Albert Kasigwa, one of the fishermen at Nkese landing site, Bubeke Sub County, in February this year went fishing in distant shores, leaving behind a pregnant wife.
His wife was due for delivery. However, she could not affordably move from Nkese Island to a nearby health facility, Bubeke Health Center III on an island annex. It would require Kasigwa’s wife up to Ugx 200,000 to move to the health facility.
There isn’t any safe means of transport from Nkese and yet, the island is situated in an area where there are high Nile Perch fish catches. The isolated island, being rocky acts as a breeding area for fish. It is also situated in deep waters which act safe for Nile Perch to thrive.
For people to travel to and from that island, they all wait for a late night Tuesday Cargo Boat that leaves Kasenyi Landing site in Wakiso District. The cargo boat, despite reaching all landing sites such as Kawafu, Lwazi, Namisoke, Jaana, Lyabaana, Nsazi and Koome in Kalangala and Mukono, is unsafe to transport people and cargo, especially at night.
For a Marine Vessel to travel at night, it ought to have navigation lights and charts, eco sounders, a radar to avoid collision with fishermen and highly dangerous stones and rocks covered by water in the lake. The Victoria has for the past 25 years not been charted to mark all dangerous spots that would lead to accidents while moving on the Lake.
This among other reasons barred Kasigwa’s wife from traveling on a Cargo boat and yet, she never had Ugx 400,000 for a special hire boat to quickly get to the basic health facility on the annex Bubeke Island.
“While I was away, she got the delivery complications. Well as so many people were available to help, there was no boat to transport her to Bubeke Health Center III. Our island also has no emergency boat for medical issues.”
Kasigwa’s wife, unfortunately did not have a safe delivery. “The embryo died and instead, we had to go for burial, instead of celebrating the joy of carrying a baby for nine months.” Kasigwa says.
Kasigwa’s situation is no different from the experiences women go through on different landing sites that neither have a Health facility, nor better means of transport to reach basic health services. Islands such as Banda, Sserinya, Kitobo, Bugaba, Buyovu, Buyange, Kuye, Miyana, Nkose, Buggala, Funve, among others are not home to any health facility despite being densely populated.
“These islands also do not have any safe means of connectivity to where they can easily get Medicare. There is no connecting ferry, and people have to invest fuel , an engine, a boat and the hiring of a coxswain to engage movement on water, which is also risky.” Says the Kalangala District Chairperson Rajab Ssemakula.
Transport and other basic social services such as health and education are a bedrock of a developing society, according to the Kyamuswa County Member of Parliament Moses Wagaba Kabuusu. The absence of Health and Education Infrastructure on some of the islands would be compensated with the availability of a Marine Transport network to access them.
However, all Kalangala Ferries dock on one island, Bugala, leaving the other 62 out of 84 habited islands in Kalangala District hard to reach, stay and access. The ferries include, MV Pearl and MV Ssese owned by Kalangala Infrastructure Services, MV Kalangala, owned by government but operated by Nation Oil Distributors Limited and MV Natalie and Vanessa, owned by Nyanza Ever Green Waterways.
Several people have for so long been struggling to move from one island to another in quest for better health and education services. For instance, Schools in the island district have always been situated close to where sub county headquarters are. For residents to move from islands such as Miyana, Nkose, Lujaabwa, Butulume, Funve, Mirindi to take children to Mazinga Primary school requires hiring a number of boats and engines to help children get letters of opportunity.
“This is a tedious process which requires us to invest a lot of money. We pray the government finds solutions for if we do not have enough schools, we can at least have the required and desired transport for our children to access the available schools.” Says Muhammad Muteekanga, an LC1 leader at one of the landing sites without basic social services, Mirindi.
Also, more than 48 people in the past three year have drowned with the Lake Victoria territories of Kalangala District moving in canoes to get to their desired destinations.
In August 2020, government tabled a Bill titled “The Inland Water Transport Bill 2020”, The Bill seeks to regulate the inland water transport sector by providing for; registration and licensing of vessels, safety of life and navigation, maritime security, regulation of inland ports as well as repealing the current obsolete and scattered laws that include the Vessels Registration Act Cap 356 and part XII of the Uganda Railways’ Corporation Act.
Despite the challenges, the Government of Uganda is still unsure on whether further investment in the marine sector would be ensured. No resources were earmarked by the government of Uganda to fund for the provision of ferries to improve inter island connectivity amongst districts in Lake Victoria.
Also, the government is still negotiating with the World Bank to ensure Port Bell, the only Port of Origin of all Ugandan Vessels, is upgraded and modernized. Despite such calls, several islanders are struggling with a poor water transport network despite terms of the Lake Victoria Water Transport framework that provides for introduction of more Marine Vessels on Lake Victoria.
Kalangala District engineer Novat B Mukajaanga, in an interaction with Journalists at Port Bell, during the dry docking of MV Pearl one of the Marine Vessels that plies the Kalangala Masaka route said currently, all other islands in Kalangala have been cut off from the mainland, day and night due the lack of basic connectivity measures.
“We pray, government of Uganda, through its Public Private Partnership earmarks investors who can easily provide Marine Vessels for our people to move and do business. Kalangala is a home to several lucrative businesses including fish trading. They however cannot thrive due the unavailability of vessels that can transport people to do business,” Mukajaanga says.
Despite the lack of an immediate solution by the Government to provide for such a transport network, a private utility company, Kalangala Infrastructure Services Limited has severally proposed to the government to construct such vessels and adapt to routes to ensure safe marine transport but, the government still fails to yield to their call.
The company’s (Kalangala Infrastructure Services) Board Chairperson Prof John Ssenfuma says, the company already has the desired resources to construct the ferries that can be used by the people for inter connectivity of all islands with safe water transport.
“The ferries we construct have radars, modern electronic navigation charts and lights and can be used in the mapping of new routes. We only wait on the government to negotiate an agreement with us and we provide the service for the people,” he says.
The Government of Uganda, through the Uganda Development Bank has shareholding in Kalangala Infrastructure Services. Other shareholders include Infraco – UK, NED bank – South Africa, Eleqtra which is constructing two large Marine Vessels that will boost trade on the central corridor between Uganda Kenya and Tanzania through Lake Victoria.
The construction of a ferry costs between Ugx 10 to 28 billion, depending on the size and capacity. Helen Nakimuli, the Kalangala Woman Member of Parliament says, the government can start off with an affordable and cost effective ferry that could boost interconnectivity in the outlying islands.
While speaking to residents in Kalangala in March this year, Works and Transport Minister Gen Katumba Wamala said the government has plans to construct MV Kyamuswa, a ferry that would be connecting all other outlying islands in Kalangala. However, there have been no resources to ensure that the project kicks off.
“We have plans and shall engage the district leadership at the right time to understand what exactly is desired.” Gen Katumba said.
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