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Climate change hits Uganda

By Vision Reporter

Added 7th April 2007 03:00 AM

CLIMATE experts warned on Friday morning that global warming will cause faster and wider damage than previously forecast, ranging from failing crops and hunger in Africa to species extinction and rising sea levels.

Climate change hits Uganda

CLIMATE experts warned on Friday morning that global warming will cause faster and wider damage than previously forecast, ranging from failing crops and hunger in Africa to species extinction and rising sea levels.

By Gerald Tenywa

CLIMATE experts warned on Friday morning that global warming will cause faster and wider damage than previously forecast, ranging from failing crops and hunger in Africa to species extinction and rising sea levels.

It predicts that some African nations might have to spend 5 to 10 percent of gross domestic product on adapting to climate change.

Climate change has also started hitting Uganda. According to the first ever government assessment, obtained exclusively by The New Vision, the impact is dramatic.

Temperature rise resulted in an increase in infectious diseases. Malaria increased throughout the country but has reached “epidemic proportions” in southwest Uganda, according to the report titled ‘Climate Change, Uganda National Adaptation Programmes of Action’.

Frequent droughts have resulted in lowering of the water table, leading to drying of boreholes, with the rural poor and the cattle corridor most affected (see map on p2). Rains are decreasing in amount, yet they fall in concentrated heavy showers and storms, leading to floods in lowlands and landslides in highlands.

Increased temperatures affect agricultural crops like coffee, cassava and soya and lead to the emergency of new pests.

The ice caps on Rwenzori Mountains have receded to 40% of their 1955 recorded cover and are set to disappear within the next two decades, affecting wildlife species and increasing the erosive power of River Semliki.

“Climate change is a serious risk to poverty reduction and threatens to undo decades of development efforts through destruction of infrastructure, property and lives,” warns former state minister for environment Lt. Gen. Odongo Jeje in the introduction.

“Indeed, climate change threatens to frustrate poverty eradication programmes and the Millennium Development Goals.”

The report was compiled by a team of 33 experts of the ministries of health, agriculture, wildlife and environment led by Philip Gwage, the Assistant Commissioner in charge of meteorology.

Southwestern Uganda, where temperatures have risen by 0.3 degrees in a decade, is cited as one of the hardest hit areas in terms of disease outbreaks.

The highlands, which were malaria free, are now invaded by the disease. People living in highlands have not developed immunity for malaria and are therefore more susceptible to it. The report noted an increase in malaria cases of 43% in Ntungamo, 51% in Kabale and 135% in Mbarara.

“There was a general increase of malaria incidences throughout the country, particularly in southwestern Uganda where it reached epidemic proportions.”

In the semi-arid areas, tick-borne diseases have become rampant because of higher temperatures. The tsetse fly belt has expanded, while meningitis and eye infections have increased.

“Severe droughts resulted in frequent dust storms and associated respiratory and eye infections in low lying areas,” according to the report. It noted an increase in such infections in Nakasongola, Lira and Rakai.

Erratic rainfall
The study further indicated that across the country, rainfall has been more erratic and the amount of rain has gone down. Landslides occurred in the highlands while flooding occurred in the lowlands, leading to the spread of waterborne diseases.

“A large proportion of the rural poor do not have pit latrines. Floods pose serious pollution problems to sources of drinking water, with potential danger of outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery,” the report noted.

Although rainfall is expected to increase in some areas as a result of climate change, evaporation will also increase due to the rise in temperatures, thus undoing the gains.

Droughts have become more frequent and severe, the report observed, with not less than seven droughts between 1991 and 2000.

“Drought is the single most important and widespread disaster in Uganda. It is increasing in frequency and severity, particularly in the semi-arid areas of the cattle corridor. The rural poor, whose livelihoods are dependent on natural resources, are most affected.”

Prolonged droughts have affected food production and led to almost perpetual dependency on food aid in some parts of the country, according to the experts’ findings.

“A typical example is in the arid areas of Karamoja where the World Food Programme supplies virtually all the food.”

Long spells of drought have also resulted in the drying up of boreholes and the lowering of water levels of lakes and rivers. The study observed that River Rwizi in Lake Mburo National Park, which feeds Lake Victoria, dropped by four metres in a few years. The fall in water levels will continue to impact on hydro-electric power generation, water supply and bio-diversity, the report warned.

“Severe drought resulted in drying of water sources, leading to serious water shortages. This compromises personal hygiene, escalating water-borne diseases like cholera outbreaks.”

The areas expected to be hit hardest by drought include the cattle corridor, covering about 30 districts, from Ntugamo, Rakai and Mbarara in western Uganda over Luwero, Nakasongola, Apac and Lira to Karamoja in north-eastern Uganda

“This area had a prolonged drought in 2000 that caused severe water shortage, leading to loss of animals, low milk production, food insecurity and increased food prices,” the report noted.

Coffee affected
Droughts and temperature rise will also lead to a change of crop growing areas. Current temperatures and rainfall permit the cultivation of coffee in most parts of the country. With a temperature rise of 2 degrees, areas suitable for coffee cultivation will be reduced to Kabale, Fort Portal, parts of Nebbi, Kapchorwa and Mount Elgon.

“Other crops like cassava and soya may also be sensitive to temperature increases.”

The disappearing of the glaciers on the Rwenzori Mountains will probably be the most visible symbol of climate change. Apart from the nostalgia associated with the sight of snow and its seasonality, the melting of the ice caps has a negative effect on both the water catchment and eco-tourism. It has already increased the erosive power of River Semliki, shifting it almost one kilometre into Uganda, causing a border dispute with Congo.

Gorillas threatened
The warming of mountainous areas will also drastically affect wildlife species. The Mountain Gorilla, of which half of the world’s population is in Uganda, is under threat. Equally endangered are the Rwenzori leopard and the Rwenzori Red Duiker, that usually live at altitudes above 3,000, corresponding with colder climates.

“Unique species of chameleon are also found on the mountains, including the three-horned chameleon, whose range is shifting upwards as a result of rising temperatures,” according to the report.

The dwindling of wildlife will certainly affect tourism. Wildlife-based tourism was recorded in 2004 for the first time as the country’s leading foreign exchange earner, bringing in $300m (about sh5.4b).

Climate change is caused by environmental destruction – cutting down trees – as a result of industrialisation and population pressure. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, found in emissions from cars, planes, factories and charcoal burning. Carbon dioxide traps the heat escaping from the earth. With more carbon dioxide being released and less trees to absorb it, more heat is being trapped, leading to global warming.

At a glance
• Temperatures rising
• Droughts more frequent and severe
• Water table down, bore holes drying
• Gorillas and leopards endangered
• Coffee and cassava areas reducing
• Diseases spreading
• Malaria up
• Less rainfall but more storms, floods and landslides

Climate change hits Uganda

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