The ramifications of climate change are progressively but gradually being felt and experienced not only in Uganda, but around the globe. From excessively high temperatures, erosions, rising sea levels and even loss of aquatic life, Uganda has definitely felt the catastrophic impact of climate change. Thousands of youth have been forced to leave behind their livelihoods, aspirations and opportunities as a result. Vice Versa Global’s Ugandan correspondent Martha Nalukenge chose to witness firsthand how her native nation is coping with this impending crisis and its tragic consequences.
text and pictures: Martha Nalukenge
As climate change continues to be a great havoc across the globe, I took it upon myself to delve deep into the root causes of this menace. A surge in the number of patients suffering from malaria and the increased water levels of Lake Victoria will soon be a hazard. I have visited the shores of this lake several times and each time the water levels keep getting higher. This has led to a disruption of people’s livelihood and income avenues, especially fishermen, who rely almost solely on fishing to earn their daily wages.
The landing site buzzes with different activities such as farming, agriculture, tourism and trade. In the morning hours, fishermen who spent the night in the lake sell their catch to the market people with the price differing accordingly. Those who buy from the fishermen buy them at a lower price as compared to those who buy from the market and restaurants.
Fish is on high demand both for domestic use and for export purposes but due to climate change there has been a reduction in fish production. Law enforcement agencies have tried to counter this by coming up with laws against poor fishing methods. However, the fishermen attribute this decline to something else and not necessarily poor fishing methods. Speaking to them, some said “There is a massive death of aquatic life and a huge reduction in fish size due to Uganda’s quest for oil in Lake Albert. This leaves us with no other choice but to search for fresh waters to get a good catch.”
Sailing with sailors gives one an experience of what happens in their ‘world.’ They speak the ‘wave language,’ literally meaning they understand the lake based on the waves and they respect them as their location’s guide as they sail.
Rising Water Levels
In the morning hours men and women gather in the market place to sell their catch for the day after following the laid down Covid SOPs (standard operating procedures). At the landing site, every law in place is always implemented to the letter, by hook or crook because there is no place to hide since most of them only have one exit. On checking the product’s pricing, one can’t help but to notice the price hike. The traders claim it’s not their wish to hike the prices, but they are forced to do so due to the high taxes imposed on them.
At Lambu landing site, a lot of businesses are on hold due to the increase in the water levels occasioned by the unusual wet rainy season the area experienced. This paralyzed the transport, agriculture and medical sector. People abandoned their homes and work places in search of dry land. The realization that water now occupied most of the dry land forced the community to improvise and come up with ways on how to make traveling easy. They did this by marking a path in the water following the shortest water depth within the water.
In the evening it’s always party time. The market area is filled with people, loud music and fishermen who have brought in their catch of the day. However there are laws against Nile perch fishing which is generating a lot of unease with the fishermen feeling that the monopoly on Nile perch fishing is favoring the rich exporters.
On our return journey we passed through a military check point, which apparently has been set up to arrest Nile perch smugglers and any unauthorized fish size production.
At the check point the soldier(s) come in with a very serious fierce sniffer dog which searches for fish. In case you have any that doesn’t abide by the standard laws, you’re taken in for questioning. There is no ‘kitu kidogo’ literally meaning corruption/bribe. The sailors’ talk had saved us the havoc at the check point because we ate Nile perch at a spot where the fisherman can only camp. (There is always a spot in the lake that is not too deep where sailors rest on their boats).
Waste management is something that if we chose to do it the right way, it can be a great solution to climate change. Recycling plastic wastes will not only reduce the effects of climate change but will also be a source of income generation for the youth.
Lately I have become a friend of garbage, even the stench that scares many people away is somehow welcoming to me. Proper sorting of garbage is an employment opportunity to those who are in the sorting department (selecting green and black polythene bags). These polythene bags are on high demand. The recycled products are bags and earrings, to mention but a few, and I couldn’t miss an opportunity to grab myself a pair of earrings. Sincerely speaking I designed the earrings from a recycled sheet pad with the help of Mukalazzi (good in dealing with shapes and cutting) and by the looks of it, commentators and fashion lovers are very fond of them.
Even though recycling is looked at as a source of income, there are some challenges that it faces. Due to poor sanitation and poor waste management, most people urinate in plastic bottles and defecate in polythene bags, which they dispose both in the lake and in their environment. I approached a random person who told me, “Why waste my 200 shillings as charge to use a restroom yet I don’t know how many times nature will call!”
Plastic Waste Pollution
Lake Victoria is shared by three African countries. However, plastic pollution is threatening its fish stocks. I have been fortunate enough to visit some of the landing sites on the shores of Lake Victoria and have witnessed firsthand how plastic waste management is being poorly handled by the countries that share the lake and that depend on it. At Lambu and Kazilu landing site, a lot of plastic waste from Tanzania, Rwanda and other neighboring countries enter Uganda through River Kagera which drains its water into the lake.
Even though there is a ban on plastic bags in the three East African countries, that is Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the issue of plastic pollution still remains. Back on the main land, farming within swamps is on the increase and with industrial development spreading further, the outcome is that swamps are drying up, leading to non-predictable adverse weather patterns.
There is a beautiful green scenery as you travel to some parts of the lake but the beauty ceases when you cast your eyes and stare at the forest near it. The increasing rate of deforestation for charcoal burning is also an emerging issue in my country. Charcoal is on high demand, both for import and export purposes, generating a lot of money for those in the business. I tried to enquire how this was possible yet this type of logging is prohibited. One of the guys told me, “There is an immunity which serves as a protection against confiscation and that protects such exporters. In turn this greatly promotes deforestation and threatens the growth of forests in Uganda.”
As sad as it sounds, the current generation runs the risk of having to deal with the dire repercussions of climate change in the not so distant future. This is because the speed of environmental degradation is ever increasing and at an alarming rate. What’s worse is that at the moment, they’re not being involved in the discussions or in any of the decision making processes that touch on environmental issues. The youth of this region and of Africa as a whole need to stand up and fight this global menace before it’s too late. As much as we have started witnessing some of the effects of climate change, there is still time to act and counter the effects. The time is now.
Vice Versa Global is a platform spearheaded by young African journalists who are keen on telling the African story from the youth’s point of view by creating socially conscious content through vlogs, columns, video, articles and discussions in order to share ideas and spark dialogue about social change. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.