By Andrew Mafundo
Uganda, like other countries in the world, is experiencing climate change. This is manifested mainly in the form of rising temperatures, erratic and unpredictable rainfall, increased frequency and spread of droughts, and reduced water volumes in various water systems in the country.
According to NEMA’s National State of the Environment report, 2014, there is evidence that global warming and climate change are a function of anthropogenic factors with the main drivers of climate change in Uganda being contributed by global carbon emissions but also locally emanating from land use change, unsustainable agricultural practices, population increase, and burning of fossil fuels including oil and gas. Human activity has increased the risks, for example by paving over areas which were previously covered by vegetation, reducing the capacity of the land to absorb rainfall and causing it to run off more quickly.
The extreme weather events such as devastating floods and landslides are beginning to bite and have been important in the way the public perceives climate change risk. Anyone who has ever been flooded knows how huge the personal and emotional impact of floods can be. Lives and property are lost and communities get displaced from their homes and take months to clean up and repair the mess afterwards.
Climate scientists as well as the Government’s own advisers have warned that climate change is set to greatly worsen the threat of flooding in the future.
During the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) member states regional platform on drought resilience and sustainability held in Kampala, the state minister for Karamoja, Moses Kizige challenged member states to aggressively address issues of climate change to save the region from its adverse negative effects like floods and drought.
After sustained criticism, the government last week finally named 27 of the over 350 land titles in wetlands that had unlawfully been awarded to individuals and companies were due for cancellation. However, this is not enough because environmental degradation and human encroachment on wetlands is not only limited to Wakiso, Mukono and Kampala.NEMA and ministry of lands should cancel all land titles in wetlands nationwide.
Truth be told, the government knows the dangers of environmental degradation but has chosen not to meet its mandate. What’s lacking is the Political Will backed by professional ecological governance. Encroachment on wetlands across the country has been accelerated by corruption leaving the problem unaddressed and as such making environmental devastation an unwarranted consequence. For example, wetlands are amongst Uganda’s most threatened ecosystems but there is inadequate quantitative data to back it up. Wetland assessment has been carried out in piece-meals and so the national inventory has not been fully updated. Rates and type of degradation differ between urban and rural wetlands. This has over time resulted in reporting different figures over the same years.
Experts have warned that as humankind encroaches increasingly and disruptively on the natural environment, so will be opportunities for contact and infections transmission. This can present a huge socio-economic bill for any government like the floods experienced in March and April could lead natural calamities like wide spread Cholera, typhoid, malaria, dysentery among others. Kenya, Uganda and DRC are currently hit by Cholera outbreak and floods as a result of high rainfall have been identified as one of the triggers of the epidemic.
Policies, laws and Institutions for implementation and monitoring biodiversity conservation, including NEMA whose role is to coordinate, supervise and monitor all matters of environmental management have been in place for decades but the coordination and collaboration among them during implementation is generally weak. Human-driven climate change is loading the dice in favor of more flooding; the question for decision-makers is how much they are prepared to gamble, and put ever greater numbers of households, businesses and tourist attractions at risk of flooding.
Nature has been ignored so the challenge is far from over. We really have only three choices: mitigate, adapt, or ignore and suffer the consequences. This year’s floods must be a wake-up call for politicians - they need to take urgent action to protect households. The city and towns are expanding, rural-urban migration has put incredible unforeseen damage on the drainage system, the rains are getting harder yet the drainage systems are already stressed. New channels must be built to drain new neighborhoods. The urban planners and authority need to appreciate the risk and anticipate two important things: how bad the rains could get and how much urbanization will worsen the floods.
As citizens, we should join hands to demand action and accountability from those mandated to protect the environment, engage government and lawmakers for the political will and to get tough on environmental protection legislation and implementation.
Individually through neighborhood watch, we can report encroachers on wetlands and those who dump garbage in drainage channels, advocate for increase in environmental funding and successfully petition authority at all levels.
The writer is executive director of CITIZENS CONCERN AFRICA