/ 23 July 2008

A climate of hardship

Climate change in Uganda has left the East African nation wedged between a rock and a hard place.

The country’s own contribution to global warming has been minimal: the average American’s carbon footprint measures at 20,4 metric tons and the average South African’s at 9,2, while a Ugandan’s is a mere 0,07.

But Uganda will need to take immediate and costly steps to redress its effects — as changes in weather drive poverty and hunger.

A report by Oxfam, called Turning up the Heat: Climate Change and Poverty in Uganda, released last week says that the effects of climate change are largely the result of the ”increasingly erratic onset and cessation of the rainfall seasons”. Rainfall in the March to June rainy season is becoming more erratic, followed by heavy downpours from October to December, which destroy crops and increase soil erosion.

Long droughts have led to farmers producing less food, while pastoralists find traditional grazing areas are shrinking and turning arid. This has curtailed their movements and led to competition and conflict for ever-smaller resources. When rains arrive they are often torrential, causing floods and doing more harm than good. Floods destroy crops and increase the prevalence of water-borne diseases.

Coffee production — one of Uganda’s main foreign exchange earners — has also been hard hit by unseasonable rains, as excess moisture means the beans do not flower and often don’t dry properly. This has led to production losses of up to 40% for some small cooperatives. The report cites a shortage of energy resources as ”one of the biggest crises facing the country”.

Sinking water levels at Lake Victoria have led, in part, to powercuts. This drives the need for more basic fuels — in the form of firewood, charcoal and crop residue — for cooking and water heating.

The rate of deforestation in the country is a growing concern. Although Uganda has good laws for environmental protection, they are falling short in the areas of implementation and enforcement. The report notes that deforestation could be slowed if Ugandans had efficient stoves that used less wood.

This week Oxfam appealed to the Ugandan government to implement the National Adaptation Programmes of Action and urged the international community to make the aid available for this to happen. The country needs nearly $40-million to begin to adapt to climate change, including land degradation management and drought adaptation measures.