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Now Uganda prepares for natural disasters

Flood damage in Kasese district, Western Uganda, May 2020

The National Disaster and Risk Management Plan is set to be ready in December but the inadequate funding and human resource personnel could hamper its effective implementation

Kampala, Uganda | Isaac Khisa | Uganda will soon have a national disaster and risk management plan to handle disasters but the challenges related to resource availability and human resource capacity remain a big concern.

Esther Anyakun, the State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees in the Office of the Minister revealed during a two-day national disaster preparedness dialogue at Speke Resort, Munyonyo, on Nov.18 that the technical team will brainstorm and fix all gaps in the draft plan this week and submit to cabinet for approval in the first week of December this year.

“We are looking at doing things differently,” she said. “We have been more reactive to disaster rather than pro-active. We are going to have a coordinated approach in preparation and management of disasters before or after they have occurred.”

Anyakun said the government and development partners plan to establish regional hubs in disaster prone areas such as Mt. Elgon and Kasese to fasten response mechanism and save lives.

The development of the plan whose initial budget stands at US$50million is in response to President Yoweri Museveni’s directive last July that the government comes up with a National Disaster and Risk Management Plan to deal with the current and future disasters including refugees.

The plan is in line with the National Development Plan III based on funding; short term, equivalent to one year, medium term, equivalent to two years and long term, equivalent to three years and reviewed every three years.

The government will work with development partners in a coordinated manner in handling disasters using a newly unveiled parish development model.

Inadequate funding, human resources

But while the new development is welcome to the country so prone to environmental disasters, key ministries and agencies responsible to implement the plan including Ministry of Water and Environment, Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Works and Transport, Uganda National Meteorological Authority and National Environment Management Authority, decried of low funding to keep pace with exponential technological advances and well trained human resource to prepare and manage disasters.

Statistics from National Planning Authority shows that although the government has been increasing funding towards disaster risk management, it is still too low, with the financial years from 2015/16 to 2018/19 having the lowest released funds of less than Shs100bn annually.

However, the government increased the funding in the financial year 2019/20 to Shs187.6bn owing to the coronavirus pandemic, but utilized only Shs165.3bn.

In the FY 2020/21, the government released Shs229.6bn of the budgeted Shs250bn in disaster management but spent only Shs82.65bn. On the other hand, external funding from development partners has increased from Shs60.07bn in FY2018/19 to Shs233.18bn in FY2020/21.

In addition, most districts across the country do not have budgets to cater for disaster management, the situation that may hamper the effective implementation of the new plan.

Uganda has in the past years faced multiple weather-related and geological disasters in form of landslides in Mt Elgon and Rwenzori areas, flush floods especially in Kasese, Kampala and other areas, lightening and droughts in most parts of the country. Most of these have caused many deaths and displaced hundreds of inhabitants as per the study done by the National Commission in 2013/14 biennium.

During the financial year 2019/2020 alone, disasters were reported in over 70 districts affecting about 800,000 people and displacing more than 21,000 families. This resulted in over Shs560bn in economic losses, underlining the importance of investing in preparedness.

Other factors such as climate change, the desert locusts’ crisis, and the increased impact of epidemics have also negatively impacted individuals, community, country and global levels.

In the neighboring Kenya, floods were reported in more than three quarters of Kenya’s counties (36 out of 47) in May 2020, with landslides reported in the Rift Valley and the central and coastal regions causing deaths and displacement of more than 400,000 people.

Rwanda, too, has not been spared either as the official death toll of landslides, lightning, floods and other events was 254 in 2018, a sharp increase from 82 the previous year.

The economic damage was also estimated as 204 billion Rwandan francs ($225 million) with nearly 16,000 homes destroyed. Furthermore, cases of drought in the Greater Horn of Africa and the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit North West Tanzania are among some of the recent disasters whose impacts are still being felt in the region. More than 13 people lost their lives and 203 injured.

The situation has been worsened with the lack of disaster preparedness and technology to develop and implement a sustainable disaster risk reduction and preventive solutions.

Yet, for quick and efficient response, as well as for recovery after any natural or artificial catastrophe, one of the most important things are accurate and reliable spatial data in real or near real-time.

Elsie Attafua, the resident representative at the United Nations Development Program in Uganda said the dialogue in relation to disaster management is a very important for Uganda’s development and development trajectory.

“We have seen the impact of disaster in this country whether it is floods, locusts or COVID-19 pandemic, and the idea now is to support the government in strengthening its plans on how best to address disaster risk reduction,” she said.

“We are now trying to ensure that there’s a coordinated approach in the way we address these challenges…This is important for cost efficiency purposes but most importantly is that we are able to reduce the impact of the disaster if eventually they happen.”

UNDP has in the previous years supported the government in the establishment of a National Emergency Coordination Operational Centre (NECOC) which is a 24hour surveillance system to predict disasters when they are coming, and now moving to decentralize the services at the district level.

The UN agency has also supported the government in the development of the National Risk Atlas and the establishment of hydraulic and automated weather stations to be able to help predict some of the disasters. However, they are still unreliable and they do not cover the entire country.

Key recommendations

Going forward, Antonio Querido, FAO Representative in Uganda, said to achieve enhanced preparedness to future foreseeable and unforeseeable hazards, there’s need for sector players to work in an effective coordination.

“We must draw on the technical expertise of line ministries, departments and agencies such as the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, among others,” he said.

“We need to urgently make plans that shift our approaches to dealing with disasters, from response to preparedness. Timely access to and use of accurate information to guide decision-making prior to, during and following the occurrence of a disaster is critical to mitigate its impact.”

He said there’s also need to ensure adequate financing to enable access to resources to permit timely actions that save lives.

Abdirahman Meygag, the Country Director for World Food Program said there’s also need for early warning systems to help to ensure that disaster information systems are in place especially in vulnerable areas.

The European Union Head of Cooperation in Uganda Caroline Adriaensen, meanwhile, said there’s need strengthen the legal framework to support the full operationalization of the National Disaster Preparedness and Management Policy.

“There is a need to establish an inclusive process to review the existing draft of the Disaster Risk Management Bill, involving of course Office of Prime Minister as lead with all relevant stakeholders involved,” she said.

“At the same time, we need adequate disaster risk financing and resources for the operationalisation of Contingency Funding. We see that it should be mainstreamed across sectors, and allocated to District Local Governments. And the approval of the legal framework is urgent in this respect.”

This dialogue was organised by the Uganda government through the USAID-funded Desert Locust Livelihoods Impact Assessment project in the Department of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Management in the Office of the Prime Minister, supported by the European Union, World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The high-level dialogue intended to foster multi-sectoral preparedness planning to identify, monitor and respond to future disasters that threaten food security, livelihoods and well-being of Ugandans and refugees.

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