Districts in western Uganda share lessons on disaster preparedness and response
The initiative is spearheaded by Uganda Red Cross with UNICEF support
Located less than an hour by car from the bustling Mbarara city in south western Uganda, Isingiro District looks beautiful. The drive is fascinating with hills that come into view from time to time. Below the hills are homesteads with banana plantations.
One of the hills on the outskirts of Isingiro town is the headquarters of Isingiro District Local Government. It is large compound with a few buildings. The main road that divides this compound ends at the footsteps of the main district council building.
Directly opposite the main entrance of the building through the foyer is the district council hall. Delegates seated on rows of pews are discussing how they manage to overcome Isingiro’s problems while referring to the plans they have put in place.
Although Isingiro maybe picturesque with groups of hills making a mini mountainous range, it is also disaster prone. Given its terrain of gentle slopes, steep hills, and deep valleys, severe droughts, flooding, and disease outbreaks are common. A cholera outbreak is the latest of such disasters.
However, the most common ones are those caused by precipitation and occur on a seasonal basis. Aloysius Karugaba, the District Production Officer, attributes them to climate change and “the destructive use of natural resources.”
Some of the delegates in the council hall have come from Kasese and Bundibugyo districts, another part of western Uganda. Kasese and Bundibugyo are as disaster prone as Isingiro and share many characteristics such as hilly terrains and being border districts.
They are on a benchmarking mission to learn how Isingiro is managing these disasters. The learning mission has been organized by the Uganda Red Cross and UNICEF Uganda as part of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Project, which is funded by the Government of Japan.
“We have a contingency plan in place that we are implementing,” says Martin Yiga, the Isingiro Deputy District Chief Administrative Officer. “Activities in the district contingency plan are well integrated into the district development plan,” explains Richard Muhwezi, the Isingiro District Planner.
“We involve the communities because without them, plans can hardly be implemented,”
“Carefully selecting indigenous tree species and planting them where they can grow has been critical in our success,” he adds.
Early warning signs for a disaster are always plenty if you look in the right places. Katama explains that wilting of crops and low water levels are some of those signs that should not be ignored.
When disasters strike like they usually do in this part of the world, 80 per cent of the most affected persons are women and children. This creates protection challenges for children and women as they can lead to violence against children as well as an increment in gender-based violence.
“Learning from each other is very critical. It also establishes contacts with whom we can always share information and solve some of these challenges that affect our respective areas,” explains Christine Ayebazibwe, the Manager Uganda Red Cross Mbarara Branch.
Her counterpart from Bundibugyo, Dr Joseph Kasumba, says that both local and central government involvement by allocating resources is another critical element in disaster response. “I have learnt that this is work that can’t be left to partners alone. Involvement of stakeholders at all levels is a pathway to successful disaster mitigation and response,” he observes.
Francis Ssenyondo, the Bundibugyo Town Clerk and Focal Person for Disaster Preparedness and Response is all praises for the learning mission. “Isingiro has formed quick response mechanisms that enable them to respond rapidly to disasters and that is something that we can take home from this trip,” he says.
“We have also learnt that we can come up with plans and integrate them and implement them concurrently,” he adds.
Although not all lessons can be learnt in a single event, delegates from all the districts will now manage disasters better and also have reference points that can guide them from time to time.