By Paul Mafabi
2019 will be remembered for the many disasters that affected different parts of the country with disturbing news of disasters destroying lives and property worth millions of shillings.
Whereas Bududa and Bundibugyo districts were on top of this tragic news, there were many other parts of the country that experienced some form of disaster.
These ranged from rivers overflowing their banks, roofs were blown off houses, crops washed away from gardens to stunted crops due to prolonged waterlogged conditions.
According to the media, the country was once again hit hard by serious disasters-mudslides, floods and hailstorms- killing scores of residents and damaged property worth millions of shillings.
Although the number of death toll remained staggering, 30 residents were reported dead in Bududa district, with scores of others missing.
Community members could be seen making frantic efforts to save the missing lives believed to be trapped underground but with limited success.
Unfortunately, despite frequent occurrences of these disastrous events, everyone seems to pay less attention to actual causes of these events which are clear indicators of climate change impact that are adversely affecting the country.
As we start the dry season in January 2020, many people are already complaining of excess heat and dust.
They have hastily forgotten the coldness and mud which we had to endure for a better of 2019.
Soon, they will start complaining of a shortage of water and yet a short while ago, they were disgusted with floods.
Such are scenarios indicating the extent to which Uganda is still vulnerable to impacts of climate change and the need for concerted efforts to build resilience.
Reports (Worlwebrelief 2019, World Vision, 2019), indicate the government of Uganda spends millions of money to mitigate climate change impacts in addition to losing lives every year.
For instance, in 2018, 40 people reportedly died and another 500 displaced after mudslides swept villages in Bukalasi Sub County in Bududa district following heavy rainfall lasting for about four hours.
In August 2019, the office of the Prime Minister indicated that over 15,500 homes were affected following heavy rainfall, strong, winds, hailstorms, floods, which also damaged several shelters, infrastructures, crops, and production.
The most affected regions included; Teso, Bugisu, Bukedi and Kigezi.
Barely three months after the August phenomenon (in November 2019), 349 households were reported damaged in Bundibugyo district affecting 4000 people.
Another 850 people were displaced and 54 lives lost after mudslides hit Bukalasi and Buwali Sub Counties, while 50 other people were feared dead in Sironko and Bududa districts.
Incidents such as these are strong indicators that climate change impact is real and is here with us.
Unless strategic efforts are made to address the real pressures, the country might continue to bleed as it losses her resourceful citizens to such disasters.
Evidence indicates that the impact of climate change, coupled with other human and environmental stressors, is increasing degradation of wetlands and their associated ecosystem services in Uganda.
By 1980s wetland cover in Uganda accounted for 11 per cent of the land area with seasonal wetlands covering (7.7%), permanent (3.4%) and swamp forests (0.1%). This, however, has significantly reduced by 40%.
The reduced wetland cover has resulted in flooding, prolonged dry spells, rising temperatures, reduced production capacity among other impacts.
Mbale district, has, for instance, lost up to 93% of its wetland cover.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Bugisu sub-region is experiencing mudslides nearly every year killing hundreds of residents.
Research conducted in the Eastern Free State, South Africa indicates that healthy wetlands are effective buffers in reducing disaster risks such as drought, veld fires and floods.
Therefore, through better land-use and management practices, backed by education and awareness, wetlands could be good instruments to mitigate recurrent natural hazards.
Granted the relevance of wetland ecosystem, Government of Uganda has designed several mechanisms for adaptation and mitigation of climate change.
For instance, Vision 2040, National Development Plan II, Uganda Green Growth Development Strategy, among other policy frameworks provide for means of addressing climate change impact through the implementation remains limited due to inadequate resources, awareness and expertise.
Because the wetlands play an important role in preventing disasters, President Yoweri Museveni has on several occasion reiterated the need for conservation.
In fact, to demonstrate his willingness to support such initiatives, the president has since mobilised resources to beef up restoration efforts.
One such initiative that the President is passionate about is the Building Resilient Communities, Wetland Ecosystem and Associated catchments project.
The 8-year project is being implemented by the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA).
Government of Uganda, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are providing financial support.
The multi-sectorial project is expected to impact on 4 million people, directly benefit up to 800,000 people and 50,000 households in 24 districts of South Western (Mitooma, Buhweju, Sheema, Kabale, Ntungamo, Bushenyi Rubirizi, Kisoro, Kanungu, Rukungiri, Rukiga, Rubanda) and Eastern (Bukedea, Pallisa, Ngora, Mbale, Kibuku, Namutumba, Tororo, Kaliro, Butaleja, Butebo, Kumi, and Budaka) Uganda.
The project targets to restore 64, 370 hectares of wetlands and 11,630 hectares of associated catchments. 85% of households within the project area will receive climate and early warning information on floods, drought and severe weather conditions.
Meteorological and hydrological systems will be installed to provide climate and early warning information to farmers and other target communities.
It should be noted that over 80% of the people living adjacent to wetland areas in Uganda directly use wetland resources for their livelihoods making wetlands highly vulnerable to changes in the quantity and quality of their water supply.
It is, therefore, prudent that all stakeholders join the President and the government in addressing the climate change issues.
Most importantly, the Members of Parliament as well as Local Government leaders being opinion influencers in communities, ought to take a leading role in mobilising communities to conserve wetlands and preaching about attitudinal and behaviour change.
The writer is the National Project Coordinator (NPC), Building Resilient Communities, Wetland Ecosystem and Associated Catchments in Uganda project.