What you need to know:
- Droughts, flash floods, landslides, and above-normal rainfall have become familiar calamities. At least 50,000 people are affected by floods annually in the country.
In the face of escalating climate change impacts globally, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is focusing on pre-disaster mitigation efforts, particularly in Uganda’s vulnerable Rwenzori region.
As the world contends with the harsh realities of soaring temperatures, flooding, droughts, and severe storms, rolling out anticipatory actions and enhancing early warning systems is key in the mitigation process.
The Global Humanitarian Assistance Report of 2023 paints a bleak picture, revealing that 83 percent of the 406.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance faced multiple risk factors, including conflict, climate, and socioeconomic vulnerabilities.
Humanitarian assistance expenditure, growing by 1.2 percent in 2023 to USD 46.9 billion, primarily focused on mitigating post-disaster effects in conflict or climate-affected zones globally.
Uganda, too, grapples with the far-reaching consequences of climate change, from ADF attacks to the capricious offerings of nature.
Droughts, flash floods, landslides, and above-normal rainfall have become familiar calamities. At least 50,000 people are affected by floods annually in the country.
According to FAO, the cost of impacts of the floods is estimated at USD 62 million, which is 0.13 per cent of the National Gross Domestic Product. Strategic and anticipatory measures before catastrophic occurrences are envisaged to reduce the strain on government coffers, improve livelihoods and most importantly enhance food security across the disaster prone areas.
The Uganda National Meteorological Authority’s warning in September 2023 of El Nino rains exacerbated the looming threat, especially in disaster-prone areas like the Elgon Region and Rwenzori sub-region. In Rwenzori, specific months witness floods, forcing families to abandon their homes and sources of livelihoods.
Bundibugyo District is home to about 240,000 people. It has witnessed over 400 families permanently vacating their homes due to floods, many remain homeless despite government efforts to find new homes for them.
Flowing from the Rwenzori Mountain Range into the Semuliki National Park, River Kirumya, a hotspot in recent years, has transformed once-thriving towns and its surroundings into mere shadows of their past.
Sulaiman Baluku, a native of Kirumya town council says the worsening floods over the years have made many abandon their original homes for higher lands which makes it hard to access social services.
“Only a few people have stayed here, things have changed. It is not easy to leave your ancestral home but what choice do we have after losing all that you own,” he says.
Recognising the urgency, ahead of the expected heavy rains, FAO embarked on a project, “Strengthening flood early warning, preparedness, and anticipatory action in hot-spot areas in Uganda.” Funded by the Government of the Kingdom of Belgium with USD 1 million (Shs3.7bn) through the Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities (SFERA), the project targeted flood hotspots, leveraging existing data and extensive research.
Under this initiative, FAO desilted over 810 meters of River Kirumya in Bundibugyo and 2 km of Kamulikwizi channel in Kasese, significantly reducing the risk of flooding and related disasters. This strategic intervention not only ensured the safety of residents but also had a profound economic impact, safeguarding vital infrastructure and agricultural lands.
“We are predominantly cocoa farmers in this district, our people barely grow any food crops, so we rely on outsourcing, therefore if it floods and they are unable to store their produce or farm, that means the food security is threatened. There is a need to safeguard the crucial infrastructure and as well control disaster before it happens,” says Mr Francis Xavier Ssenyondo who is the district’s Principal Human Resource Officer.
According to Bundibugyo District Natural Resources Officer, Mr Jockus Maate the tangible benefits of these measures are palpable, with over 550 households along the river reaping the rewards of the pre-disaster management.
“This has become normal for people to abandon their homes in hotspot areas during these flood seasons. We have had loss of crops, farmland and lost people in extreme cases. In December 2019, severe floods claimed the lives of 16 people in the district. As a district we are endowed with over 20 medium sized rivers, and most of them flood during the rainy seasons. But notably River Kirumya which has been a hotspot in recent years,” Mr. Maate says.
These endeavors successfully prevented flooding and protected the livelihoods of more than 900 households in Bundibugyo and Kasese Districts.
The upcoming phase will extend comparable anticipatory measures to additional disaster-prone regions in the country, addressing the escalating impacts of climate change swiftly and effectively.
Uganda recently reached a significant milestone in its efforts to implement anticipatory action across the country, holding its first ever National Dialogue on Anticipatory Action. Taking place from 2-3 November 2022 in Kampala, the event saw around 200 actors involved in the design and implementation of anticipatory action gather to discuss the country’s progress to date, and establish the priorities for the coming months and years.
“This National Dialogue provided a forum to share best practices and lessons learnt in Uganda, and to define a national vision for anticipatory action,” says Eddie Jjemba, a facilitator, resilience advisor and intrapreneur with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. “This is essential if we are to progress from pilot projects and see this approach scaled up across the country.”
In recent years, Uganda has experienced devastating impacts from a series of hazards. In 2022, floods and landslides wrought havoc in the mountainous areas of Mbale and Kasese, which cost many people their lives and livelihoods, and damaged more than 4,000 households. There has also been an extensive drought in the Karamoja region that has killed many heads of livestock, notably cattle, upon which people’s livelihoods depend. As climate change gathers pace, Uganda is likely to face more frequent and more intense hazards.
In many places, these hazards are exacerbated by factors such as conflict and the displacement of people, which creates complex compound crises. In 2020, many Ugandans suffered not only from the effects of drought, but, at the same time, a plague of desert locusts, the COVID-19 pandemic and floods.