Climate change is whipping our public infrastructure

What you need to know:

 In 2020, when rain was plentiful, floating vegetation drifted to the Nalubaale Dam, choking it, leaving the nation enveloped in darkness for days

Extreme weather is lashing public infrastructure – especially power structures – hard, thus utilities must adjust aptly.

Circa 2005, a prolonged dry spell and increased precipitation reduced Lake Victoria’s waterline, limiting the volume of water that could be used to generate hydroelectricity.

Consequently, power utilities rationed supply to users, the government engaged independent power producers whereas many business and home owners had to invest in generators.

In 2020, when rain was plentiful, floating vegetation drifted to the Nalubaale Dam, choking it, leaving the nation enveloped in darkness for days.

 In the same year, a power line skirting the Wakawaka shoreline of Lake Victoria in Bulidha Sub-County, Bugiri District, Eastern Uganda was submerged.

 As a result, electricity supply to many homes was cut off to reduce the risk of electrocution in case the cables sagged into the lake from which many collect water for domestic use.

Still on the impact of climate change, in Lira, Northern Uganda, Lake Kwania burst its banks, flooding the shore along which power distributor Umeme had years earlier strung a line from Lira Town to the National Water and Sewerage Corporation pumping station in Kachung.

The National Water and Sewerage Corporation had to invest in a canoe and life jackets to transport its technical staff from the shore to the pumping station whenever there was a downpour.

Uganda National Roads Authority had to buttress the lane to the pumping station.

 In Wanseko–Butiaba, Buliisa District, Western Uganda, floods claimed a stretch of land on which a Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited line stood.

 It is only the transmission grid that seems to be weatherproof, for now.  Climate change will be with us over the long haul, increasing the likelihood of weather–induced outages, displacement of communities and accidents.

 Therefore, utilities and communities should take steps to mitigate its adverse effects.

During a field trip to Wakawaka on June 21, 2022, Selestino Babungi, Umeme’s Managing Director, said as part of the Iganga–Kibimba power line refurbishment and reliability project on which Umeme is spending $1 million (Shs3.7 billion), the Company is rerouting the power line supplying Wakawaka to restore supply to the community.

The submerged stretch is being moved to areas further inland, and where need be concrete posts that are resilient to the elements will be used.

 Measures that enable utility infrastructure to withstand extreme weather do not come cheap, though.

 Yet the regulator, aware of the government’s policy on tariffs, and consumers’ distaste for rate increases, will certainly look over its shoulder before it approves every investment that could result in higher tariffs.

However, as American President Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

 From the economic perspective, the benefits of a resilient grid outweigh political expediency.

 That said, the public should interest itself a lot more in activities that will mitigate climate change.

 True, it will be tough to either get individuals to plant trees, resist the temptation to fell those still standing for either firewood, charcoal, timber, farmland, or settlement and to avoid encroaching on wetlands since they serve as flood absorbents.

 Still, effort must be made.

All stakeholders should take climate change seriously, summon the willpower to protect the environment by, among others, planting trees and nurturing them.

 Uganda’s Electricity supply industry is reading from the same script in terms of climate change mitigation.

Every other year, Umeme gives each of its staff members two seedlings of a tree of their choice to plant. Uganda Electricity Transmission Company also does the same. The Electricity Regulatory Authority is working to plant trees on 60 hectares of National Forestry Authority reserves.

 Trees release oxygen into the atmosphere, and are crucial in reducing extreme temperatures because they absorb carbon dioxide.

Nelson Wesonga ,

Works at Umeme Limited