Uganda acts on drought resistance

Monday, August 15, 2011

When Anglican bishop Nathan Kyamanywa was appointed to his job in 2002, he decided climate change should be a matter of concern for Christians. He bought 55 tree seedlings and gave one to each of the parishes in his diocese of Bunyoro-Kitara in western Uganda.

“My fellow bishops laughed at me. They thought I wanted to impress the public. But I can tell you, the tree planting has never stopped since I started,” said Kyamanywa.

The ACT member Church of Uganda and Bishop Kyamanywa is just one of a number of Ugandan religious leaders from various faiths who are educating their communities about the environment and taking steps to preserve it, particularly in the face of deforestation.

A vicious circle
In the past two decades, one third of Uganda’s forests have been depleted, as 97% of rural households rely on firewood as an energy source. Living below the poverty line forces many people to be entirely absorbed in day-to-day survival, unable to appreciate the implications their actions have on the environment on which they depend for survival. Lack of conservation measures are leading to land degredation, soil erosion, contaminated water sources, scarcity of wood, and the disappearance of wildlife.

ACT member LWF Uganda is working with communities to change these sad realities, promoting the importance of environmental protection. Coupled with reforestation, they are promoting locally sourced and constructed energy saving stoves that use 50-60% less firewood than traditional stoves. With such a reduction in consumption, the amount of harmful gas emissions released into the atmosphere is dramatically reduced, while social and economic conditions at household level are improved. Women have more time to spend in the household, work in the garden, care for children, or engage in income generating activities.

"Climate change is our problem"
Uganda’s vulnerability to climate change exacerbates environmental problems, having a knock-on effect to its population. As rainfall patterns become increasingly unpredictable and the temperature slowly rises, likely outcomes will be increased food insecurity, flood damage to infrastructure and settlements, water sources drying up, and shifts in the productivity of agricultural and natural resources.

That worries a growing number of the country’s church leaders, who are now working to protect and expand the country’s remaining forests and protect the lives and livelihoods of their congregations.

The ACT member, LWF Uganda works to prepare for such changes, promoting flood and drought resistant plants, and by helping communities adapt to changes as sustainably as possible.

Kyamanywa has taken his climate advocacy work a step further, making an energy-saving stove for his house. His example has influenced members of other dioceses to do the same.

“Climate change is our problem. When we sink we sink together and when we float we float together,”  Kyamanywa said. The British Council in Uganda has recognised his efforts, naming him a “climate change icon”.

This story has been published on Alertnet