Resilience to climate change and Covid-19

Friday June 26 2020

 

By A. Akandwanaho

Uganda has in the recent past been hit hard by a wave of floods as a result of changes in rainfall patterns attributed to climate change.

Several settlements on Lake Victoria, Lake Edward, Lake Albert, River Nile and River Nyamambwa have been washed away by floods, leading to several displacements of people, destruction of crops and other properties.

Kasese District is among those that have had recurrent floods over time, the most recent being in May.
According to media reports, infrastructure such as schools, roads, bridges, hospitals and other properties were damaged by the floods.

The disaster committee interim assessment report indicates that 24,760 houses and an estimated 173,000 people were affected by the floods forcing them to be relocated to temporal confinements for safety.

In addition, the Uganda Red Cross Society identified the victims’ immediate needs as shelter, food, beddings, mosquito nets, mobile toilets, water storage facilities and tarpaulins.

Such conditions of displacement and overcrowding in makeshift shelters will most definitely compromise the Covid-19 response measures of social distancing, among others.

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Furthermore, floods are known to trigger outbreaks of waterborne diseases and malaria which will compound the vulnerabilities of the communities to Covid-19.

While the current primary concern is responding to Covid-19, these climate change effects are not about to stop as attested by the Uganda National Meteorological Authority’s seasonal rainfall outlook.

The floods affect the efforts to deal with Covid-19 due to the displacement of people and the destruction of infrastructure including hospitals.

Since such communities have to deal with both crises, building resilience against them is therefore crucial in order to save lives and livelihoods.

An article from the Water Resources Institute on how key investments can build resilience to pandemics and climate change proposes investing in a health care system that addresses both climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ongoing investments in our health care system such as the procurement of relevant medical equipment will ensure that the hospitals are better prepared to respond quickly and provide treatment to victims of both crises.

UNDP further proposes that some of the health sector budget reallocations during this period should also be earmarked to support non-Covid-19 concerns, from basic to emergency healthcare since flooding will increase the prevalence of malaria and waterborne diseases like cholera.

Effective disaster management and preparedness is key in dealing with such crises. The major aim of Uganda’s National Policy for Disaster Preparedness and Management is to ensure that the adverse effects of a hazard are minimised through effective, appropriate and timely precautionary measures as well as efficient organisation and delivery of emergency relief services.

This objective should be implemented because families in Kasese are still stranded; homeless with no food and other basic requirements.

The disaster preparedness institutions, especially the district disaster committees, should therefore, be effectively financed to respond to and manage the climate change related disasters.

In addition, disaster-responsive social safety nets are important to build resilience of the communities to both crises.

The measures to enhance climate resilience can be part of the Covid-19 responses, the same way those to contain and deal with pandemic can be used to build community resilience to climate change impacts.
The promotion of climate resilient practices and land management will ensure food security during Covid-19 pandemic and reduce communities’ vulnerabilities in these times.

Ms Akandwanaho works with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment .

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