Coping with climate change: The Uganda story

The effects of climate change are hitting Uganda hard. What are ordinary people doing to adapt to extreme conditions? Ugandan journalist and guest DiA blogger Mubatsi Asinja Habati finds out

Lake Bunyonyi faces silting. Photo by snowflakegirl/ Creative Commons

Lake Bunyonyi faces silting. Photo by snowflakegirl/ Creative Commons

Every time Joseph Musoke visits his ancestral home in Mubende in rural central Uganda, he leaves it a sad man. “My village is no longer the same as 20 years ago when we grew up. The steady rain and thick forests are no more. Too much sunshine and erratic rains have reduced the once plentiful village to a hungry one,” he says.

Conservationists in Uganda are quick to conclude that Musoke’s lamentations about his village capture a portion of the mammoth danger climate change is inflicting on the country. Faced with these challenges, people are diversifying and adapting to the situation.

Local participation in conservation efforts is being encouraged. The communities surrounding protected areas which support ecosystems like national parks, wetlands, lakes, river banks, and lake shores are being sensitised to practice eco-friendly farming and fishing.

But persistent droughts and erratic rains are making the conservation efforts very hard. For example, whenever there are severe droughts in the country, cattle keepers have often encroached protected areas to graze their animals. They take their animals in wetlands or national parks because that is where they can find pasture for their livestock.

Similarly, cultivators push their gardens into river valleys and banks as well as onto lake shores to protect their crops from too much sun. Lake Bunyonyi, in south west Uganda, faces too much silting because of uncontrolled cultivation near its shores. But for cultivators and cattle keepers, this adaptation is necessary to cope with the effects of climate change.

Some Ugandans, whose crops have totally failed due to unpredictable weather and changes in climate, have resorted to charcoal burning, arguing that they have no alternative source of income. This in turn fuels the indiscriminate cutting down of trees, leaving the earth hardly protected.

Other Ugandans, especially young people who can’t stand erratic and destructive rains and prolonged drought, have migrated to urban centres as a way of adaptation. But here they live in squalid conditions which sometimes puts a negative pressure on the environment.

Gerald Tenywa, a Ugandan environmental journalist, says that Ugandans are doing many things to adapt to climate change. “After successive farming seasons have failed because of drought or floods or both, the only way of putting food on the table or keeping children in school for some parents could be charcoal burning,” he says.

To survive the adverse effects of climate change, some Ugandans are diversifying their enterprises. People who were solely cattle keepers are also doing some farming and vice versa. If the bad weather affects the crops, the animals survive. If the animals are hit by infections that are climate related, people have crops as a fallback position. Others are fishing, hunting wild animals and gathering fruits from forests.

Others are switching to rain water harvesting from the rooves of houses, digging ditches for trapping water, and trenches in their gardens to conserve water in the soil. Meanwhile, some are switching to trading in addition to farming and keeping animals.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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