What Uganda can do to avoid wildfires

Tuesday January 28 2020


By Desmond Anywar

Australia is facing its worst wildfires ever. Billions of dollars in damage has been caused, including the devastation of nearly 30 million acres of land, an area the size of Karamoja, Lango, Teso and Acholiland combined. More than 24 people have died and many more are unaccounted for. An estimated 480 million animals have been killed by the wildfire or through starvation and lack of water. And severe air and water pollution is abound.
Extreme heat and dryness fuelled the wildfire; 2019 was the hottest and driest year in Australian history with temperatures rising to 1.52ºC against record 0.19ºC, which was experienced in 2013. Rain was 40 per cent less than normal. Poor land use practices are also to blame, among other things. But these phenomena are no different from what Uganda experiences. Dr Joshua Zake, the executive director of Environmental Alert, has documented the extent and impact of prolonged drought and bushfire in northern Uganda. We have also lost 50 per cent of our wetlands and 70 per cent of our forests, which are sources of water.
Mr Paul Arop Poppy, a cultural chief in Acholi, notes that the causes of fire in the region is a bad act in communities where individuals set fire to seek attention, but also for hunting and opening land for cultivation. The principal community development officer of Kotido District, Mr Lawrence Ogwaria, noted that, “community burn bushes in the belief that it helps kill ticks that affects livestock.” Other reasons include the need for fresh pastures for animals and chasing away wild animals. He said last year’s fire in Kotido District (December 2019), led to loss of property, including buildings.
Bushfires release black carbon to the atmosphere. Despite the shorter lifespan in the atmosphere, black carbon absorbs heat energy from solar, which causes global warming at a much higher rate than carbon dioxide and results in many deaths every year.
There are policies that are in place to check bushfire. For example, Uganda forest regulations, which mandate local governments to set a district fire management committee, which is responsible for fire management in the district. Uganda should look to techniques that keep water on the land like natural sequence farming” and the weirs system.” We need ecological approaches such as “drought-proofing of our farms”. We need to protect and restore our wetlands as well as plant trees. There is also need to mainstream fire management in different sectors. Besides, there is need for communities to know the link between changing climate and fires through sensitisation. Actions such as control bush burning in the protected areas through cool burning, fire lining and fuel management, which can be undertaken by stakeholders to check impacts of bush fires are very crucial.
Desmond Anywar,