By Edwin Muhumuza
The number of natural disasters in the world has shot up over the past two decades. Scientists argue over the extent to which climate change is responsible for this phenomenon but no one can deny such disasters are increasing in scale and frequency.
According to the World Bank, the high incidence of disasters occurring in Uganda every year has a negative impact on both the economy and people. Drought and floods are identified as the disasters afflicting people most.
Households affected by particular disaster type in Uganda every year are categorised as follows; droughts 55%, floods 18%, rain 5%, hailstorm 4%, famine 4%, landslide 4%, rainstorm 2%, epidemic 2% and other disasters 2%.
With Uganda beginning to face the problem of climate change, about half of the country's districts are likely to become drought-prone by 2035. Due to climate change, Uganda is experiencing unreliable and extreme rainfall which results into shorter and irregular heavy rains as well as longer drought episodes.
Droughts, flooding and landslides affected 3.6 million Ugandans between 2000 and 2009. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts effects of climate change in Uganda will include an increase in erratic rainy seasons, intense rainstorms and matched longer drier spells (IPCC 2007, Climate Change Synthesis Report, Geneva Switzerland).
With a rapid growing population, disease outbreak, environmental degradation and climate change, people's overall levels of risk to disaster in Uganda are steadily increasing. This affects economic growth and progress on reducing poverty.
We know that disasters affect poor people the most through higher mortality rates, loss of earnings, destruction of household goods and equipment used in business or livelihoods and ability to access food and health care.
But we also know that reducing the risk of disaster can be an effective means to avoid future emergency costs for donors and the poor. When big disasters strike such as landslides, we need donations from the public to help communities and survivors recover form devastating disasters.
But the question is; is the Government ready and well prepared for any natural disaster that may occur as scientists predict intense rainstorms?
In Uganda, landslides are more frequent in the mountainous regions such as the slopes of Mt Rwenzori like the recent foods that hit Kasese district and Mt. Elgon where we witnessed about 30 people killed in a landslide and other 400,000 people from six (6) districts of Bududa, Mbale, Sironko, Manafa, Kapchorwa, and Bukwo shifted to Kiryandongo district and other areas in 2012. Such occurrences are lessons to learn from.
In my opinion, the Government through the Ministry of Relief and Disaster Preparedness and the Environment Ministry should develop capacity for prediction of changes in precipitation, extreme events and natural disasters through better hydro-meteorological forecasting capacity and systems.
Uganda also needs to have an early warning mechanism or system to manage natural disasters to curb its impact on people and infrastructure.
Where environmental degradation is causing more frequent landslides, droughts etc, the Government should use a more proactive approach on prevention and mitigation of damages from disasters through restoration of degraded lands, reforestation (tree planting) and sustainable natural resource management.
Majority of the families in Uganda depend on land for their survival, putting pressure on natural resources. Some parts of Eastern Uganda like areas around Mt. Elgon, environmental degradation is one of the factors causing more frequent floods and landslides over the last few years.
The Government should also implement policies aimed at guarding against the destruction of the environment and provide more funds to respond to disasters.
Therefore, Uganda should be determined to ensure that people living in these high-risk areas have every opportunity to live their lives to the fullest.
The writer is an environmentalist