Mr. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, since you advocate that scientists should be paid well, let me show gratitude by giving you free advice.
I have consistently noticed that you love knowledge and you like to freely share what you know. In the same casual manner you normally address the nation, allow me also share some insights about Lake Victoria water resources with you.
To qualify my right to advise you, I hold a Master of Science in Civil Engineering degree (Water Resources option) and 2 related Post Graduate Degrees (PGDs). I did not pay school fees to attend these courses, but rather your good government and its generous partners provided the fees and allowances.
The 2 PGDs, one in Hydraulics and the other one in the hydrology of River Nile Basin, were acquired in Cairo-Egypt and paid for by the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation.
Due to personal reasons, I preferred a PhD in Concrete. I still excelled in my water stuff (please forgive my casual cast). In fact, the current Vice Chancellor of Makerere University chaired the panel of examiners when I defended my masters thesis and he gave me 86%. I still wonder why he refused to give me 100%, though I know him to be one that demands a lot from his students.
Anyway, I have knowledge your advisors on water resources don’t seem to tell you. I am comfortable where I work. I don’t want their jobs. You also pay them poorly.
1. Lake Victoria is still not well understood.
Being a natural lake, the water balance models are not accurate at predicting its trends. The water balance models that are established on 3 variables, Inflow-Outflow=Storage, cannot be relied on for Lake Victoria.
Such models work well for Lake Nasser, an artificial lake with known boundary conditions but not for Lake Victoria. So, the water level prediction models need recalibration and the data you now have is not reliable. Until when sufficient data on Lake Victoria is available to support calibration, you’ll open all the gates of the dams at Jinja and the water levels will continue to rise. Unfortunately, the released water will affect the downstream because of the indecisiveness of the lake levels regulator. They don’t have reliable data so be gracious to them.
2. Lake Victoria has dried 4 times in its short history of 40,000 years.
So, if you told Mama Janet that you’ll love her until Lake Victoria dries, you need to amend that statement. In fact, it would dry to zero water levels and people would create foot paths through it to Tanzania. It would take 40 years for the lake to regain its normal water levels. This piece of evidence is established through coring of the base of the lake and studying the properties of its layered soil deposits.
Paleoclimatology is the discipline that covers such studies. Of course, the cored soil samples from the bottom of the lake are compared with data of other materials in the same climate zone for validation. Tree growth rings is one example that provides proxy data on past weather patterns. The growth rings are also called annual rings so they help in predicting the age of trees.
By observing the relative thicknesses of the growth rings of trees, one can tell when conditions were favorable for growth. Comparing this data with data in the known range, past data can be generated.
3. Talking of trees, kindly stop this madness of harvesting natural grown hardwood like Kirundu and ekitooma.
These are indigenous species of wood that take many years to mature. Kirundu is commonly used as a formwork material in construction. Please, use the next time you talk to us to decree that Kirundu is saved. In fact, decree that only softwood should be used in construction. Of course, and Karitunsi. Karitunsi is a genetically modified hardwood with a short time of maturity. Let me get back to Lake Victoria.
4. Please allow sufficient resources to the Ministry of Water units that are responsible for monitoring natural water bodies and their catchments.
Releasing water at the Jinja dams should have started long before COVID19. We all saw the rains and we knew there was drainage. The current rate of release is destructive to the downstream ecosystems and beats the logic of having a piece of infrastructure to regulate the lake levels. We are now in a reactive mode and that doesn’t make us look in charge.
In actual fact, monitoring activities on the lake and its catchment should be a daily event so that decision making is made in time to avoid crisis. I studied the sun activity and its influence on Lake Victoria water levels and I used data spanning 150 years. It was interesting that hourly data about the sun exists from the time Galileo invented a telescope (over 400 years ago). Having continuous data is important but it takes a lot of resources to achieve.
5. I heard you talk about the swamps around the lake.
Its not only swamps you should protect. The marsh lands of Lwera and Masaka are equally important to the stability of Lake Victoria water levels. They are major regulators of Lake Victoria water levels. They store a lot of water and release it to the lake at a rate only nature can predict. They also work like the kidneys of the lake system.
When you give away these marsh lands for rice farming, you shift the equilibria of both the water quality and the water levels of the lake. Please stop the rice farms at Lwera. It doesn’t matter what your experts at NEMA tell you. They are not good custodians.
6. Now, for the floating weed/island at the source of the Nile, our own Ministry of Agriculture handled a more complex problem at Lake Kyoga in 1999.
The machinery to handle this weed should be available with the Ministry of Agriculture and we don’t need to use excavators for the task. Eng. Dominic Mucunguzi should help on this weed. But it still goes back to real time monitoring of our natural water bodies. Buy some drones and hire good watchmen to make sure that floating islands are seen before they reach the dam and cause a power supply crisis.
7. Lastly, the story of Egypt and River Nile is a geopolitical one.
It has nothing to do with the need for water to reach Egypt. This is knowledge I developed between 2007 and 2009 in the course of my interaction with Egyptian professors and their senior government officials who were hired by UNESCO-IHE and the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation to facilitate the water resources management training programs that I attended.
There is nothing we can do to River Nile water that can stop it from reaching Egypt. The Egyptians know this very well. The reason is established in the laws of conservation of matter. What you drink, you must urinate. With irrigation comes drainage. Water will eventually drain downstream.
So, why are the Egyptians interested in the upstream part of the Nile river?
It’s a strategic move to control politics and economics of the region. They keep the Nile issues as an opportunity to establish conflict when they want to negotiate for something out of the region. They use the Nile as a smoke screen to get political attention, find loopholes and negotiate trade deals. The conflict approach to negotiation is common with state relationships. I saw DRC play it on us when it killed some people prospecting for oil on Lake Albert. I wonder if they paid for the information we shared with them as you worked hard to stop the chance of a more complex conflict. It took them a few bullets to access information about our oil, information we had paid for in millions of dollars.
So, Egypt knows it has Lake Nasser which can treat all forms of contamination that beats time and the meanders of Sudan. The existence of Egypt here is not about the preservation of Lake Victoria and River Nile.
8. So you knocked a goat.
I also knocked a chicken, but mine was last year. I did not stop to compensate the owner because it was raining. Why should a hen be on the road in the rain?
I want to correct this error about rain that you made last year. Swamps and trees do not give us rainfall. Rain does not come from swamps and trees. A tree cannot give you more water than it takes unless it is dying. You can’t grow/increase if you are giving out more than what you’re taking in. That would be negative storage or drought.
So, where does rain come from? It comes from the oceans. Your water cycle that included a tree was P.2 material.
In P.2, you were taught that 1-2 is equal to impossible. The story of trees was appropriate at that stage because you were far from the oceans. The water that Lake Victoria looses through the Nile at Jinja is regained through the rainfall from the Indian Ocean.
Otherwise, the lake and its catchment would dry. You notice you meet clouds every time you fly out to JKIA. Those clouds are always on their way carrying water to Lake Victoria catchment. Forests and swamps do not make rain. It is rain that makes forests and swamps. All our forests and swamps are in locations that were determined by the dynamics of rainfall from the Indian Ocean. Karamoja is arid because of the Ethiopian plateau. The wind carrying water from the Indian Ocean looses it to the windward side of the Ethiopian plateau reaching Karamoja when its dry.
Apollo Buregyeya, is a Civil Engineer, Industrialist, Cement & Concrete Expert, Eng. Contract Specialist, & International Consultant