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Leaving COP26 empty-handed

Kate Airey, the British High Commissioner to Uganda during her visit to Naposhi village in Bududa District on 04 October 2021. PHOTO/MICHAEL WONIALA

Mt. Elgon communities cling to tested self-help models

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Three weeks before the just ended COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Kate Airey; the British High Commissioner to Uganda visited the Mt. Elgon district of Bududa in eastern Uganda.

She told her audience that she had come to see, listen and learn from the Bududa people how they were being impacted but also coping with climate change in order to ensure their voice is heard at the COP26.

“I need Uganda to have its voice in the room to ensure that it makes the case to the richer countries to release the much needed funds. This kind of support needs to reach such communities around Uganda.”

“We need more financial commitments from other richer countries. It is about ensuring that this money reaches the people who need it more.”

“It is not just a conference. This COP26 has the power to change lives and it is up to us to work collaboratively with other countries to make sure that we make the most of this opportunity,” she said.

And she heard plenty.

Among those impacted by Kate Airey’s visit was George Nambale, a teacher from Naposhi village in Bushika sub-country in Bududa. He says, after the visit, he prayed for one thing: that aid comes to Bududa from the “big people” in Glasgow, Scotland.

Nambale is a survivor of the devastating landslides of 2019 which left close to 50 people in his village dead.

He still remembers one particular night in December of that year. It had rained uncontrollably for days and at around 9pm of the fateful day, huge chunks of earth tumbled down the village which had about 600 people. Many died, most of them children. He said many people in his village still live in fear of  landslides.

“We need help”

Bududa is located on the slopes of the dormant volcanic Mt Elgon on the Uganda-Kenya border which is the catchment area for several rivers that flow into Lake Victoria in Uganda and Lake Turkana in Kenya.

The high population density area has over the last 25 years become a hotbed for climate-change related disasters; mainly landslides. They happened in 2010, in 2012, 2018 and 2019 leaving behind a trail of death. Today, most of the survivors including Nambale live miserable lives.

“We need help,” Nambale told the High Commissioner. “The people you see here were not destitute.”

Bududa District is about 317 sq km in size but packs about 200,000 people according to the most recent statistics from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics published in 2014.

Its volcanic hills and mountain ranges are fertile and the people who are mainly peasants till the small parcels of land to grow bananas, beans, onions and Irish potatoes. The District Chairperson, Milton Kamoto, said Bududa also produces lot of milk and coffee.

“Bududa serves some of the best Arabica coffee in the world,” he said.

The people say they would not wish to exchange their ancestral land with anything else. “Bududa is a landslide hotspot in Uganda,” Kamoto said, “We have not been able to utilize our land profitably.”

Kamoto said landslides are too destructive, especially in areas without tree cover. Yet, over the years, trees have been cut down for people to grow these crops and also meet their energy needs (firewood and charcoal). With so much acreage of indigenous trees gone, the district has become prone to landslides.

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