Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Prevent Uganda’s looming climate catastrophe

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By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

When the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was giving remarks at the climate talks (COP18) in Qatar last year, one fact caught my attention. Ki-Moon said no one is immune to climate change –rich or poor. In Uganda, like for the rest of the world, there are already signs of climate change as seen in the severity of extreme climate and weather events, such as mudslides, prolonged droughts, floods, etc. These extreme weather changes and rise in temperature are likely to have significant implications for water resources, food security, natural resource management, human health, livelihoods, settlements and infrastructure.

Erratic rains are causing havoc. The recent destructive floods and mudslides in Uganda and ravaging drought in the Sahel among other parts of Africa testify to the looming climate catastrophe. The signs are already here. In May, at least four streams in western Uganda burst their banks displacing thousands from their homes. Notable among the property destroyed was a public hospital that serves over 500,000 Ugandans.

The flooding rivers caused by unusual excessive rains in Rwenzori Mountains carried with them stone boulders that broke down hospital infrastructure forcing its temporal closure. Elders in the area say this was the worst flooding of the rivers since 1976. Conservationists blamed uncontrolled farming on hilltops and clearing of trees on river banks as having made the flooding worse. Now local leaders in areas affected by these floods say more than Shillings50 billion ($20 million) is needed in the rebuilding process.

Necessary efforts must be done to reverse the human induced climate disaster. The floods, drought, mudslides, etc. and their resultant effects like famine are a negative force to sustainable growth. Our people need the information on how to respond such destructive climate change effects.

Several studies have shown that Uganda is vulnerable to climate change and variability. Climate change is expected to result in more extreme and frequent periods of intense rainfall, floods, and severe droughts. These changes are likely to have adverse implications for agriculture, food security, and soil and water resources. A study by the UK’s Department for International Development says that human induced climate change is likely to increase average temperatures in Uganda by up to 1.5 ºC in the next 20 years and by up to 4.3 ºC by 2080.

Consequently, rainfall declines in some parts of the East African country threaten Uganda’s future food production prospects. Rapid population growth, the expansion of farming and pastoralism under a drier and warmer climate regime could dramatically increase the number of at risk people in Uganda during the next 20 years.

Today there is concern over the receding glaciers on Rwenzori Mountains due to the impact of climate change. In 1906 the Rwenzori had 43 named glaciers distributed over 6 mountain ranges with a total area of 7.5 square kilometres but by 2005 less than half of these were still present, on only three mountain ranges, with an area of about 1.5 square kilometres.

A survey conducted by International charity organisation Oxfam says warming temperatures on the mountain are threatening coffee farming, the major source of income of farmers in Rwenzori for generations. The peasant farmers on the slopes of Rwenzori Mountain are worried of the excessive heat due to changing climate. “The springs are drying up,” the farmers say; “the coffee has started behaving differently; it flowers even as it fruits. We have lost 20% of our income”.

This calls for strengthening the communities’ resilience.  There is need to contribute to the sustainable improvement of livelihoods and food security of the rural populations in Uganda especially in cattle keeping areas which are characteristically more prone to long dry spells.  Also people’s knowledge and capacities for climate change adaptation should be strengthened. In addition, small-scale irrigation as part of the multifunctional use of water reservoirs should be a priority and piloted.

Mubatsi Twitter: @AsinjaHabati

Mubatsi is a Ugandan journalist who blogs on governance and human rights-based issues in his community with particular interest in environmental reporting. For four years, Mubatsi worked with The Independent, Uganda's most influential weekly policy analysis news magazine, as a reporter. He is currently a senior researcher at Made in Uganda TV, a television production company that produces Minibuzz show.