All sectors in Uganda directly or indirectly depend on natural resources from which goods and services are obtained to sustain livelihoods.
By Ann Grace Apiita
"It appears almost a certainty that 2016 also will be the warmest year on record." A statement conveyed by Gavin Schmidt-Director of Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Top climate scientists from NASA-National Aeronautics and Space Administration have proven that July has been the warmest month ever in 136 years of advanced record keeping. Average global temperatures have accelerated to 1.38C close to 1.5C limit decided in the historical Paris climate accord.
This demands serious contemplation and urgent universal responsibility more than ever before not only for government and international partners, but all global habitants of this planet - EARTH.
If Uganda hardly implements effective efforts to keep temperatures below 1.5C as endorsed during the first quarter of 2016, what will be the likely repercussions for the rising heat waves on communities, sectors like tourism that heavily depend on biodiversity and ecosystems to attract foreign exchange?
All sectors in Uganda directly or indirectly depend on natural resources from which goods and services are obtained to sustain livelihoods. Unfortunately these resources frequently experience environmental stress due to over exploitation to meet population demands amidst rapid unsustainable development.
The trends are perilous to continuously depend on forests to regulate rainfall as statistically estimated: Uganda's forest cover which stood at 12.1 million hectares (equivalent to 50 percent of the total land cover) in 1900, dropped to 4.9 million hectares in 1990, to 3.6 million hectares in 2005 and to 2.9 million hectares in 2012 respectively. Massive destruction of Carbon sinks (forests) whose major function is to soak in pollutants from the atmosphere is causing global warming and increasing non-communicable diseases.
The World Health Organization (2012) report estimated that globally 4.3 million deaths occur annually from Household Air Pollution (HAP)-a burden born mainly by low and middle income countries.
In Kampala, people have become accustomed to sweltering sunny days followed by erratic heavy down pours that flood Kampala city, according to new research. Generally, floods are running down infrastructures, disrupting the flow of movement/businesses, increasing water-borne diseases like Cholera in ravaged slum dwellings.
For the past record, Kampala city has experienced persistent floods that have increased Diarrhea and Cholera due to overflows from sub-standard sewage systems in areas with poor sanitation; consequently accelerating bacterial overload in water bodies and contaminating water treatment plants.
Malaria, Scabies and Trachoma are other diseases associated with poor hygiene bound to rapidly affect majority of Ugandan communities already suffering from poverty. Therefore, if health related implications barely echo the significance of keeping our temperatures below 1.5C, will Uganda have sufficient capacity to overcome high mortality rates, low life expectancies and careless deaths for the present and future generation?
Since 2013, droughts have become more frequent and severe in Karamoja; a semi-arid region located in the north-east prone to low annual rainfall which contribute to water and food insecurity.
The situation in this climate risk region ranges from women hitting stones at quarries to raise income for food, families surviving on malwa dregs (residues from locally made brew which consist of millet, sorghum, maize) as food substitutes, to women spending half of their days; walking through risky bushes for 5km-10km in search for firewood and water. Some communities in Abim district use contaminated water from hilly plains to trenches reserved for dish washing and clothes.
Although development partners have managed to drill boreholes in the region, Abim district and other areas in Karamoja still suffer from water and food insecurity which has led to poor health. Cases of malnutrition are impacting children who are fed on malwa dregs-a major food substitute!
Scientists project that by 2020, 75-250 million people are bound to suffer from water insecurity in Africa.
While some regions undergo declines in food and water supplies, others benefit due to climatic impacts across Uganda. Districts like Bududa, Mbale, Kapchorwa, Bulambuli, Budaka, Moroto, Kamuli, Kalangala, Kasese, Apac, Kampala and Arua among others on a large scale experience human driven activities on natural resources, which must be regulated.
These activities include wetland mismanagement, overpopulation, industrialization, use of unsustainable transport means, poor waste disposal, charcoal production, overgrazing, bush burning, poor attitudes, lack of sufficient knowledge on policies and laws that govern natural resources. These activities are key root causes of increasing heat waves. By and large, most districts across Uganda are exposed to climatic risks some of which are as vivid as biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, human death, heat, famine, landslides, floods, pollution, prolonged droughts, poor health etc.
Therefore, will tourism still act as the magic bullet for socio-economic development in Uganda amidst rising heat waves? In the financial year 2014/2015, tourism contributed 6.3 billion to GDP; employing more than 1 million Ugandans directly-indirectly in the food sector, accommodation facilities, transport and entertainment sector, according to records. The sector depends on rich biodiversity that attracts all kinds of visitors like moths to a flame.
The health of birds, butterflies, frogs, earthworms, bees illustrates the health status of the environment. Temperature changes have affected the interactions of species leading to various responses in the ecosystem. While some species have the capacity to adjust to heat, others have a slim comfort zone beyond which they can barely live causing them to migrate to newer areas.
In Katakwi district, the endangered Shoebill population on Lake Opeta that feeds on mudfish and other organisms in swamps is experiencing extinction according to conservation news reports. Migrating species are generally very competitive and experience widespread extinction together with the host they depend on.
Different interactions in threatened habitats across Uganda like forests, wetlands and lakes are causing shifting distributions and crumpling ecosystems which have increased their vulnerability to climate change. As global citizens, are our actions sustainable?
The writer is a climate tracker