“In the year 2000, where we are standing right now was accessible by a canoe. I think this is all because of what I hear in the news that Climate Change. I am personally traumatised by the prolonged dryspell which I think greatly contributes to this,” laments James Ekamu, a resident and farmer from Awoja village, Gweri Sub County.
The existence of the water bodies for centuries, has been a blessing for farming and pastoral communities endowed with rich fertile soils and arable for agriculture in Uganda until the country started experiencing drastic weather and climatic changes which involve prolonged dry spells over the seasons.
In Awoja swamp, a major catchment of Lake Kyoga that covers an area of 11,000 KM² and runs through the districts of Ngora, Katakwi, Bukedea, Soroti, Nakapiripirit, Kumi, Amuria, Napak, Kween, Bulambuli, Kapchorwa and Sironko, a greater percentage of its banks has been lost to what appears to be a result of human activity.
According to Ekamu, he has witnessed a lot of drastic changes on the water body that never lost any of its waters or shape before.
Another resident in the area, Charles Akuset, who is also a Parish youth councillor for Awoja blames the locals for excessive cutting down of trees for fuel.
“If we just walked along this river bank for 1 kilometre, I bet you we shall not fail to find at least five hips of burnt wood for charcoal,” Akuset states.
He says there is need for a general sensitization of the community on the dangers of excessive cutting down of trees without replanting.
The State of Environment report (2018) indicates that the major catchment areas in the country have lost 70% of the wetlands due to human intervention.
Youth gang up
In a plight of finding a lasting solution to the calamity, Isaac Olupot, the founder and President for Teso At Heart (TAH), an organization comprised of young people from Teso sub region, in North Eastern Uganda, has crafted an idea of a project dubbed “Teso Go Green.”
According to him, the project is aimed at fostering communities across the sub region to plant down more trees in order to save the future.
“Initially at Teso At Heart, we used to hold concerts such as cultural music shows, among others but I realized that there was a problem that needed a serious intervention,” Olupot narrates.
He reveals that project idea has caught attention of not only for the young generation of the community, but across all ages.
In order to have a smooth implementation and positive welcome from the community, Olupot as set three basic measures that are helping him to successfully run the project and to achieve his mission of restoring the environment cover, as a means of fighting climate change.
The approaches include; high institution of learning, faith based and, school based approaches.
High Institution of Learning approach
In this approach, Olupot says through his organization [TAH], he mobilizes students from the sub region in all Universities in the country. After mobilizing, those students are enrolled for brief capacity building seminars by environment and forestry specialists on the effects of climate change, value of planting trees as one of the measures to fight the vice.
“After such trainings, those teams are sent to different localities where they come from to spread the message. They do this especially during holidays,” he explains.
Faith based approach
According to Olupot, the “Teso Go Green” project ambassadors are assigned to visit all the warship areas located in each and every village, parish, or sub county where they come from.
“One thing I learnt about us Africans is that we take a message received from a place of worship very seriously. So, if these ambassadors go and speak in those areas, sometimes with even trees if we have resources, people will not relax to plant down those trees,” Olupot explains.
School based approach
In this approach, ambassadors of the project visit schools of lower learning [primary, secondary and technical] schools and conduct sensitization of students on the values of tree planting, what climate change is about, and how it affects the community.
“As I talk now, a greater percentage of schools across Teso sub regions have got what they call “Go Green Environment clubs” and they are calling me to go and talk to them. What we do when we visit these schools is that, we go beyond just sensitizing these children, we construct seed beds in their schools and we task them to look after them. When the seedlings are ready, they take them to their homes and plant them.”
To back up Olupot’s, the National female youth representative at the Parliament of Uganda, Honorable Anna Adeke Ebaju says there is need for youth to get involved in environment conservation practices.
In an interview, Adeke said young people need to voluntarily embrace any given call of action in fighting the common enemy at hand; climate Change.
It is clear that the implementation of such a project requires a helping hand. Olupot says he has received support from many leaders [local and national] in the country, private and government institutions.
Authorities Speak Out
Mr. Philip Obaate, Intergrated Water Resources Manager for Amuria district attributes the problem to both environmental degradation by human activity and Climate Change.
According to him, however much locals are mismanaging environmental resources, the changes in the climate globally is the macro vice.
“We received rains in May and yet it was supposed to have been in March. This is a general problem,” he states.
Mr. Charles Ichogor, the Deputy Resident District Commissioner for Bukedea attributes the cause of the drying up of Awoja catchment to the continued misuse of the wetland by locals for activities such as rice growing and cutting down of trees for wood fuel and charcoal.
“In Teso, we have water bodies of International Importance. We are now feeling the pinch of erratic climatic changes because people are still stuck with the idea of growing large scales of rice in the middle of swamps and have totally avoided embracing growing of upland rice,” he laments.
Mr. Ichogor adds that the other salient problem is the increasing population growth rates with no proper control measures.
“In Teso, a family has seven children with just four acres of land. The population is rapidly increasing and yet land and other natural resources are not,” Mr. Ichogor states.
He further appeals to all stakeholders to draft budget plans on wetland restoration and sensitization of the community to embrace the idea of planting more trees to save the environment.
“Climate Change is real; climate change is with us. Wetlands are like the kidneys to the land. We all need to mobilize everybody to stop cutting down trees, but plant more trees.”
Government and Other Stakeholders Intervene
Government through the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) and other different stakeholders have come up with different approaches to avert the impending doom on the major swamps in the country, and in the same course, Awoja is not left out.
In 2017, government through MWE and through the Directorate of Water Resources Management received funding worth shs29b from the World Bank Adaptation Fund and Sahara Sahel Observatory to implement the Enhancing Resilience of Communities to Climate Change through Catchment Based Integrated Management of Water and Related Resources in Uganda (EURECCCA) project in the Catchments of Awoja, Aswa and Maziba respectively.
According to information available on the MWE website, The overall goal of the project was to increase the resilience of communities to the risk of floods and landslides in Maziba, Aswa and Awoja Catchments through promoting catchment based integrated, equitable and sustainable management of water and related resources. The total duration of the project will be 4 years (2017_ 2021).
Between 21st to 22nd June 2018, there was a supervision mission and report to stakeholders about the progress of the EURECCCA Project being implemented in Uganda at Royal Suites Hotel in Bugolobi, Kampala.
In 2014, MWE in conjunction with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) launched a four-year project aimed at managing the Awoja wetland system.
The project, dubbed Awoja Wetland System Framework Management Plan, was implemented in the 12 districts surrounding lake Kyoga and Opeta respectively.
The Minister of State for Disaster Prepareness and Refugees, Hon Musa Ecweru warns that if the issues of environment are not handled carefully, the country is most likely to suffer more emergencies.
“If this is not done, you should know that emergencies in the country will be many and they can overwhelm even us as a department,” Ecweru states.