No one is safe until everyone is safe

By Dalton Otim, Research Administrator of the Ugandan hub

 

It’s approximate 5 months now, almost all the countries in the world have focused their attention on the fight against Covid-19 disease caused by Coronavirus. In Africa, particularly in Uganda, its now approximately 3 months since the socio political and economic situation started to be destabilized and affected due to a series of lockdown instituted in phases.

Immediately the first positive patient with Covid-19 was tested, the government swung into action by curtailing personal movements and social gatherings. This was supplemented by a nationwide curfew where people were ordered not to make any movement past 2:00 pm during the lockdown. It is this that made life hard for majority of Ugandans especially those that live in urban areas.

Economically, all businesses not dealing in food stuffs and medicines were ordered to close with immediate effect. All private vehicles were not allowed on the road save for those from institutions which had to be cleared by the minister of transport. It was only big trucks carrying goods from and too neighbouring countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo that were allowed to move freely.  Actually, the truck drivers have turned out to be the big challenge that the country has come to struggle with as they are the ones that are testing positive in most testing centres.

Campaigns on encouraging citizens to keep social distance, thorough hand washing and use of face coverings were run everywhere on radios and televisions. The security forces were deployed everywhere to effect the lockdown and indeed many people who tried to do the contrary were beaten, arrested and jailed.

Lessons learnt by the Ugandan hub members from the lockdown

  1. The government measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus have been largely effective as the country has got no any fatality as of 15th May 2020.
  2. Decentralization of policies can work if given support from the centre. In every district, a task force was created, facilitated and given full authority to make sure that all the new people that come in are tested. This has increased community vigilance. How we wish this is extended to other social challenges facing the communities and households.
  3. Many urban dwellers are not food secure not because there is no food supplies but due to lack of purchasing power to access the food. This is a big crisis that all concerned individuals need to interest themselves in. As someone said “No one is safe until everyone is safe”. So as researchers  and community practitioners we need to initiate and engage in projects that will improve people’s ability to withstand such calamities in the area of food security.
  4. Uganda having gone through previous epidemics such as Ebola and others, it prepared it to quickly respond to Covid-19 as well. Click here for details.

Dr Alex Okot, is in Lira during the lockdown and shares some issues this situation brought for the communities the hub works with in Alebtong district.


A drive to remember: ECOaction at work in the Covid-19 lockdown

By Reagan Kandole, Mia Perry, Vanessa Duclos, Raihana Ferdous and Deepa Pullanikkatil

The Covid 19 pandemic continues to expose the most vulnerable people in Uganda’s communities. As the country transitioned towards a total lockdown, banning public transport, strict regulations on the labor force and only essential services — monitored by the health and security sector — the progress and gains made by community initiatives like ECOaction have been threatened. ECOaction is a non profit organisation that creates income and livelihood opportunities for the most marginalised urban youth and women through innovations in waste management. ECOaction is located in Banda, an unplanned settlement of Kampala City, Uganda. The organisation works with the most vulnerable groups of plastic collectors, mainly elderly women and young adults, and provides them with alternative markets for recycled products. ECOaction also builds the capacity of its beneficiaries around waste management and environmental conservation. One of the main challenges in our community right now is that they are not able to sell any of the plastics they collect to the recycling companies during the lockdown, which means they have no money to pay for food to feed their families.

For most of the women we support, the main source of income is collecting plastics and if they cannot move around to collect and sell these bottles, then they are not able to feed their families. Even with the government’s attempts to distribute food to the most vulnerable, not everyone will be able to access that support and there is an urgent need for more basic supplies to be distributed. Otherwise, there is a risk that many people will die of starvation, malaria, stress and many other diseases”. Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction.

The photo story below depicts the journey that ECOaction’s team took, despite public transport bans and distancing policies, to reach out to this community


Translation into arts

By Vanessa Duclos and Reagan Kandole

Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction, an NGO based in Kampala, Uganda, shares with us how the current worldwide crisis coverage inspired him to translate information into arts – channeling the doubts during the lockdown into creativity. If you want to get in touch with the artist, you can do so here.


Photo essay - Clean Air Project Launch

By Reagan Kandole, Dalton Otim, Anthony Kadoma and Vanessa Duclos

The proliferation of plastics globally is now a major challenge, especially over the last two decades. Worldwide, we are producing over 300 million tons of plastic each year, 50% of which is for single use purposes. More than 8 million tons is dumped into the ocean yearly, becoming a big environmental issue and threat to our ecosystems and biodiversity. Kampala city, Uganda, generates 750 tons of waste a day of which half is collected and sent to the dumpsites. The other half, mainly plastics and polythene, is irresponsibly disposed and finding its way from our communities and streets, to drainage channels, to rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

This problem is even more prominent in the urban slum dwellings. School setting is one of the best platforms for promoting proper solid waste management through education, skills workshops, and fun activities outside classrooms, hence enhancing teamwork. By sensitizing the children, behavior changes can be fostered around proper waste management.

ECOaction, an SFA Network NGO partner, together with Kampala City Council Authority, AEIF Alumni 2019 and five primary schools in Kampala City (Namirembe Infants School; Bat Valley Primary School; Kawempe Muslim School;  St Ponsiano Kyamula School and Luzira Church of Uganda School) received funding from the Ugandan US Embassy to implement the “Clean Air Project” in 2020.

The following photo essay takes you through the launch event, which took place on March 6th 2020.


COVID-19 and Rethinking the Unsustainable “Normal”

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director, Sustainable Futures in Africa

Reconsidering Development Pathways: What is the “New Normal”?

“Sustainable Development”, that often overused term in development work, calls us to action to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. However, our development pathways have been far from that ideal. With rising inequality, increasing carbon emissions, pollution, wildlife crime, and the exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation, we have continued our immoral growth beyond the carrying capacity of our earth. COVID-19 may be a wake-up call to humanity to stop this self-destruction of our home planet, lest our actions eliminate us as a species.

Reflecting on the status of the world

With the majority of us under lockdown in our homes, this is a good time to pause and look at our lives, our countries’ priorities, global development and the meaning of sustainability. While we have advanced our knowledge about green economic models, good practices for reducing extreme poverty and the use of technologies to promote wellbeing, we still have 700 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Our consumerism and continued emissions are compromising our chances of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and our global health care inequalities have come to haunt us.

Should we go back to “normal”?

Many of us can’t wait to get back to the same “normal” that got us into this predicament. COVID-19 has revealed that this pathway of unsustainable consumption, growth, ecological degradation and inequality simply cannot continue. In an increasingly interconnected world, the pandemic has taught us that none of us is safe unless all of us are safe. Business-as-usual may not be the “normal” we want to return to.

Economic slowdown may not be all that bad

This is also a good time to reflect on what life looks like when we slow down economic growth. With air travel grinding to a halt and a large number of people working from home, we are seeing the prevalence of digital conferences and meetings taking off, making us wonder why working remotely and meeting locally wasn’t already a norm? With the lockdown, the burning of fossil fuels has dropped, causing air quality to improve significantly, triggering social media posts of beautiful clear skies and views of mountains kilometres away. With humans locked in, animals and birds are courageously stepping out and enjoying their newfound freedom. The earth is healing.

We can work together

All sectors are working hand in hand to tackle this pandemic: funds are flowing from various sources; the private sector which hitherto cared mostly about profits is stepping in and helping the health sector. Governments are realising that spending on key sectors such as health and education is more important. Scientists and doctors are collaborating for the greater good, development partners are giving NGOs flexibility to divert their funding to COVID response, and each of us is checking in on our friends and family. It took this pandemic to ignite our sense of community, to get us to make sacrifices, recognise our priorities, work for a common purpose and cherish solidarity. We now realise that we’re all in this together and we can work together.

Three lessons learnt

Three things have become clear since the emergence of COVID-19. First, we are an interconnected world and only if all of us are safe, will each once of us become safe. In that regard, the virus is an equaliser because it does not discriminate. Second, although the virus has impacted every country, regardless of wealth or power, it has also made us realise how unequal our society is. There will be many who will not be able to recover at all or recover as fast as some others. Our global interconnectivity should wake us up to our responsibility for ensuring that each and every country recovers from this shock (not just our own country). We can no longer afford to be selfish, we have to broaden our minds and assume a global identity.

Finally, the unsustainable “normal” that has caused so many challenges to the world is a social construction; that means, we can change it. We, as a society, have been able to come together and make drastic changes to our lives and economy to respond to COVID-19. This proves that it is possible to take action to create a changed future for the better. After the pandemic ends, we must not slip back to the old normal, but consciously strive towards a “new normal” that is more sustainable, climate-proof, equitable, compassionate and humane.

What is your idea of the “new normal”?

How would you envision this “new normal”? Drop your answers/comments below.


A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

When we start a new project with partners in a different context, it is never truly a “new start.” Historically it has been experts from the Global North who have studied and interpreted the South. This means that international research partnerships are inevitably imbued with power relations and possibly the assumption that it is northern knowledge that will lead transformations of in the South. Without a clear recognition of that context, it is inevitable that existing inequities, injustices, and imbalances of knowledge and power, will continue to pervade our work.

We designed this resource to help make explicit the practices and dynamics that underpin partnerships, to support the development of more equitable working relations.

DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/DJTN4

Download the resource >

Economic Activities: A Threat to Wetland Sustainability

By Otim Dalton

In Africa, wetlands are of great importance because they are a source of water and food necessary to the survival of microorganisms and humans alike. In their natural state, wetlands provide a range of eco-system services: they regulate water flow, store eroded materials and nutrients, and provide water, food and raw materials. Therefore, the sustainable management of swamps, marshes, floodplains and mangrove forest (which are all classified as wetlands) is of great value to the long-term welfare of many African societies.

Recently, particularly in Africa, wetlands have become a new agricultural frontier. In response, a number of agencies, both local and international, are trying to explore sustainable wetland management as a way of reducing rural poverty, improving food security and strengthening livelihood resilience in the face of climate change. However, farmers have also realized that wetlands depend on well-managed catchment areas, and measures have been identified to improve upland management. These include improving land use through soil and water conservation measures, inter-planting crops with agro-forestry trees, and maintaining areas of natural vegetation, all of which facilitate water infiltration. This water percolates through to the wetlands.

However, with the growing rural population, climate change and the degradation of upland fields due to prolonged farming, wetlands are under increasing pressure as farmers seek out fertile and moist farming sites. The increased flow of water from degraded uplands into the wetlands and the disturbance of natural vegetation by cultivation in the wetlands threatens erosion and damage to these valuable sites.

In Uganda, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) was formed in May 1995 under the National Environment Act. NEMA was established with the main intention of protecting the environment. But despite NEMA’s efforts, the wetlands are being reclaimed and degraded due to the economic needs of the people around them and those from other areas. According to the Daily Monitor of 30th August 2018, in Uganda, swamps that have been encroached on include Mpogo in MpPasaana, which lies between Kitauhuka and Kisiitia sub-counties, Karokarungi in Kisiita sub-county and Kabale swamp, which borders Kakumiro and the Hoima district. Other swamps affected are Olweny swamp and Okole swamp in Northern Uganda. In eastern Uganda, the districts affected include Kamuli, Jinja, Mutumba, Kaliro and Mayunge, where most people cultivate rice in the wetlands.

A green rice field (left) and a field that’s ready to harvest (right)

One of the key economic activities carried out in the wetlands is rice-growing, which has slowly brought about wetland reclamation. Rice yields very well in the wetlands since it requires plenty of water. Rice-growing gained prominence in the 1970s following the establishment of the Doho Rice Scheme and the Nakwasi and Lwoba irrigation schemes. These schemes were set up for commercial rice-growing and today, they are dominated by rural small-scale farmers living in areas adjacent to wetlands. Although the soils in the area have largely been described as sandy and are characterized by low organic content, the Doho Wetland is an important ecological flood plain for the River Manafwa, coming from the highlands of Bugisu, where fertile clay and volcanic soils are found.

The 2012 Uganda Bureau of Statistics Report indicated that the Busoga region of Eastern Uganda produces 70% of the nation’s rice, worth Ugx120 billion a year. This is a clear indicator that wetland rice-growing is a viable economic activity that contributes greatly to the GDP despite the devastating effect of wetland reclamations. However, environmental scientists have also noted that human activities like increasing population and urbanization are partly to blame for the alarming reclamation and degradation of wetlands and swamps even in other countries, not only in Uganda.

Through NEMA, the government must continue to educate Ugandans on the enormous importance of the wetlands, and their contribution to the environment and climate. The people should be encouraged to gradually shift from wetland rice-growing to upland rice-growing. Afforestation and good agronomic practices should be encouraged to help improve and maintain soil quality and fertility for continuous upland rice-growing. This action shouldn’t hinder the viable economic activity of rice-growing or impact its contribution to Uganda’s GDP, and it will serve the vital purpose of wetlands conservation and sustainability.


What will Uganda do if the River Nile runs dry?

By Dr. Richard Kagolobya

The recent apocalyptic environmental news headlines around the world about the drying up of the world famous Victoria Falls (shared by Zimbabwe and Zambia) in Southern Africa left me wondering what Uganda would do if the River Nile were to run dry. One such headline that caught my eyes was by Farai Shawn Matiashe, writing from Harare, Zimbabwe: ‘Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, is running dry due to climate change.’ He reported that the long drought in Zimbabwe and Zambia has also led to relentless power cuts in the two countries because of their 50% dependence on hydroelectric power generated at Kariba Dam, which is fed by the River Zambezi. The unprecedented drought has left over five million people in need of food aid in Zimbabwe, coupled with a reduction in tourists who usually visit to have a view of the remarkable Victoria Falls.

Even though there may be a number of climate change doubters around the world, the recent dwindling water levels of the River Zambezi and the subsequent water droplets at Victoria Falls should be a glaring wake-up call to all of us to realize the dangers of climate change to all creation on planet earth.

However, as the above was happening in Southern Africa, here in Uganda, some development enthusiasts in recent days have been thinking about generating more hydro-electricity power so that the country is not caught off guard due to the increasing electricity demand in the face of population growth and foreseeable industrialization. These people have been romanticizing the idea of tinkering and destroying the magnificent Murchison Falls on the River Nile, even at the cabinet level! But these hydro-power based industrialization zealots rarely scrutinize the dangers of over reliance on hydro power in the face of climate change, which they also ironically contribute to. For example, in the case of Zimbabwe, due to the unprecedented dry spell, Matiashe reported that the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority introduced an 18-hour load shedding because Kariba Dam has fallen to its lowest water level since 1996, leading to a reduction in its electricity generation. It has also been reported that these issues have been caused by the changing rain-patterns around River Zambezi’s catchment area, which stretches to north-western Zambia, Angola and DRC, thus showing the international nature of eco-systems and exemplifying the far-reaching consequences of climate change and environmental degradation.

Comparatively, what are Kenyans, Tanzanians and Ugandans doing to Lake Victoria? This is important because Lake Victoria receives 80% percent of its water from direct rainfall and 20% from rivers and streams, and the only outflow from Lake Victoria is the Nile, which exits the lake near Jinja in Uganda. This makes Lake Victoria the principal source of the longest branch of the River Nile.

In the case of Uganda, quick places that come to my mind as far as catchment depletion is concerned are the Ssese and Kalangala Islands and the destruction of natural forests and their replacement with palm oil plantations, coupled with wanton timber harvesting and charcoal burning, which may affect the rainfall patterns around Lake Victoria. Another place that vividly comes to mind is the Rwera Swamp, which has been wantonly tampered with by sand mining and rice growing enterprises, yet it hosts several streams that eventually drain into Lake Victoria, and then later nourishes the Nile!

As we interfere with these resources, do we seriously think about the international environmental responsibility that countries that share Lake Victoria have for preserving the source of the River Nile’s water? Mind you, there are other nations like Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt that depend on River Nile for their survival.

Even though from September to December 2019, Uganda was grappling with heavy rainfall which led to multi-location floods, as well as landslides which killed a number of people, destroyed houses, farmland and road infrastructure in Bundibugyo and Bududa districts, the opposite can also be true in the foreseeable future as it was in Zimbabwe and Zambia during that period. Uganda (Tanzania and Kenya) can be bombarded by a lengthy dry spell leading to Lake Victoria releasing  painful tear-drops of water into the River Nile and the later turning into it a mere trickle due to climate change! And yet, Uganda, as it is today, is not at all prepared for such a climate change induced prolonged drought because of its heavy dependence on rain-fed agriculture and oversubscription to hydro-electric power. And as I write, four of the five major power stations that light Uganda’s homes and industries are on River Nile! These are Kiira Power Station (200MW), Nalubaale Power Station (180MW), Karuma Hydro Power Station (600MW) Isimba Hydro Power Station (183MW), apart from the Muzizi Hydro Power Station (44.7MW), which is along the Muzizi River in Kibaale district.

As we wonder about how Victoria Falls was running dry due to climate change, let nations like Uganda also think and plan for the worst case scenarios if nothing is done to mitigate climate change and its consequences. Nations should invest in climate change resilience programmes, one of which is to invest in other renewable energy sources rather than oversubscribing to hydroelectricity, which is at the moment susceptible to climate change. At least Kenya has made strides in that direction by unveiling the Lake Turkana Wind Power farm which consists of 365 turbines with a capacity to allot 310 megawatts of energy to Kenya’s national power grid.

Over the past decades, the mantra among nations relying on hydro-electricity power was that it is the most reliable and sustainable renewable source of energy. This is somewhat exemplified by Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited’s mission statement: ‘Sustainably generate reliable, quality and affordable electricity for socio-economic development.’ Yet such companies rarely think about hydropower’s dependence on environmental and climatic factors and scarcely invest in environmental sustainability projects in the face of climate change. However, going by the Zimbabwe-Zambia scenario, one would suggest that governments and private companies that have heavily invested in hydropower generation should be the chief advocates of environmental protection, preservation and renewal in the water catchment areas that feed the rivers on which the power stations are constructed. Otherwise, the escalating drought-spells leading to rivers and falls running to a trickle due to climate change may put to waste multi-billion hydro-power installations around the world.  And for the case of Uganda in particular, one would recommend that instead of gambling with the destruction of the much beloved Murchison Falls, the time is now to think about energy source diversification rather than over relying on hydroelectricity power on the River Nile. Otherwise, what will Uganda do if the Nile runs dry this time tomorrow?

Dr. Kagolobya works with Makerere University and is a Member of Sustainable Futures in Africa; an international consortium of multidisciplinary environmental sustainability researchers and enthusiasts.


A Cry from the Wetlands of Africa

By Anthony Kadoma, PhD Student and SFA member

Wetlands oh wetlands! Here we are, the wetlands of Africa, hear us on our World Wetland Day - https://www.worldwetlandsday.org

God created us to serve the needs of humans and their surroundings. We meet almost all their needs: Fresh drinking water we give, food we give, clean air to breathe we give. This enables them not only to live healthy, but happily as well.

We have given that and more forever, diligently and without complaining. But humans seem not to value and appreciate the goods and services derived from us.

‘Why, why?’ we ask ourselves.

Humans started by encroaching on us because they wanted to expand grazing land for the domestic animals, and we accepted. We supported seasonal vegetables such as cabbages and rice which do well in our fertile soil and conserved water, now we have been over-harvested over the years. We have endured the shame of being stripped naked until it’s too much for us to bear. That was not enough to satisfy the needs of human beings: Oh, who will ever satisfy human needs?

Because of your need to expand housing and factories, we have become the first victim and now we are being denied our original role and reason for existence; you are filling and dumping  in us soil and other debris as if there are no other places left for that. You don’t show any care or respect to us!

With your increased greed you have now decided to eliminate us! Completely ignoring the rights of the other peaceful and harmless organisms that live in us by directing your industrial wastes to us which chokes us badly. Oh, what did we do to you to deserve this?

Because of the pressure and burden you have placed on us, we have had to let go of some of our functions such as controlling floods, and now humans are crying that we no longer care. Harmful weeds and pests have occupied us because we can’t fight them as our capacity has reduced to fight for ourselves. However, we are blamed for that as well and some even suggest to completely do away with us in order to protect humans from vectors that cause disease, especially malaria.

We still want to exist and serve you as we have done before – you and your generations to come. All we are asking is that you show some care for us, help us to regenerate and use us wisely. Do not over-harvest us and leave our surrounding environment bare as this makes us too weak to defend ourselves and to support you well. Help us to restore and we will forever be your obedient servant, offering you your essential goods and services. Hear our cry, oh humans of Africa.

 

Anthony Kadoma is a University of Glasgow PhD student focusing on Environmental Sustainability and a member of Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.