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ReFrame Urbanism Research Initiative


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Kampala, Uganda

Restoring Kilembe

The rebirth of a former mining town

Integrating Vetiver grass and Grassland restoration for sustainable flood management in the Kilembe Valley.

The rebirth of a former mining town

“Should mining cease, there is little prospect of alternative employment coming to this remote mountain valley. Any future developments would almost certainly be concentrated around the Kasese railhead, leaving peace to descend once again on the valley of the Nyamwamba River .”

The picturesque region of Kasese in Uganda faced unprecedented devastation in May 2013 when heavy rains led to catastrophic flooding, displacing over 7,000 people and damaging existing infrastructure. The recurring floods, exacerbated by historical mining activities and environmental degradation, have taken a heavy toll on Kilembe, a former mining town in the Nyamwamba River valley, nestled at the foothills of the Rwenzori mountain basin on the peripheries of the Congo Basin. The closure of mining operations left the region vulnerable to flooding, destroying homes, schools, and farms.

Various efforts have been made by the government and other organizations to rehabilitate the region through post-disaster management plans. However, it has become increasingly evident that the most viable and sustainable solution is relocating the populations residing in flood-prone areas, which, truthfully, is easier said than done. 

In the quest to address the recurring issue of flooding and stabilise the river bank, experts have put forth a promising solution: the utilisation of Vetiver grass technology. This solution not only offers cost-effective benefits compared to traditional concrete structures but also actively involves local communities in the propagation, planting, and maintenance of Vetiver grass. This community engagement fosters self-reliance, reducing dependence on governmental agencies.

Vetiver grass, with its deep roots and unique leaf structure, proves superior in water management. Planted along riverbanks, it acts as a physical barrier, controlling water during heavy rainfall and reducing erosive power. Its low-maintenance nature makes it an ideal solution, as it requires minimal technicalities and attention. Additionally, this innovative approach has demonstrated its effectiveness in stabilising river banks and shorelines worldwide, showcasing its adaptability and effectiveness in soil erosion control.

The Rwenzori Mountains, home to the Nyamwamba River, offer rich biodiversity and distinct vegetation zones. By restoring grassland species such as elephant grass, Citronella grass, and thatching grass, along with introducing Vetiver grass, the project aims to revive the natural landscape. This not only mitigates future flooding but also enhances the scenic beauty of the Kilembe Valley, creating a potential tourist attraction.

The project responds to the need for a management plan for the Nyamwamba River highlighted in the 2010 report. By reviving dominant grassland species and introducing Vetiver grass, the proposal aligns with the report's recommendation to conserve natural vegetation patches. This contributes to maintaining high species diversity, protecting the environment, and ensuring the sustainable development of the region.

The restoration of Kilembe through Vetiver grass technology not only addresses the immediate issue of flooding but also sets the stage for sustainable tourism and community engagement. By involving local communities in environmental conservation efforts, the project aims to create a resilient and vibrant ecosystem that will benefit both residents and visitors, turning Kilembe into a model for sustainable development in the region.