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OPINION: “The field visit that opened my eyes”

One of ACCRA’s aims is to raise awareness of key government staff on how climate hazards, variability and change affect vulnerable households and communities. As part of this work, I was taken on a field visit to Bundibugyo district, Western Uganda, and attended the validation of the research findings in the community. It turns out that this expedition, organised by ACCRA (World Vision in Uganda) and funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), was one of the most incredible and unforgettable of my life.

It all started on 18 April in Fort Portal, where we climbed the mountains of the Moon (the Rwenzori Mountains) to reach Bundibugyo, where we stayed overnight. The distance from Kampala to Bundibugyo town is about 388 km, but the 97 km distance from Fort Portal to Bundibugyo is the most challenging because of the difficult terrain on a murram (gravel or non-tarmacked) road under construction. As expected, the road to get there was winding and full of corners for about 50 km, but it was worth the effort: descending the Rift valley escarpment, the view was stunning, comprising of River Semuliki, the Great Rift Valley, and the Congo border.

The day after, we climbed the Rwenzori Mountains for two hours to get to the village where the research was conducted, to validate the findings. I experienced the worst ragged terrain I have ever seen, and was surprised to find people whose homesteads at an altitude of about 3000m above sea level were suffering from malaria when they hadn’t in the past. As mosquitoes need warmer temperatures (+18°C) to survive, I wondered if it was evidence of a rise of temperature in this area.

The Government team included five ministries: Health; Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries; Water and Environment; Energy; Local Government; and the Office of the Prime Minister. Due to the challenging terrain, some members of the group failed to reach the site where the interviews were supposed to take place, and gave up at about 2000m above sea level.

From my personal experience and interaction with the people in this highland area, the community is facing a lot of challenges. The mountainous landscape hinders transport and access to social services. There are hardly any trading centres, health units, schools, boreholes, safe water points or markets for goods for the people. I was also surprised to see people carrying luggage on their backs instead of their heads (as is the case in other regions of the country) as a way to adapt to the area’s difficult terrain. Regarding natural hazards, life and property are severely affected by landslides, floods and soil erosion. The geographical isolation clearly impacts people’s everyday lives, and really needs intervention by government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

In the evening, we started descending to a lowland area of the Rift Valley to meet with the Bwamba County community. This was the most risky and dangerous moment of the expedition.

Descending the Rift Valley

In the discussion with the members of the community, they identified the main climate-related impacts that they suffer from: unpredictable rainfall patterns, drought, severe storms destroying property, severe outbreaks of diseases and high temperatures.

The difference between the hazards experienced in the highlands and lowlands is obvious, and that’s what made the field trip to Bundibugyo so relevant. Indeed, the region has two different climatic zones, with different climate characteristics (humid micro climate in the mountains/hot in the valley) which triggers different challenges for people and government planners.

Speaking to community members

It was clear to me from the visit that adaptation activities and disaster risk reduction need to be strengthened, to take into account geographical characteristics within the country, as experienced in Western Uganda. It also calls for a major cooperation between government and NGOs to build capacity in the communities threatened with climate-related impacts. The field trips and the ACCRA framework are paving the way to that. Even if I risked my life a hundred times in three days, this is an experience I hugely recommend!

ACCRA is a consortium working to increase governments’ and development actors’ use of evidence in designing and implementing both humanitarian and development interventions that increase poor and vulnerable communities’ adaptive capacity. Consortium partners include Oxfam GB, the Overseas Development Institute, CARE, Save the Children and World Vision.

CDKN is funding ACCRA to support deeper engagement with country governments and policy-makers. This support includes enabling field visits by policy-makers to project sites in Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique and a three-day regional meeting in Nairobi from 26-28 September 2011 to share research findings and policy implications. Reports and policy briefs are being produced to enable further knowledge sharing and policy learning on climate change adaptation.  

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