of draining Lake Victoria

By Tristan McConnell
Thursday 09 February 2006 01:00

The water is three metres below its normal level, leaving the jetties where pleasure boats moor and the landing sites where fishermen sell their catch high above the water.

The falling water level is affecting 30 million people in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya whose livelihoods depend on the lake. As the waters recede silt and vegetation are encroaching on the lake and goats nibble the green shoots where fish once swam in the shallows.

Sudan and Egypt, both of which rely on the river Nile, which runs out of Lake Victoria, for their water supply and for agricultural irrigation, will also be affected. In October last year the UN warnedAfrican lakes were the worst affected by climate changes.

While the Ugandan government is keen to point the finger of blame for the lake's falling water levels at the lack of rain, not everyone agrees. Daniel Kull, a hydrologist with the UN's International Strategy for Disaster, said he believed Uganda was draining Lake Victoria to help meet its demand for electricity.

Mr Kull said that if the Nalubale and Kiira dams had operated at internationally agreed flow levels, the drought would have caused only half the loss of water in the lake. He added that estimated releases from the two Ugandan dams were nearly twice the permitted rates in both March and November 2005.

Uganda's main source of electricity comes from a town called Jinja, 50 miles east of Kampala, where two hydroelectric power stations have been built side by side at the Owens Falls Dam. Critics say the adjacent dams contribute to the falling water level as they require twice as much water to run the turbines.

Between them the Nalubale and Kiira power stations can in theory produce up to 380 megawatts when at full strength but with the low water level, power generation this week has fallen to 140 megawatts. Only 5 per cent of the population is connected to the national grid yet there is still an electricity shortfall of 160 megawatts meaning power cuts are a daily occurrence.

Sowed Sewagudde, a hydrologist at the Directory for Water Development based at Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria, confirmed that outflows were increasing because of excess water releases at the Jinja dams. But he added that the amount of water coming into the lake had decreased dramatically - from 21.8 billion cubic metres in 2003 to 12 billion cubic metres in 2005.

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