Archive for April, 2010

Mara River Basin Expedition – Mara Conservancy

April 14, 2010

Welcome to #11 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer.

grazing impalas

Recurring afternoon thunderstorms keep the grasses green for many species of grazers in the Mara Conservancy

Date: Wed–Mon, 14–19 April 2010 /Entry 11
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Mara Conservancy, Mara River Basin

Having just finished a 2-1/2 week expedition in Uganda’s White Nile River Basin, NWNL is now returning to the Mara River Basin for a follow-up to its Mara expedition in September–October 2009. That last expedition was at the end of a three-year drought that had severely reduced water flow levels, devastated wildlife and herds of Maasai cattle, and ruined both commercial and small-stakeholders’ crops. Now the Mara is experiencing its long rainy season with unusually heavy El Niño rains. The comparison between drought and flood conditions in this river basin will be valuable documentation for No Water No Life.

Note: Previous post is from the White Nile River Basin.

From the field: What a contrast to be in the Mara Triangle, the western third of Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, in the rainy season after being here 6 months ago during the worst, final days of a 3-year drought. The results of that drought – and floods of the ensuing El Niño rainy season – have devastated parts of Kenya.

To the east of the Mara Triangle, Amboseli National Park lost 90% of its wildebeest, 80% of its zebra, a large percentage of Cape buffalo and 90% of local Maasai cattle. According to Harvey Croze, an elephant researcher in Amboseli, 20 elephant matriarchs died as did every elephant calf under the age of two. A compounding effect of the loss of so many antelope is that predators, such as the lions of Amboseli, have lost their food source.

To the northeast of the Mara Triangle, the Ewaso Nyiro River jumped its banks two months ago after heavy rains, sweeping away lodges and research camps in Samburu National Park. This devastation has been a blow to both tourism and elephant research. Expectations are that such extreme weather events – caused by rain or lack thereof – that dramatically affect river flows, will continue to be severe throughout Africa.

Fortunately, all wildlife in the Mara Triangle, including the world-renowned wildebeest-zebra migration, survived this past drought thanks to a perennially-flowing Mara River. The waters of the Mara River, albeit often flowing at very low levels, were always available in the Mara Triangle. As well, this southwestern corner of Kenya was the least impacted by the country’s lack of rains.

However, stakeholders and scientists realize they must work together to maintain sufficient reserves of water for the growing number of users of the Mara River – upstream in Kenya and downstream in Tanzania where it empties into Lake Victoria. This week NWNL met again with GLOWS scientists Amanda Subalusky and Chris Dutton. They have monitored flows of the Mara River for two years to establish the critical point when extraction by Mara River’s water users must be limited. As well, NWNL also met a half dozen PhD students here this week who will be working in the Mara River Basin on related hydrology issues under a program called Mara Flows. This continued scientific monitor of water needs and usage is essential to establishing guaranteed water availability in the future for all species – human and wildlife!

White Nile River Basin Expedition – Jinga 4/10

April 10, 2010

Welcome to #10 of 11 blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer. Updated 4/11: Location and text have been updated to reflect revised plans.

The former Rippon Falls, where L. Victoria becomes the Nile and J. H. Speke camped in 1862

Date: Sat–Wed, 10–14 April 2010 /Entry 10
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Jinga

NWNL will end its White Nile River Basin expedition in Jinga on Lake Victoria, the head of the Victoria Nile. With the guidance of a member of the National Association of Professional Engineers, NWNL will photograph fishing on Lake Victoria, the Bujagali and Owen Falls dams, and a local resettlement village created for those who had to be moved out of the Bujagali Reservoir. Discussions will focus on the processes followed (or not followed) in constructing these hydro dams and on other Nile River Basin projects that NAPE is focused on that impact Nile watershed ecosystems and water supplies, including oil exploration and extraction from protected areas.

From the field: The end of NWNL’s Uganda expedition was the beginning: the source of the Nile at the northern end of Lake Victoria’s Napoleon Bay! In 1862 John Hanning Speke was the first European to see Rippon Falls, submerged when the Owen Falls Dam was built (1954). At this hydrological landmark the Nile River begins its 4000-mile (6400-km), 3-month-long journey north to the Mediterranean Sea.

Our visit to Bujagali Falls, downstream from Rippon Falls, gave us an understanding of the power and drama of the Nile – what Rippon Falls was like before the Owen and Kiira Dams. Bujagali Falls provide nesting sanctuary for many bird species and are home to the spiritual gods of the Busoga Kingdom. Yet these falls will also be submerged when the government, with support of international financial institutions, finishes another large hydropower dam, despite the failed productions of the two immediately upstream.

A villager from Malindi where blasting for the Bujagali Dam has cracked many homes

These losses will be in vain because it is all but certain that the Bujagali dam will never reach its promised production of 250 megawatts. The upstream Owen Falls and Kiira Dams, meant to produce 350–380 megawatts of power, only produce 120 megawatts now – less than half intended! This is because of Lake Victoria’s falling water levels due to climate change, increased extraction by growing populations, and deforestation in the headwaters of rivers entering the lake. Water amounts coming into the Bujagali Dam are no different than that coming into the two upstream dams, as there are no additional tributaries between them and the Bujagali site.

Additionally, there were no proper environmental or social impact studies prior to construction. The government has largely disregarded the effects of the dam on the livelihoods of local stakeholders, whether resettled or suffering from the blast impacts. Surrounding communities (comprising over 8000 people) are struggling with landlessness, food insecurity, declining environmental quality, declining health, collapse of their fishing industry, and uncertain socio-economic futures. Resettled farmers who were moved from the Nile’s riverine flood plains have been struggling for 10 years to live on reassigned land that lacks water, sanitation or trees.

On top of these socio-economic issues, the cost of the dam relative to the amount of power expected will make Bujagali Dam’s hydropower the most expensive in the world – certainly not affordable to the 90% of Ugandans who currently lack electricity. NWNL hopes that the advocacy efforts of its newest partner, NAPE (National Association of Professional Issues), will help raise awareness and mitigate some of the problems being caused by the Bujagali Dam. The World Bank and the European Investment Banks are currently conducting investigations and withholding their critical funding until the reviews are concluded and recommendations initiated.

Alison Jones at the Source of the Nile with flag of NWNL’s fiscal sponsor, WINGS WorldQuest

White Nile River Basin Exped. – Kidepo Valley NP

April 7, 2010

Welcome to #9 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer.

Pregnant Karimojong girl carrying baby and water, Kidepo Valley, Uganda

Date: Wed–Fri, 7–9 April 2010 /Entry 9
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Kidepo Valley National Park

The last of the six national parks to be visited on this expedition is the 556 sq mi (1,442 sq km) Kidepo Valley National Park, with its views of Alekilek Volcano, Labwor Hills and Bar Alerek Rock.

This park is located on the Sudanese border. It is comprised of savannah landscapes ending in the rugged horizon formed by Mountain Forest. Along its Lorupei River, there are Acacia geradi forests, kopjes – quite typical of arid Kenya. Its huge latitudinal range, and thus climate variety, accommodates a high diversity of flora as well as fauna. Carnivores here include lion, bat-ear fox, striped hyena, aardwolf, caracal, cheetah and hunting dog. Ungulates include the lesser and greater kudu, reedbuck, klipspringer, bright gazelle, Rothschild giraffe and oribi, and kavirondo bush baby. The tree-climbing lions are found in Narus Valley. There are 58 birds of prey in this park.

This park is known for its giant kigela trees, big sand rivers, unusual fox kestrels and fascinating walks. We will also visit the Kanangorok Hot Springs, located 11 km from Kidepo River Valley, and a local village. The Karimajong manyattas and kraals will offer interesting cultural perspectives.

From the field: Abutting southern Sudan, this dramatic open savanna valley in Karamoja district was the “lomej” (the meeting point) where Karimojong, Ik and Dodoth pastoralists gathered for their hunting. Otherwise the scarcity of rain kept them nomadic and well dispersed, since Karamoja gets only 600–800 mm of rain per year, far below what is needed to sustain people and their herds. The rule of thumb is that at least 1,000 mm is needed to sustain people in a land without infrastructure.

In this valley where dry season dust-devils can rise up to 50 m high, three seasonal rivers that run north to meet the Nile in Sudan and deep, hand-dug and -shelved wells in sand beds have provided water for these people and the wildlife. In 1962 the Uganda Wildlife Authority gazetted Kidepo National Park and moved the indigenous people out beyond the park boundaries.

Traditionally, both the women and the men who lived here had rain ceremonies. The male elders slaughtered and read the intestines of a cow to predict when rains would come. The women would travel as a group, singing and dancing, to seek those who might have angered the gods by unethical practices, such as stealing a neighbor’s crops. When the women found the likely perpetrator, they would denounce him for causing the gods to withholding rain. With justice served in this raucous fashion, the gods would be willing to release the rain again.

However, recently rain has become scarcer according to Faustino, the 100-year-old Karimojong chief interviewed by NWNL. Since the longest-running civil wars in Africa have surrounded and spilled into Karamoja, automatic weapons have proliferated. Thus – as in Ethiopia’s Omo River Basin – fatal conflicts over access to water and cattle raiding have risen with the increased frequency and severity of drought and environmental stress in turn causing severe famine. Recently the government has established a policy of disarmament in this region, which has reduced the killing and is applauded by many, including Chief Faustino. Yet, still, his people’s well has gone bad and their cattle have been raided. Fortunately, the village is sustained today by tourism income and a badly-needed health clinic and accompanying well are about to be built.

White Nile River Basin Exp. – Murchison Falls NP

April 5, 2010

Welcome to #8 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer. Updated 4/11: to revise park description.

Aerial view of Murchison Falls, Uganda

Date: Mon–Tues, 5–6 April 2010 /Entry 8
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Murchison Falls National Park

The last of the six national parks to be visited on this expedition is the 556 sq mi (1,442 sq km) Kidepo Valley National Park, with its views of Mt Morungule, home of the resettled Ik tribe. This park (elev 2998 ft, 914 m) is located on the Sudanese border. It is comprised of savannah landscapes ending in the rugged horizon formed by Mountain Forest. Along its Lorupei, Narus and Kidepo Rivers, there are whistling thorn and white barked acacias, as well as acacia geradi forests and kopjes – quite typical of arid areas of Kenya and Tanzania. Its huge latitudinal range, and thus climate variety, accommodates a high diversity of flora as well as fauna. Carnivores here include lion, bat-ear fox, striped hyena, aardwolf, caracal, cheetah and hunting dog. Ungulates include the lesser and greater kudu, reedbuck, klipspringer, bright gazelle, Rothschild giraffe and oribi, and kavirondo bush baby. The tree-climbing lions are found in Narus Valley. There are 58 birds of prey in this park.

This park is known for its giant kigelia trees, wide sand rivers, unusual fox kestrels and fascinating walks. We will also visit the Kanangorok Hot Springs, located 11 km from Kidepo River, and part of the volcanic system of Lotuke Mountain, which NWNL will photograph from across the border in Sudan. The Karamajong manyattas and kraals just outside the park will offer interesting cultural perspectives.

From the field: Aerial documentation along the shores of Lake Albert, en route to Murchison, revealed sites of oil exploration on fan deltas (approximately 25 on L. Albert) and a hydro-power site at Tonya Falls on the lake’s eastern escarpment. Neither the details of Uganda’s Oil Production Agreement, means of transporting the oil, nor the selected extraction companies have been announced. This secrecy has led to many rumors in the press. Hopes are that the expected oil income will be put towards food, healthcare, education and energy, rather than rumored purchases of fighter jets for a quarter of a billion dollars. On April 11, 2010, President Museveni noted Uganda’s need to focus on electricity and infrastructure: “Political clashing has blocked us [on developing electricity and infrastructure]. That is why we ended up setting up the Energy Fund now, and now we are moving on building the dams without losing time.”

Murchison Falls defines the northernmost tip of Africa’s Western Rift Valley, a 1,864 mile (3,000 km) tectonic trench between here and Lake Malawi. It has been “opened” for the last 12 million years. The park itself is defined by its abundance of borassus palms, oribi, Jackson’s hartebeest and Rothschild giraffes. A boat trip up to Murchison Falls offered incredible photo ops of migratory and resident birds, Nile crocodiles (a species older than hominids) and hippos.

The ephemeral Yamsika River empties into the final reaches of the Victoria Nile and local people believe that their small gods lived here at the confluence, where pied kingfishers now nest in holes in the soft stone cliffs. Crocodiles and fish eagles congregate under the falls to gather fish mutilated by their plunge here 141 ft down into the Western Rift Valley.

Both below and from above the falls one can see the river’s natural “pollution” in the form of foam clusters moving with the current. These islands of bubbles are created by the action of minerals and sediments that are carried over the falls and become a nutrient rich froth nourishing riverine fish and wildlife.

White Nile River Basin Exped. – Kibale Forest NP

April 3, 2010

Welcome to #7 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer.

chimpanzee

Date: Sat–Sun, 3–4 April 2010 /Entry 7
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Kibale Forest National Park

The 776 sq-km Kibale Forest NP is full of lakes, marshes and grasslands and offers both swamp and forest walks. It’s Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary claims 335 bird species. The forest is habitat to the rare giant forest hog and forest elephant. The forested slopes of lowland tropical rainforest, deciduous forest and mountain forests are perfect for the world’s highest concentration of primates, including 500 chimps, red colobus, L’Hoest’s monkey and 11 other primates. A field of crater lakes lies between Fort Portal and Kibale Forest and there is a superb community development fringing the park. This will be an excellent opportunity for NWNL to document the importance of forests and wetlands to a watershed.

From the field: Kibale National Park comprises both forests and wetlands – key components for tourism, employment and cash flow for communities near such “protected” areas. Ugandan President Museveni requested this month that Africa’s Great Lakes countries protect their wetlands and forests to stem the spread of the desert. He said this was needed to insure future abundance of water needed to help generate hydro-power for industry and reduce the cost of doing business. He also noted transboundary impacts of regional ecosystems on weather: “There are swamps in Southern Sudan called sudds and there are forests in the D.R. Congo that are key in the rain-making process in Uganda.” These regional wetlands and forests, the president claims, contribute up to 40% of the rains in Uganda.

In many parts of Uganda, buildings and farmland now cover former wetlands. It is said that during the dictatorship of Idi Amin caution and the wisdom of elders was thrown to the wind as wetlands were transformed into roads, houses and industrial zones ignoring all planning laws and enforcement agencies.

With this in mind, NWNL documented how Kibale’s wetland sanctuary provides habitat to primates and birds that help disperse indigenous seeds, as well as water for the local people. Although residents have been advised to boil their water, many believe that the swamp water tastes better and has more nutrient value than boiled water. NWNL will pursue the health implications of this local belief.

Kibale National Park’s forest has been spit into two sections due to demand for land for tea farming. Another sign of industry affecting this forest ecosystem was found in the constant cloud of large heavy trucks hauling rock to the Hima cement factory. Kibale District has lost half of its forest cover over the last 20 or so years. Stakeholders are now working to reverse this trend. Last year the National Forest Authority evicted hundreds of illegal squatters, however politicians immediately over-ruled that action and allowed re-occupation of Kibale District forests.

Forests throughout Uganda are suffering from illegal logging and the growing demand for charcoal and firewood. Even though prices for wood and charcoal have probably tripled, this fuel is still cheaper than metered electricity. Thus far, promotion of solar cookers or more efficient charcoal burners has not been very successful. NWNL looks forward to its end-of-expedition meetings in Kampala with stakeholders to learn about the government’s follow-up on recent proclamations that it supports afforestation and resettlement of villages on mountain slopes prone to fatal mudslides that are becoming more frequent.

White Nile River Basin Exp. – Queen Elizabeth NP

April 1, 2010

Welcome to #6 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer.

Masurua Swamp

Woman collecting water amidst water hyacinth, marsh grass and papyrus in Masurua Swamp

Date: Thurs–Fri, 1–2 April 2010 /Entry 6
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Queen Elizabeth National Park

satellite image

Satellite photo of L. Edward and L. George

Our drive to the 488,000-acre Queen Elizabeth National Park will pass through Ishasha region, with its unusual tree-climbing lions. In shadow of Rwenzori Mtns, this park forms a saddle between the northeast shores of Lake Edward (the larger lake) and southwest shores of Lake George (the smaller lake). Its ecosystems include open savanna, rainforest, papyrus swamps, and crater lakes full of pink-backed flamingos. There are 100 mammal and 606 bird species here, as well as the Uganda kob. As well, this location has a reputation of having the rare occurrence of tusk-less female elephants. It will be interesting to learn what the possible causes of this genetic tendency may be – and discuss current status of poaching in Uganda’s national parks.

Egyptian geese

Egyptian geese

A boat trip on Kazinga Channel between the lakes will offer great “photo op’s” of hippo, fish eagles, buffalo, elephant and a wealth of bird life. Local fishermen come here in their reed boats from the village of Kazinga. They go out at night to avoid the hippos, which graze on land at night and spend the days in the water.

Within Queen Elizabeth NP, the Semliki River flows from L. Edward north to L. Albert demarcating the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, also part of the Nile River Basin. In some places the changing course of the Semliki River sparked confusion in 2009 over the location of the boundary. Due to the recent discovery of rich oil fields in this area, such boundary disputes between the two could lead to conflict.

From the field: Queen Elizabeth National Park, in East Africa’s Western Rift Valley, is a water-lover’s paradise. There are two shallow, but large lakes connected by a natural and wide channel with mountain ranges to the east and the west! Yet it is thought-provoking as far as protected area management in a country where tourism is the second largest foreign exchange earner. We have seen several issues first hand. The park has local villages within its boundaries. One of the park’s lakes allows local fishermen to haul their catches. There was a salt plant on the lake shore that only worked 1 year because engineers used metal pipes.

One of the greatest current threats within this lovely park is a limestone mine for cement production. While NWNL has not been not able to access this corner of the park; our Uganda partner, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), has produced a booklet explaining violated laws, risks and impacts concerning this commercial extraction. NAPE contends that this project disrupts migratory corridors of wildlife; has progressed without consultation with local stakeholders; and uses heavy machinery in a fragile ecosystem that is an internationally-designated RAMSAR site. Furthermore, the environmental impact assessment was approved without any public hearing.

One concern the limestone mining project raises is that the migratory corridor will be destroyed, forcing animals into areas where they will destroy peoples’ crops. This could result in the death of both humans and wildlife. Another concern is that the lack of legal compliance regarding approval of this mining operation will impact usage of other Ugandan natural resources held in trust for the people. Ugandan environmentalists are concerned that this precedence will influence the method of exploration of newly-found oil in this Albertine Rift of the White Nile River Basin.

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