The Rwambu environmental sustainability pilot
Earth is Earth and WASH is WASH and never the twain shall meet (to paraphrase Kiplings ballad of East and West). In development work the sectoral approach to WASH and land use management tended to be looked at as different and exclusive programs. And yet in real life the water problems are connected with land problems. sanitation problems and with nature problems, the same in Rwambu, Western Uganda.
In 2012 RAIN with financial support from the Dutch WASH Alliance, started a pilot to test an integrated approach to agricultural land management, wetland protection and Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) service provision at landscape level in Rwambu area. More specifically it aimed to demonstrate how wetland restoration and management coupled with in-situ rainwater harvesting could be integrated at catchment level to sustain WASH. Prior to 2012, the Rwambu area faced several inter-connected challenges, such as encroachment on the wetland for crop farming, local community reports of reduced soil fertility on the slopes and reduced dry-season-yield of boreholes. As population increased, farmers started to cultivate on the hillslopes but without any soil conservation measures therefore leading to soil erosion. Fertile soil eroded from the hillslopes silted up the wetland. As the hillslopes became less productive for crop farming the community started to cultivate in the wetland, often saying they were “following their fertile soils”. The increased runoff resulted into a reduced water table and consequently the drying of springs and boreholes on the hill slopes. The programs results include:
Proof of a landscape or micro catchment based approach to waterharvesting, WASH and Wetlands protection:
Also, in 2014, 2015 and 2016 around 400 people from NGOs, governments and universities visited Rwambu to get an impression of the way a landscape or micro catchment program works and add their ideas and experiences.
Project engineer discussing with the commissioner of the Directorate of water resources management Uganda the in situ measures in Rwambu
Rwambu is a transboundary wetland separating the sub-counties of Nyabbani and Kijjongo of Kamwenge and Ibanda districts respectively, in the Rwenzori region of western Uganda (Figure 1). The area receives bimodal rainfall of more than 1000 mm a year and has a tropical climate. The Rwambu wetland and its catchment draines into a stream called Rwambu, which drains into a bigger river called Mpanga that in turn drains into Lake George.
Location of Rwambu
The in-situ rainwater harvesting interventions promoted by the project are gathered under the acronym 3R which means that the interventions contribute to Recharge, Retention and Reuse of rainwater. The component of 3R technologies aimed to reverse the degradation previously caused by soil erosion on the hilly stony slopes, prevent further soil erosion, and improve soil moisture recharge and retention. Besides in-situ measures several other technologies such as gully plugs, small checkdams and infiltration pits were established to create more groundwater.
Fanya juu and Fanya chini are earthen bunds made by excavating a trench and making ridge along the contour. To build a Fanya juu terras you put the soil from the trench upslope of the trench, and for Fanya chini, the soil is put downslope of the trench. Stone bunds, on the other hand, are lines of stones placed along the contour. Stone bunds are normally constructed using both small and large stones (smaller ones placed upslope and larger ones downslope) but can be made of small stones. A grass strip is a row of grass (about 1 metre wide) along a contour. The grass can either be planted or be a deliberate remainder when the land is prepared for crop farming. The interventions were implemented sometimes using local hired labour but increasingly through voluntary community participation