Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Uganda will participate in HIV Prevention Microbicide Trials again

The gel used in the trial increased sexual pleasure and it also opened a lot of sexual talk between women and their partners in Uganda.

By Esther Nakkazi

Uganda is ready to participate in another microbicide trial, the results of the failed largest international clinical trial on HIV prevention microbicide not withstanding, said Stephen Malinga, the minister of health at a press conference in Serena hotel.

After a full explanation and knowledge that there is no danger from using the gel, we shall explain this to our participants and urge them to participate again in any other microbicide trials, said Malinga.

At the trial site in Masaka, women who participated in the trials were crest fallen, even if they knew that the gel might not work, they also had very high hopes that it would work.

“The women are disappointed just as we are but they are very appreciative that we have gone back to inform them on the outcomes of the research just as we had promised to do,” said Anatoli Kamali, the Principle Investigator at the Uganda site.

The women were instructed to insert the gel an hour before sex and not to wash after sex. In Uganda all those recruited were potentially high-risk women.

It is disappointing that the gel did not give HIV prevention a chance; the Abstinence Be faithful Condom use (ABC) strategy and female condoms remain the only option for HIV prevention for women.

Kamali says Uganda will participate in HIV prevention microbicide trials again because huge infrastructure was built and women in Uganda and their partners have demonstrated that they used and very much liked the gel during sex. The gel increased sexual pleasure and it also opened a lot of sexual talk between men and women in Uganda.

“The general concept is that women are willing to use the gel. The next trial that comes around in two years time will be with ARVs and we shall have full participation,” said Kamali.

In Uganda 840 women participated in the trial at the Medical Research Council/Uganda virus Research institute (MRC/UVRI) in Masaka site. The largest international clinical trial to date into a preventive HIV gel found no evidence that the vaginal microbicide, PRO 2000 reduces the risk of HIV infection in women, scientists announced today.

“We need an arsenal of intervention. The failure of this candidate does not mean that we shall stop participation in HIV prevention microbicide trials,” said Dr. David Kihumuro Apuuli, the director general Uganda Aids Commission (UAC).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Politics of the Global Fund in Uganda

By Esther Nakkazi

Five months ago officials from the Global Fund came to Uganda and at a press conference at the media centre, announced the disbursement of $4.2 million the next month, to avert a treatment crisis in the country at the time.
To date the money has never been disbursed and Uganda has failed to qualify for Round 9 of the Global Fund causing a $20 million funding gap in HIV and early deaths due to treatment interruptions.
HIV/AIDS financing delays and cuts by development partners are now causing rationing of anti-retroviral drugs and most medical institutions are turning away new patients, unable to enroll them for the life-prolonging drugs. The latest has been a cut from the US President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funding for paediatric HIV, which will cut at least $1million next year.
Prof Addy Kekitiinwa the executive director Baylor Uganda Children’s Foundation during the annual paediatric conference said – ‘As I speak now, I have a letter from PEPFAR asking me to stop enrolling children. Even if all factors remain constant we still need the government to help or we shall not achieve universal access.
Starting April next year PEPFAR the biggest funder of HIV programmes in Uganda will cut up to $1million from the $7million annual contribution it was making to the paediatric HIV programme. Also the Global Fund money although available is not yet accessible.
Officials from the ministry of Health say that the Global Fund money has been disbursed from New York to Uganda’s central bank account, but there are administrative problems that are hindering its use.
Dr. Francis Runumi the commissioner Planning and Development at the ministry of Health says although the money is on the account but the Global Fund at first disbursed it to the wrong account and later when the signatory to that account was changed, it caused a further delay. In the meantime patients are dying due to ARV stock outs.
The signatory to the account at the central bank was Mary Nannono, the former permanent secretary in the ministry of Health who was interdicted and replaced by Dr. Sam Zaramba acting in the position.
Officials from the ministry of Health who want to keep this out of the media say, they thought it would be automatic for the process to accept a new signatory but as it turned out, due to the high sensitivity by the bank, a lot of technicalities need to be dealt with before the unanticipated long delay is sorted out.

Does the Global Fund have Bad Will for Uganda?
The $4.2 million, which was supposed to be a stopgap measure, in March 2009 is now expected to be disbursed early 2010. But in this entire saga, some officials accuse the Global Fund of having bad will for Uganda.
They say this could be due to the strained relationship, which was created when in 2005, serious mismanagement of $1.6 million was discovered leading to the suspension of financing to Uganda.
However, other sources attribute Uganda’s problems with the Global Fund, to its failure to change its management system. While the Global Fund insists that Uganda should change and operate under the project mode, the government still wants the money to go into budget support.
But Ugandan officials say that even if the Global Fund does not say it explicitly they do not want their money to go to budget support. They want Uganda to go into project mode where they can monitor money, can have a say about the expenditure and most importantly where the Global Fund prominence is proclaimed.
Some say it has a stereotyped way of working, which is too limited in its approach. For instance when Uganda mismanaged only $1.6million they rushed to arrest the culprits, that was not bad at all given the corruption in Uganda but again there was no mechanism for redress.
According to records, at least 70 percent of the people who had not accounted for the funds have already been cleared, recovering at least $1 million from institutions and individuals implicated in the misappropriation.
But even then the funds that could be assessed in Round 7 and Round 3 are not yet available although the two parties had earlier this year committed to resolve all outstanding issues so that the intended beneficiaries are not affected.
The weaknesses that the two sides had were identified and rectified. We shall ensure that the bad past is left behind, said Dr. Richard Nduhura the state minister for Health during a Press conference held to announce the stop gap measure earlier in the year.
This signified a renewed commitment from the Uganda Government to address past weaknesses and strengthen health systems in the long term.
But ministry of health officials say that all other conditions that were required by Uganda like improvement of the procurement and supply chain and a third party agent have now been fullfilled. But there is no money yet.
“If we could access the $254 million for the two rounds, it would be enough to take us through the next two years. We have lost Round 9 but it was rated fit for resubmission,” said Jim Arinaitwe the Global Fund coordinator at Uganda Aids Commission (UAC).
The country deliberately missed out on Round 8 of the Global Fund last year but had approval for two proposals under round 3 and 7, which were supposed to provide enough funds for running HIV programmes. But funds did not come in on time, which has in the long run affected treatment programmes.
The Global Fund has pumped nearly $52 billion in fighting the ravages of the HIV pandemic. Over the next year, the Global Fund will be another $2 billion short to meet its goals for funding new programmes.
To Uganda health officials the Global Fund remains an enigma -on one hand there is a lot of flexible but on the other hand there is no flexibility. It says something can be done but when it is suggested and presented on paper it is denied!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Baylor Uganda Children demand Rights

By Esther Nakkazi

“We have a right, the right of living; we have a hope, for the future; we need care; we need love; we have to grow, its a generation!” sang children swinging their hands and dancing away to the drum beat.
Child labor, defilement, child sacrifice, we need our rights! recited an HIV positive young girl, a member of the Baylor Uganda children choir at the 3rd annual national paediatric HIV&AIDS with a theme ‘accelerating access to HIV prevention, care and treatment for all children,’ conference held in Kampala 26-27th November.
The conference this time emphasized the need for indiscriminate universal rights to counseling, treatment, paediatric care and rights to all, irrespective of age, gender, race and geographical location.
“Children’s rights continue to be violated by their parents and care takers. They refuse to bring the children for testing and treatment and some of them even take them away,” said Prof. Addy Kekitiinwa the executive director Baylor Uganda Children’s Foundation.
This years World Aids Day slogan is ‘Access my Right, Testing my responsibility’ which has been coined from the global theme of ‘Universal Access and Human Rights.’
In Uganda, health officials say many parents deny their children treatment or drop it and opt for spiritual healing- just because the children cannot make their own decisions. But this should not mean they be denied treatment.
In Uganda 120,000-150,000 children aged less than 15 years are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS of which 50,000 have advanced HIV disease and need anti retroviral therapy (ART).
HIV is one of the major killers of children in Uganda, one in six deaths in children is as a result of HIV infection, 30 percent of HIV infected children will die by one year of age and 50 percent before the age of two unless they are identified and treated early.
One of the Baylor choir children said some parents have become a menace and do not want to look after their HIV positive children. Some parents sell the children’s items, others are drunkards and some even chase the children away from the homes when they establish that they are HIV positive. But these children like all other children and have simple basic needs.
The Government has come up to assure that it will ensure scale-up of access to services for Early Infant HIV testing and treatment, and for care and support for all children that are rejected and affected by HIV.
But although enrollment of children into HIV care has improved over the past one year, it is still very low compared to that of adults. Of the 193,000 people accessing ART by the end of June 2009, only 16,500 (8.5%) were children aged less than 15 years of age.
Children in rural settings do not have easy access to ART as compared to those in urban settings, over 60 percent of children on ART of children are treated in urban settings.
One of the major problems is that the unique and dissimilar issues of children infected and affected by HIV&AIDS are often lumped-up together with those of adults, giving children’s issues less attention than required or no attention at all.
Aids where did you come from, we are stigmatized in school, even in church; defilement, child sacrifice we need our rights! Aids where did you come from, parents so discriminative! the Baylor youngsters danced away as they exited from the conference hall.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The History of Pit Latrines in Uganda

By Esther Nakkazi

The history of the pit latrine in Uganda documentation starts in the 1950s when the colonialists started to promote sanitation and the chiefs enforced pit latrine construction and monitoring. 

At the time latrine coverage in Uganda was almost 100 percent. 

As a way to promote hygiene and sanitation, each household had to have a dish rack for drying the household cutlery, a bathing shelter for a bathroom, a pit latrine and a granary for food storage.

The pit latrine was built 30 meters away from the home and was 15-20 meters deep. The superstructure was made of mud and wattle; the slab was from hardwood timber. 

A shrub with soft, wide, sweet smelling leaves was planted near the pit latrine to be used as toilet tissue. 

I was born in the city and we had a flush toilet. When I visited my grandma (RIP -2015) as a child in the 80's I was surprised. Grandma's toilet was one such toilet and since I thought the two logs that separated to  give space to the pit was going to collapse any minute and I fall in the pit. 

I just cried. I was scared. My mother had to stand outside and assure me that she would hold me in case of anything. 

As I remember the toilet had a door made of reeds or bamboo that they could easily move to open and close!

Toilet matters were not discussed publicly and toilets had different names for the diverse people in Uganda. It it was unheard of to discuss poo in public and it was a taboo to talk about it during mealtimes. It still stands today.

All the materials used in the household hygiene and sanitation system were locally available. The pit latrine for the household with at least 10 members would last for 15-20 years.

After Uganda got independence in 1964, power shifted to the central government and there were no chiefs to enforce and monitor sanitation programs. 

The Public Health Act of 1964, with various sanitation and waste related ordinances or by-laws prepared by local government, were formulated.

As Uganda's population grew, rural urban migration set in and sanitation ceased to be a priority. A World Bank study, ‘Scaling up sanitation and hygiene in Uganda 2007’, shows a trend in latrine coverage with 98% coverage in the 1960s and going down to 45% and 20% in the1970’s and 1980s respectively.

The coverage was so bad at the time, amplified by the political turmoil and civil unrest. In 1974 the government enacted a new law that required each household to construct a pit latrine - 30 meters away from the house and 15 meters deep.

Even if the law was tough then with a fine of Shs. 20 (less than a $ cent today) or the head of the household getting arrested and tried by the village courts, many households defaulted on having pit latrines.

Increasingly in the rural areas, people got arrested and publicly got embarrassed about not having latrines but that did not change the attitude much. 

But even at the national level, there is sectoral fragmentation and sanitation is not a priority.

According to the World Bank, latrine coverage in Uganda today has stagnated at 60 percent since 2002. 

Studies also show that 75 percent of Uganda’s disease burden is preventable and linked to poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation facilities and practices.

The provision of sanitation is a key development intervention, which also improves an individual’s health, well being and economic productivity. 

At the household level, besides the well-known health outcomes of improved sanitation, there is increased comfort, privacy, convenience, and safety for women especially at night and for children, dignity, social status, and cleanliness.

Some organizations like Water For People-Uganda have introduced the EcoSan toilets, which if used properly can help with latrine coverage because they are low cost. 

I hope low-cost toilets come out of the innovations done by our innovators. Happy World toilet day! 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Adaptation-Uganda's priority at the Copenhagen talks

By Esther Nakkazi
After three days of congress, last week 1-4 November, Uganda’s priority at the international climate change talks will be adaptation. There are only four weeks to the climate- change summit in Copenhagen.
Although Africa is supposed to come up with a single voice, to seal the deal that will bring unity against global warming, it is imperative that each nation has its priority area; in Uganda’s case adaptation will be the frontline choice.
But if Uganda wants to focus on adaptation it has to put in place realistic adaptation strategies for sustainability. Countries that are unable to withstand the current climate change shocks may not be able to survive.
Jessica Ariyo, the minister of environment, said Uganda would toe the line of adaptation but policies need to be put in place to allow for the process to happen and a mechanism to transfer funds from polluters to non- polluters.
Some of the adaptation strategies include building capacities of communities at risk, strengthening early warning systems, developing and transferring homegrown technologies and solutions.
“We also want to see that the Kyoto protocol is scaled up and more carbon trading projects implemented here because we have implemented the programmes they told us to set up,” said Ariyo.
Uganda the chair of the climate change unit at the African Union is also planning to use its proactive climate change committee in parliament, the only one in Africa so far, to push for its stand at Copenhagen.
As the Kampala African initiative on climate change conference kicked off at Munyonyo Speke Resort, the 750 participants, who attended from all districts in Uganda, heard that the people at the local level are already finding ways to adapt to climate change.
But adaptation strategies should be improved like storage of water through man- made interventions like rainwater harvesting and improving the credibility of the meteorology data.
For example people in the northern region of Uganda are already into rainwater harvesting to reduce the vulnerabilities of local communities during prolonged droughts.
But more investment needs to be made in the meteorological department –increase hydrological stations- to have reliable data that farmers can use. Currently most of the data disseminated about the whether predictions is not reliable.
Ariyo said the government is going to consolidate and empower the meteorological department, bringing all partners together for accurate data and climate modeling through a new body the Uganda Meteorological Agency.
“We can only make our basis for science from what we discover. Then we need to improve the way we disseminate this information, we do know that rainfall intensity will change, droughts will be prolonged but can only say this on the basis of science,” said Dr. Richard Taylor, of the University of College of London.
The African Initiative congress on Climate change had at least 300 students active participants who were not only open to learning through asking hard questions but also sustaining an all round comprehensive dialogue.
Dr. John English, executive director, CIGI, said the momentum should be continued as the youth drive it forward. Students said they want climate change to be integrated in school curriculums.
“The participation of the youth in this conference was strategic. We have to engage the youth if we have to make a successful intervention in climate change- intergenerational equities or inequities have to involve the youth,” said Nelson Sewankambo, the director African Initiative.
The congress was a joint initiative between the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)- a think tank in Canada, the Salama SHIELD Foundation (SSF) a non-governmental organization registered in Canada, Uganda and Malawi as well as Makerere University.
“We have had a comprehensive dialogue, which be emulated in our districts. As people go to Copenhagen to seal the deal- we have already sealed ours- through exchanging ideas and agreeing to work together, said Sewankambo.

Using ICTs for disaster management

By Esther Nakkazi

Floods are on the rise. Temperatures are going up. Disasters are imminent everywhere but it has been proven that Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) are useful to avert them.
Now disaster management experts say an emergency ICT disaster Fund should be set up for the east African region. The Fund could be contributed to from the proposed African climate change Fund and used to predict, create awareness and preparedness of communities to improve response capability in disasters.
Research done with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has proven that an investment of $1 in ICTs used for disaster management through monitoring and response could save $14- $22 for rehabilitation after the disaster.
“We should incorporate all systems for instance early warning systems are critical but it is useless if you cannot disseminate information to evacuate and people can not respond in a positive manner,” said Dr. Cosmas Zavazava, the head of developed countries, ITU.
“So alerting communities should be in real time from the right source, with an ability to monitor, predict and communicate. Only ICTs can do that successfully.” This was during a meeting in Kampala on the use of ICTs in disaster management.
In the face of climate change, more disasters with higher intensity have been predicted to occur. ICTs can ensure that adequate measures are implemented before disasters strike, the meeting heard.
Common disasters in the east African region include floods, hail storms, volcanic activity, landslides, droughts and earthquakes while communication channels like mobile phones, satellite radios, emails, sirens, radios and televisions, emails, cell broadcasting and text messages could be used.
ICTs could be used for data collection, processing, analyzing and dissemination. Ms. Rose Nakabugo Bwenvu said one of the challenges to disaster management was data collection, analysis, and the lack of a database on many of these situations.
“It is a multi sectoral problem, we do not have most of the data and cannot coordinate it. We do not even have the number for the losses of both lives and property, but ICTs could be very helpful,” said Ms. Bwenvu of the emergency operation centre of the Office of the Prime minister.
If all national disaster management centres through the region used ICTs, then it would be possible to construct hazard maps and quantify the disasters as well as to coordinate the different systems. It would also be possible to establish a regional database.
ICTs such as mobile phones have been successfully used in disaster management. In 2007 during the floods in Uganda, ITU deployed telecommunications equipment to save hundreds of lives. More deaths have been averted using mobile phones on Lake Victoria.
It has been a year since Zain, one of the leading mobile network operators in Africa, teamed up with Ericsson and the GSMA development Fund to use Information Communication Technology (ICT) to save lives on Lake Victoria.
Now the project has proof that using mobile phones with the emergency maritime communication system that has been established by Zain can save the 200,000 fishers’ lives on lake Victoria.
Fred Masadde, external affairs manager Zain Uganda says they are handing over the project to the Lake Victoria Basin Commission to become a Public Private partnership. Some data suggests that 5,000 people die on the Lake every year.
The project works through a telecommunications network that captures all the data, a model rescue coordination centre where the coordinates are sent and triangulated to the search and rescue service centre to implement the rescue.
Masadde says the project was started as a social responsibility programme but since Zain is a business venture they think the governments in the region should take it up and scale it up to cover the whole lake Victoria.
Tullow Oil Company has also as part of its social responsibility been able to save lives with the rescue services it set up on Lake Albert. The community was equipped with a mobile phone and a rescue boat.
Other mobile phone operators like Safaricom, MTN and Vodacom in east Africa could join by using Zain’s base stations to share the sites and limit carbon footprint but also it makes a lot of economic sense.
But also the system could be used by such organizations as the Lake Vitoria Environment Management programme (LVEMP) to register and monitor boats on the lake, monitoring the fish catch everyday and integrated in the command and control system for the police to use.

Like smoking climate change affects the innocent.

Like smoking climate change affects the innocent.
By Ronald Musoke

Not all environmental problems experienced across Uganda are a direct result of climate change, a natural resources management specialist said recently at an International Climate Change Congress.

Dr Festus Bagoora who is also a senior official at the National Environment Management Authority, Uganda’s environmental regulatory agency, said there is urgent need to differentiate between problems associated with climate change and those which are linked to environmental degradation.

Speaking at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) African Initiative-organised four-day conference in Kampala, Dr Bagoora noted that the impact of climate change will be greater in communities where environmental degradation has been rampant.

“One of the concerns is that as an adaptation measure [to climate change], so many Ugandans are running towards fragile ecosystems such as lake shores, river banks, wetlands and forest reserves [to grow crops].

“This coping mechanism may help in the short run but the consequences will even be greater once these strategic ecosystems disappear. We need to tell our people that a coping mechanism that involves running to these fragile areas in the long-run will prove disastrous,” Bagoora said.

He noted that environmental degradation is as bad as climate change and there is urgent need to clearly distinguish the two.

He added that for Ugandans to adapt well to climate change there is need to revamp the meteorological department and reform Uganda’s land use policies.

Dr Alvin Curling, a senior fellow at CIGI likened climate change effects to those associated with smoking.

“Like smoking, it [climate change] does not only affect those partaking in the destruction of the environment but also includes those who are innocent.”

Dr Curling noted that environmental destruction was mostly a result of poor governance and legislation. He urged the citizenry to always hold their leaders accountable for their actions.

“When individuals are elected into offices, the people should hold those elected officers more accountable. This should be done using laws that are also enforceable,” he said.

The African Initiative Congress on Climate Change organised from November 1-4 brought together more than 400 government officials, local government leaders, academics and representatives from multilateral and donor organisations in addition to 300 university and secondary students with the intention of fostering an inclusive dialogue that builds on the existing local knowledge base; and using the results to form guidelines for a nation-wide strategy for adapting to climate change.

Memorable quotes at Climate Change African Initiative Congress in Uganda

Some memorable quotes on climate change at the African Initiative Congress held in Uganda.

By Esther Nakkazi

I too have attended so many conferences but this one is different, the excitement in this hall.... never have I seen so many people raise their hands to ask questions and contribute or place yellow cards on the information boards, this has truly been a new model of participation; John English the Executive director CIGI.

We should build capacities of communities at risk and strengthen knowledge sharing to tap into the indigenous knowledge. Stories from the vulnerable communities are very useful; Gilbert a presenter from Kenya.

May be to solve climate change Uganda should reduce on the number of vehicles in the country? They consume fuel and emit gasses;A female participant.
We could explore cars that use water but not to ban cars all together; responded a participant.

Some of the climate change adaptation strategies include marrying off young girls to older men. Some family do it in order to survive hunger.  If Egypt is using the water (from River Nile that has its source in Uganda) why shouldn’t we also use this water? Participant from eastern Uganda.

If a wetland is not gazetted it is still a wetland and should not be reclaimed; official from National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

We have increased prevalence of HIV because of climate change. In my district (Busia) - we have rural-urban migration due to climate change. When people move to the town, they get new partners but still go back to their wives in the villages, which creates a social network with many partners to facilitate spread of HIV; Busia environment officer.

There are some good things that are happening because of climate change but they are never talked about. For instance in Arua mango trees are fruiting twice as a result of climate change; Participant from Arua district:

We need to differentiate between the impact of climate change and environmental degradation. The former exuberates climate change. They are equally terrible. Kabale’s temperatures were 9 degrees Celsius in the 1960’s and the mist used to dissipate at midday. It is now dissipating at 9.00am. What else do we need to see to believe climate change; NEMA official.

When I fly I always see clouds foaming on forests but they are not on buildings. There was a company that came to parliament to sell solar lanterns most of my colleagues just passed by not interested at all; Jessica Eriyo, state minister for environment.

How are we going to transfer resources from polluters to non-polluters. We should talk about how this is going to be achieved and not leave it to politicians; Dr. Richard Taylor, Department of Geography, University College of London.

We formed the parliamentary forum on climate change for Members of Parliament who have a passion for it. As a committee on natural resources we thought issues of climate change would be lost to more pressing issues like oil, energy and minerals. This kind of forum is intended to bring people together and supposed to use their expertise on issues of climate change.

We might be the first parliament in Africa to form this kind of committee. Uganda holds the chair of the African Union committee on climate change. We have the moral obligation to not only set the pace but an initiative to form the first proactive forum for parliamentarians on climate change in Africa. We are doing this so that our brothers in other African parliaments follow suit.Winnie Matsiko, Member of Parliament.

We need to streamline and integrate climate change into our school curriculums. There is no institution or faculty in Uganda offering climate change courses. We can do more to strengthen the educational responses to this so that the issues of environmental change and climate change are part of us; Student participant.

Tree planting is an expensive investment. It is very hard to motivate everyone to plant trees. Those who have planted trees are going to be billionaires in the next decade.We want to formulate a policy on tree planting. It is an expensive venture but we want to scale it up and also set up a tree fund; Jessica Eriyo.

We have created a dialogue, which should be emulated in our districts. As people go to Copenhagen to seal the deal just know that we have sealed the deal because right now we have exchanged ideas and agreed to work together: Prof Nelson Sewankambo, the chairman African Initiative.

This is a major landmark in the history of Africa, climate change and in Uganda. We have each benefited. It is rare to have a conference full to the end and an attentive audience. This shows the importance of the topic and the problem; Jessica Eriyo.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Integrate climate change in School curriculums-Uganda youth say

By Esther Nakkazi
Uganda held a national conference on climate change that brought together representatives from all the districts in the country. The African Initiative Congress on climate Change (1-4th November) started with the opening by Maria Mutgamba, the minister of water and environment. About 750 people participated in the conference, half of them students from all over the country.
I will not write about the obvious- (all the papers presented were said to be available on the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) website but what was unique about this conference. Noteworthy was the tree hugger poem, the student participation and sustained interest throughout the conference by participants.
It should also be noted that Uganda’s agenda for the 2009 climate change Copenhagen conference was clearly spelt out. (Check out another article on this blog.)
I liked the poem by Ife- Piankhi about hugging a tree. It was well composed and felt so urgent you would actually hug a tree if it were near you; only we were in a conference room at Speke resort Munyonyo. I liked this poem because of its uniqueness- we are kind of fed up with the usual message of ‘plant trees’ to save the environment.
Ife’s poem was simple- go out hug a tree- that in my opinion also meant that we need more trees. Can we hug what we do not have? NO. or what we do not care for? NO. During the week I actually felt an urge to hug a tree.
In Uganda we have just had a very successful campaign to become a friend of the gorilla. This resonated well with becoming a friend of a tree. My tree friend would be the beautiful gigantic oak tree- it is so big I wonder if I would be able to hug it.
Students’ participation:
It started with one brave hand; the question was unclear and probably targeted to the wrong panelist. But that was it! We then had many interesting questions from the students. When the congress got into small working groups, the students were ready to volunteer as rapportuers.
The classic one was a student who told us that we were comfortably sited in this hall, which was built on a swamp. That all of us also had mineral water plastic bottles but there is no plastic processing plant in Uganda.
Other students were concerned about the polythene bag (kaveera) ban that is never fully implemented, land laws, tree planting programmes in schools etc. It is interesting that youth were very enthusiastic about climate change and knew quite a lot when many adults don’t get it at all!
There was consensus from the students: that climate change should be integrated in the school curriculum. This was a serious recommendation that also caught the ear of the members of parliament who were present and Jessica Eriyo, the minister of state for environment.
For the 300 students who attended the conference, the invitations were deliberate, the topics well thought out and with good intentions. Organizers started with having a student’s representative on the organizing team. Then they held a nationwide essay competition with the winner emerging from Arua district.
Prof. Nelson Sewankambo, the director African Initiative said: -the participation of youth in this conference is amazing. We have to engage the youth if we have to make a successful intervention in climate change.
Climate change intervention is about intergenerational equity or inequity so we have to engage the youth. The major question is -How can we consume with out disadvantaging future generations? –asked Sewankambo.
The youth raised issues, asked questions and their hands shot up to volunteer for the different tasks including rapportuering, making presentations etc.
“We must keep this spirit burning and excite the young people, so that they can be active participants. They are showing an example of what should be done in the face of climate change. Most of us, our thinking has become rigid but the youth are change agents and will play a role in the way we intervene.”
Prof John English, the executive director CIGI said it is only the youth who will take the debate forward.

African Initiative Congress on Climate Change

Uganda held a national conference on climate change that brought together representatives from all the districts in the country. The African Initiative Congress on climate Change (1-4th November) started with the opening by Maria Mutgamba, the minister of water and environment.

About 750 people participated in the conference, half of them students from all over the country.
I bring you some of the issues that were highlighted at this conference. Ronald Musoke a journalist with EnvironConserve also contributes a story to this blog.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hoima, Kibaale, Bulisa, Masindi and Kiboga district


The group with the youngest journalists is Hoima and only two girls. At least half of the 24 participants are students from Kitara Institute of Commerce and Media Studies in Hoima. Participants are under the mid-western journalists Association or Bunyoro region Association. Participants come from Bulisa, Kibaale, Hoima, Masindi and Kiboga.

The conference was opened by Mr. Dembe Kawagga Ssetumba the secretary for production and marketing Hoima Town Council on behalf of the mayor. He said the major environment challenges in Hoima include Streams drying up and water sources like Lake Albert having low water levels.

This is the only station where the environment officer Jocelyn Nyangoma refused to come and speak to journalists because ‘we may be discussing issues against government.”

She asked that the district Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) first give her permission to come and talk to the journalists. Even if the CAO did allow she did not show up.

So the participants got into two groups and came up with the major environment challenges in Hoima as well as the effects to these problems.   

This group although with many students was quite argumentative and there were 3-5 participants that were lively and knowledgeable. One student asked me ‘Madam how do you define climate change for exams” In other wards what would he write in an exam if the asked him what is Climate change?

“The Ozone layer s being depleted. When I walk I use my cap because the sun rays hit my head and am becoming more stupid,” Jeff on the effect of climate change.  

This group had general fears probably a reflection from the bigger community but they thought that when the oil starts flowing from Kaiso-Tonya the environment is going to be affected and they would suffer.

These are genuine concerns but I could only encourage them to do the right thing- file your stories and we see what impact they will make especially on preservation of the environment.

As usual I probed about adaptation on Climate change and these are the answers I received:


-Traditional activities have been changed for most of the tribes. The pastoralists are slowly becoming cultivators too because of food insecurity.

-Many farmers are growing tobacco and ignoring other food, they assume that the money they get from tobacco will be used to buy food but the food prices are higher and cannot make up for the food not grown.

-Grasshoppers are abandoning some habitats like Masaka and they now fall in Hoima in two seasons may-June, November- December.  Actually the grasshoppers a delicacy for most of the people in Buganda region have abandoned their traditional areas in Masaka and Mubende. Now in one year we have two seasons for the harvest and they are in big. The Ngobi Hill used to have them but not anymore. I think its because of technology we have the powerful lights that attract them to Hoima. All grasshopper harvesters have shifted from Masaka to Bunyoro region.

-Mangoes are no longer growing very well. They are drying up. When it rains heavily they do not produce fruit because they have many leaves.

-Cattle keepers the Bahima have started staying in one place and have started growing cassava. The pastoralists are giving up their activity and producing their food to become both pastrolism and cultivators.

Most of the officials in Hoima do not go on record. Most of them want you to first go to the CAO and get permission from him. 

The case study : Molasses distillation in Bulisa and its cause on the environment.

I left Hoima by Taxi on Saturday 25th July.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Soroti Rock Almost gone to Quarrying

By; John Omoding
The granite rock that stands protruding from the heart of Soroti town faces extinction if indiscriminate quarrying is not stopped

Driven by poverty and economic demands the formerly internally displaced persons (IDPs) have resorted to quarrying activity as one way to generate income to fend for their families.

Among them, engraved in quarrying is Grace Margaret Asamo 51 years old, who entirely depends on rock quarrying proceeds as her sole income for the last six years. 

Asamo was uprooted from her ancestral home in Katakwi following persistent raids by the marauding Karimojong warriors way back 1987.

“We know we are supposed to leave the quarrying activity at this rock but before that government should give us start up capital that will help us open other income generating activities,” Asamo said.

“We use our hands to break the rock. After burning the stone by using firewood it becomes weak so that it can easily be broken using a hammer,” she added.

Despite an ultimatum given by the state minister of Environment, Jessica Eriyo against quarrying activity at the rock six months ago that expired in July 2007 and up to today the quarrying activity is still going on.

According to Soroti environment officer, Francis Opolot his office has been facing challenges and interference from politicians and local leaders as they try to enforce the minister’s directive.
He also indicated that the quarrying group appealed to the minister to give them time to continue with quarrying for some time as they (quarrying persons) save money to enable them move away and open other businesses.

Apparently, NEMA asked the group to form an association then it forwards its application to them seeking permission to continue with the quarrying. However, on the contrary, the Senior Inspector/Register NEMA, Hebert Oule when contacted on phone on June 25, 2009 said that NEMA has never given nor seen such application from Soroti quarrying association seeking for permission to carry the quarrying activity at the rock.

“Ask them to give you a copy of the clearance letter if they have any from NEMA. The fact is NEMA has never given them a go ahead and yesterday when we met the Soroti Municipal authorities it was clearly put to them that quarrying should be stopped with immediate effect and if they don’t do it then NEMA will be forced to intervene and carry forceful eviction,” Oule said.

“I am sure those people were misinformed by some persons in Soroti and we as NEMA do not subscribe to their decision. The Soroti Municipal authorities have until next month to have quarrying stopped,” Oule added.

Pictures of the training

Tororo Rock will soon be no more (Pictures)

The Giagantic Teso Opiyai faces human erosion

In the afternoon I took a stroll to see the great rock that the trainees were talking about and what was going to be our case study. I was warned against revealing my true identity, because the community, which was not oblivious to what they were doing as being wrong, was very hostile to journalists.
They were only friendly to local journalists and Osojo and many others were willing to go with me but I decided to go alone.  Camera on shoulder I took deliberate short steps when I was getting near the gigantic rock. I started taking pictures.
The first family that was breaking stones and heaping them up noticed and they sent a small boy probably to inform the head that there was an intruder. I casually took more pictures until I approached a young man and started chatting him up.
My case was like I work with an NGO that cares for the safety of workers. We were therefore concerned that they were doing this kind of work with no safety gadgets. He fell for it and told his wife about me. They showed me and I felt their palms which had almost lost feeling- the skin was so rough. The feet were cracked and had sores they needed gumboots I suggested.
Whole families including children and grand parents spent days here at the quarry cracking stones to be used in the construction industry. A basin cost as little as 1,500- 75 cents. A lorry came around and they loaded stones with spades, dust was everywhere polluting the air. The noise from the hammers cracking stones was a song; everyone was silent except for the men loading stones who were shouting at each other.
While we chatted a tall woman came over and spoke to me in Ateso I could not reply. She greeted me in English and I explained myself. The guy I was talking to also intervened and explained my mission.
She was happy that this (NGO-started by me) was concerned about safety at their work place. But went away with not much interrogation to me. I suspect she was still suspicious about me. I took some pictures and thanked the guy and strolled back to the hotel.
My analysis was that unless government found another alternative for the local people the giant opiyai rock would go and very soon. It would definitely destabilize the environment how I don’t know, the scientists can tell us.
Three weeks after I left Soroti deaths due to hunger were reported in the press. Although I could not monitor the local stations I imagined the journalists who were in the training reported these stories and gave a better explanation to the listeners.
Most of the journalists who attended (25) were from these districts were people were dying of hunger- Bukedea, Soroti, Katakwi, Amuria and karamoja. (It would be interesting to measure impact after training but the project does not allow for that).  
Food security was a problem but climate change had to be also be explained and put into context so that farmers could come up with adoption ways to guard against hunger and death. 
Action was taken. The president Yoweri Museveni went to Teso region to assess the situation. Relief food was delivered. Different leaders including the queen of Buganda – the Nabagereka, appealed to the government to extend relief food to the feminine victims. Members of parliament warned that climate change has had and is going to have a negative impact on food security.
But the problem is nobody seems to talk about sustainability. What I see is that rice, which is being promoted by the Vice president’s office as a poverty eradication scheme could, actually cause a lot of food insecurity as most homes abandon traditional food crops for rice.
Wetlands and swamps are also being destroyed in the name of growing this cash crop-rice. But households sell everything with nothing for them to feed on. The RDC Rukungiri mentioned it. A study case is Sierra Leone. More needs to be done.       

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Road safety and climate change in Soroti

I arrived in Soroti about 400 kilometers from Kampala on the 23rd Tuesday morning.

I did not want to use a chicken bus so I opted for the fast running Matatu. It worked but my heart was hanging in the air all the time, the previous week about 40 people had died on this same Jinja road.

On the way some of the most memorable things I remember, that pertain to climate change and the environment, are the vast rice fields in what are supposed to be wetlands, the disappearing forests in most of the country side and worst of all as a believer in conservation the accident of the slow, big and brown lizard.

As we were approaching Bukedea district, a big, heavy, slow, confused, brown lizard ( monitor) was crossing the road. I was on one of the front seat near the driver and alerted him, he saw it, the lizard too saw the car. 

But we hit it. 

I shut my eyes for a minute and looked blankly at the driver. He smiled and said he had to hit it otherwise the car would have overturned at the speed we were driving at. 

So the poor thing had to die to save the car from overturning. 

Another observation that is not related to environmental or climate change is the idleness. There are so many idlers in this part of the country. People are tall and really thin. 

When I paused this to my class they said there are no jobs, the war destabilised everyone and people just do not trust each other but also most people abandoned the villages for towns. 

They also said the food scarcity is so high such that people have only a meal a day and because there are many mangoes in this part of the country some families just eat mangoes for lunch. 

It is the same story of a meal a day but this seems really bad. 

The other is the heat. As I write this in a small Internet café, am sweating out. Just type a few words and am out of this Golden Ark Hotel Café because it is HOT. They say temperatures are between 28-40 degrees should be Celsius. It is hot. 

Well the Case study we have discussed in Soroti is the rock Quarrying, which is causing numerous environmental problems. But journalists hardly report on environment. 

During the Kony war most of them took to reporting politics and they are really not eager to report environment or climate change. I hope the workshop helps. 

The rock quarrying in reference acted as a wind breaker and was a beauty to the district but now it is being destroyed –stones are taken from here for construction. 

This is causing child labour as whole families go to crack stones, there is air and water pollution and a general destabilization of the ecological system. Soroti is a district of rocks. There are many quarrying sites were rocks are being destroyed to feed the construction industry. 

Soroti also has a subcounty-Kyere that has the highest fertility rate in the world. I am really inquisitive to know what it is about. Is it the diet, lack of contraceptives or it is a cultural thing. I am going to do this story, conduct some interviews today. 

We discussed many environmental issues and adaptation with some of the issues contributed by the class below ( the way we understood it). Adaptation Soroti: 1. One meal a day –some eat fruits, drink porridge, They used to drink Malwa made of millet that was very nutritious to Waragi, which is not good. 2. There is increased use of energy saving stoves using firewood. 3. The people of Teso are mainly cattle keepers. 

Originally they used to graze on different grazing farms but have now resorted to taking all the flock to a central grazing point. Tolbert from Kapir in Kumi said this swamp near his home keeps lots of cattle, pigs, dogs, which have all been damped in the swamp because people do not have enough grazing, ground. 

Once in a while owners of the flock go to check on the herds or assign them to nearby caretakers to milk them. “Right now if you go to that swamp you will find caucuses of animals- pigs, cows dying because of disease and lack of proper care. People have gone on to live in towns and most of them are idle. 

Stories to be worked on the Class: David- Massive rice cultivation in the wetlands. John Adams- Wetlands destruction by cattle keepers. Jonathan- Garbage recycle plant that is world Bank funded. Mike – Buveera- environmental impact Gilbert- tree felling –encroachment on wetlands. Williams Moi- Environmental effect of waste from grinding mills. ( This region has many grinding mills of ground nuts, simsim) Tolbert- Buweera- dumping Cecilia- effects of tree felling on climate change, new variety of crops. Joseph- deforestation Peterson-people who have built in wetlands? David Opolot- buveera- Felix- encroachment on wetlands. James- World Bank- NEMA- Garbage recycling plant- air pollution Sam Odongo- Rock quarrying – Salome Among- Rock quarrying – David Opio- Swamps destruction- impact on the communities, fish stocks Catherine- deforestation – effects on the environment. Alomu Delux – waste disposal- Rebecca – Wetland farming Hesed – Wetland grazing – cattle and animals –Awogye. 

Let us wait for the stories.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Some of the stories written as part of the environmental reporting workshop


Environmental and health hazards currently bedeviling Mbarara Municipality and six other urban authorities in the country could gradually be surmounted when a World Bank funded project that will provide a garbage compositor and collect trucks take off.

With Mbarara Municipality population generating over 150 tons of solid waste per day part of which is collected by trucks for dumping at a site in Kankombe, Kakoba division there by degrading the land and polluting the air in the vicinity, the construction of the compositor which turns the solid waste into manure is expected to greatly check the hazardous impact on the neighboring communities. The garbage that has been a menace will also turn into a blessing as its product once its turned into manure will help generate some income when it is sold to the farming community.

While the long time vision for Mbarara Municipality leadership is to archive a city status, it has been grappling with solid waste disposal, which would be aggravated by the increased population occasioned by the territorial expansion and more attractive services.

But the chief township officer Mbarara Municipality David Naluwayiro Kigenyi discloses that with assistance from the environment watchdog the National Environment Management [NEMA], a project worth 400 million Uganda shillings is being implemented to help seven Municipalities and two town councils to partly overcome the garbage disposal problem.
Besides, Mbarara, other prospective beneficiaries are Lira, Masaka, Jinja, Soroti, Fort Portal and Mbale Municipalities plus the town councils of Mukono and Kasese.

The project site will also benefit from a six-kilometer extension of piped water with the help of National Water and Sewerage Corporation from which the neighboring community will benefit. Kigenyi says the NEMA coordinated project has contributed a refuse collecting truck and 20 collection skips while in the subsequent phase, the Ministry of Local Government has promised to provide another truck.

The Mbarara Municipal Environment Officer, Herbert Tumwebaze says the sites at which solid waste is collected and dumped suffers the environment and health hazards through the degrading of land and air pollution. He says the refuse from the unsorted garbage litters and contaminates the neighboring water sources.

Councilors who represent the area where the dumping site is located cry foul of the nasty smell and pollution of the atmosphere but are optimistic of the new project will mitigate the adverse effects.

The township officer Mr. Kigenyi reveals that about 17million shillings is spent per month on collection of the solid waste by the trucks in the municipality. Part of it is collected directly by the council trucks and private contractors manage another part.

He attributes the ever-rising solid waste problem to an increasing population, a big percentage of which is poor, which does not appreciate the desire for beauty and standards. All the majority of the town dwellers care about is their survival and it is difficult to change their negative attitude. He wonders why some town dwellers for instance in their wisdom choose to throw their solid waste on the surface even when the skips are half empty.

On the government policies, Kigenyi feels the implementation of our environment law is weak compared to neighboring Rwanda where authorities are strict with dumping of polythene and plastic materials.

Mbarara’s Resident District Commissioner, Clement Kandole also agrees with Kigenyi on the ambiguity of Ugandan laws on environment. He wonders for instance how an ordinary person is expected to comprehend the difference in gauges of the polythene materials in terms of microns yet it could be more realistic to say impose a ban on all polythene materials.

With proper implementation of the solid waste management project, active involvement of the stakeholders including the communities neighboring the dumping site and continued awareness on sustainability of the project, the environment related hazards in Mbarara and other towns could be history.


The people of Kiswahili Parish in Mbarara District have threatened to burn down International Window School due to its failure to construct a soak pit in which wastewater can be collected.

The area councilor Yusuf Kakembo said that despite several warnings given to the school, it has continued to dispose waste-water that runs over people’s gardens and compounds up to the water catchment area in the lower land.

The Municipal Environment Officer, Herbert Tumwebaze says the waste- water produces a foul smell and is posing an environment hazard to the water source in the area.

Mr. Tumwebaze added that unless the trend is reversed, the wastewater would create a lot of erosion gullies and loss of soil fertility leading to low productivity.

The Municipal Medical Officer, Dr William Tinkasimire said that waste water can cause harmful diseases like diarrhea, dysentery and typhoid to people if not properly handled.

The Town Clerk David Kigenyi Naluwairo said the school will be relocated if the proprietor fails to develop a proper drainage system. The school Headmaster, Maali Kakuru refused to talk to the press when contacted for a comment.



The Mbarara Municipality Health Officer, Dr. John Tinkasimire has said that harvesting of many trees in urban centres and its surroundings has contributed to the increased drought hence causing hunger.

Tinkasimire said that there was rampant tree harvesting in Mbarara Municipality due to the need of space for building residential houses and brick making.

Dr. Tinkasiimire told journalists in his office today at Mbarara Municipal Council building that most of the trees have been cut into timber and charcoal.

He said that this has greatly affected rainfall formation that is needed to support the growth of horticultural crops which are supplementary foods for town dwellers and that if this trend of rapid tree cutting is not reversed, people are likely to lose life.

Tinkasiimire told reporters that before these trees were cut down, Mbarara Municipality used to have enough rainfall and people were planting simple food crops like cabbage, tomatoes and carrots which would supplement other food stuffs from outside Mbarara town. He advised all residents of mbarara town to embark on tree planting in order to save environment and life.

When contacted, the woman LC4 councilor for Myarutobora ward, Jessica Byaruhanga told reporters that Myarutobora ward in Mbarara municipality was leading producer of vegetable food stuffs before trees were cut down but now he area is a bare ground with no any agricultural activity taking place. She said that if this rapid cutting of trees is not controlled, Mbarara is likely to face danger in the near future in terms of food shortage/ hunger.



The District Natural Resource Officer, South Western Region, Jeconius Musingwire has decried that the encroachment on river Rwizi which has caused the lowering of water levels in the region. River Rwizi is the only source of water supply to the districts of Mbarara, Lyantonde, Isingiro and Kiruhura.

He also added that even National Water and Sewerage Corporation uses the same river at Ruharo and Kabale.

Jeconious Musingwire said this while meeting journalists in his office at Kamukuzi where he he also emphasized that the environment is being affected by the encroachment on river Rwizi and the surrounding wetlands.

By press time when contacted, the Manager National Water and Sewerage Corporation Mbarara area, James Opoka said that the corporation has embarked on storing water in their corporation tanks so that the water levels can be controlled to maximum use for environmentalists.

He also informed reporters that the corporation is doing every thing possible to control the situation of water levels by afforestation at the most of collecting centres in Ruharo and Kabale road.

In another development when the people at River Rwizi were contacted, the L.C.1 Chairman Kashanyazi cell, Semunjju Mohammed said that the lowering of water levels at River Rwizi have affected the economic activities of the area because most of the people in his cell benefit from brick laying which consumes a lot of water and the only source is River Rwizi.



Rwentondo wetland degradation has put the health of 600 families in Kenkombe cell Kakiika Sub County at risk due to the use of contaminated water from their well and residents say they have complained to various authorities to no avail.

“For some time now, we are experiencing itches on our bodies due to using bad water that makes our bodies pale when we wash with it,” Sarah Nierere, a mother of three from the village says.

She said residents draw water from a well that is fed by water which goes through Rwentondo wetland. This water that feeds into the wetland is from the run offs from Mbarara Municipality and is contaminated with minerals washed from the town.

Nierere says the water is very hard and one has to use a lot of soap when washing clothes and bathing. “Kuturikuganaaba omubirir twine okwejunisa esabuuni nyingi ahakuba nigaba gagangaire kandi nigashisha nemibiri yabaana bashatanyagurika, reero emyenda yo nekihebya” she says literary meaning [ when using this water for bathing, one has to use a lot of soap and when it comes to bathing children, they run the risk of their bodies corroded by the bad water]

“This water is not only affecting human beings but also their livestock. Our animals have been affected because some have died while others look very unhealthy” Yusufu Mugabo who owns the well where his fellow residents draw water from says. Mugabo who doubles as the LC 1 chairman says the municipality authorities promised that they would use the land fill system of garbage disposal but have since renegade on their promise.

He says he has complained to municipality authorities but they have failed to come to their rescue since they are the people causing the problem. “We have complained to municipal authorities but they have failed to help us and the problem has been compounded by waste dumping from the municipality which was introduced of recent and it is upstream.”

Mbarara municipality land near the village, which it is using as a garbage-dumping site. However, the Medical Officer of Health Dr. John Tinkamanyire says the problem of waste management is temporal and will soon be solved.

“We have received funding from the Bank through National Environment Management Authority [NEMA] to construct a compost that will be turning the waste materials that rot into the manure and garbage will be no more”. On drinking contaminated water, he says soon the residents around the project will receive clean piped water.

The town Clerk David Naluwayiro admits that the residents are consuming dirty water due to the degradation of the wetland but that this is about to be history because the council has received funding from the World Bank. He says the method of waste disposal is the land fill system but compost system.

“We are going to provide water to the residents of villages around the waste disposal plant to a radius of 5 km and every body will benefit from the project and are implementing it with National Water and Sewerage Corporation.

Under the same project, the Rwentondo wetland will be allowed to regenerate because a demonstration farm will also be put to teach the farmers methods of better farming and providing alternative land to using a wetland.

Naluwayiro says the 400 million will benefit the residents by providing manure that will be generated from the compost so that instead of following fertility in wetlands, they would use it as fertilizers in their gardens uphill.

“We are going to employ residents of the area in garbage sorting to separate the buvera and other hard materials from other wastes that rot and churn into manure which we shall give to farmers at a small fee that they will use in their gardens, he says.

A visit to Kenkombe dumping site has revealed work in progress but the dumping is still going on. When asked when the project is to be commissioned, Mr. Naluwayiro is non committal. “The contractors had some problems but otherwise work would have been finished by now but as soon as we finish the residents will be happy.”

Dr. Tinkamanyire however says they are still faced with disposal of the buvera to be sorted but hopes a solution will be found like selling them to recycling plants in Kampala.

While the project is still going on, residents of Kenkombe village will have to put up with the contaminated water and the foul smell from the waste disposal.



The Town Clerk Mbarara, Mr. Naluwayiro Kigenyi has decried the poor disposal of polyethylene papers which has increased the spread of malaria disease because of the mosquitoes they harbor.

He told the Monitor daily paper on Friday during the field study taken up when the journalists had a 3 day training workshop at Pelikan hotel, on environmental reporting.

He said that those polyethylene papers and used condoms spoil the environment in that they cover the soil and the rain water cannot pass through causing soil infertility hence famine in most places.

Dr. Tinkasiimire William said even those condoms young children usually pick them and blow air in them calling them balloons and then start playing with them which always cause some health diseases to those children.



One of the leading environmentalists in the country has warned that continuous burial of people in concrete graves is going to create an environmental disaster in future.

Cyril Mugenyi who is the Bushenyi district natural resources coordinator said that from the ecological point of view, our bodies were made out of elements extracted from the soil by plants.

“Those chemical elements were borrowed from the soil therefore there is need to burry the dead in soils to replace the chemical elements that were removed when man was created,” he said.

Mugyenyi said that our ancestors who discovered the act of burying the dead in the soil must have been great environmental experts.

“Our ancestors discovered the innovation of digging pits where the dead were buried and covered with soil saying they were even fulfilling the biblical saying that man was from soil and therefore should be returned to the soil” he said.

He revealed that in the rural setting people usually settle on the most productive land and go on to burry their departed relatives on the same land.

“These graves are slowly but steadily eating up this productive land, in a district like Bushenyi which has approximately 2,218,000,000 square metres of cultivable land and a population of about 0.8 million people. A concrete grave on average covers three square meters of land. Mathematically, this cultivable land can accommodate only 739,333,333 concrete graves and there will be nothing but a sea of concrete”, he said.

He added that although the above figure appears as though it will take a long time to have the land occupied, this will last for a few generations and assuming that nothing else like buildings and roads is occupying this land.

“By the time 30% of this land is concrete, there will be little remaining as farmland. That is land that is not ours, which we are simply giving away permanently to the dead when those alive have nowhere to farm or construct useful structures” Mugyenyi said.

Cyril said such environmental hazards formulate the essence of multiple failures of natural setups for the revolving of the earth.



Hundreds of thousands of rural people and their livestock in Western Uganda depend on polluted water according to environmentalists there.

Environmentalists in the region say most of the waters in the rivers, lakes and wells there have been polluted and are now brown in color. They blame this mostly on poor methods of farming which causes soils from this hilly region to slop down the hills and pollute waters in the valleys every time it rains.

River Rwizi is one of the main rivers in the South Western Region which is a source of water for thousands of local people and their livestock. Snaking through the famous hills of South Western Uganda, Rwizi was always a very beautiful river that brought pride to the people in the area due too its sky blue waters and the purposes they served.

Today, River Rwizi is back in news not for its great beauty and history but for being under a brink of death. The deadly disease whose symptoms include browning and ever decreasing waters was spread to it by the people who depend on it according to the agency that oversees environment in Uganda- NEMA.

The focal person for the National Environment Management Authority – NEMA in the Western Region, Jeconius Musingwire talking to our reporter said that the water of River Rwizi “should never be shaded blue on any map because its color is brown like the soil”.

He disclosed that Rwizi’s waters are brown because of sedimentation. “There is a lot of soil wash off from the river’s poorly managed catchment areas,” laments Musingwire.

He says that the people have started sand digging on the river that has also contributed to its drying up further.

River Rwizi, which originates from Buhweju, a mountainous country of Bushenyi District meanders through the bare hills of southwestern Uganda in Bushenyi, Ntungamo and Mbarara Districts. It continues to flow via several cattle grazing places in this region before joining Lake Mburo.

Musingwire says valleys and hills which River Rwizi meanders through are usually set on fire in the dry seasons. According to Musingwire, the same hills and valleys are again faced with poor methods of cultivation in rainy seasons. This Musingwire says “leaves soils from the poorly managed hills and valleys dumped into the river every time it rains”. This he says is not only happening to River Rwizi but to also to several other water bodies in the region.

Musingwire tips that poor methods of farming could continue threatening water sources in this region unless local people there promote soils conservation.



Shy D. M. Miriam [who prefers to be called that name] of Kijungu in Mbarara District is busy preparing lunch for herself and her grand children when I meet her for a brief interview.

She says she has lived next to a sewerage lagoon for the last 20 years and says she is very healthy save for the stench that occurs occasionally during the wet season.

She does not know that the lagoon emits gases and substances that are dangerous to her health although she knows that the pond contains human excreta.

A Threat to Health
The District NEMA focal person Jeconius Musingwire says people living around the pond risk contracting cancer related diseases which are brought about by inhaling toxic gases and substances from the pond.

The residents run the risk of contracting cancer of the brain, kidneys stomach and other sanitary related diseases because of directly inhaling the breeze from the ponds containing sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide if there is continual intake of the gases.

Mbarara Municipality has about five lagoons and at least two of them have been encroached on and human habitation is less than the recommended 100 metres thus putting that settlement at risk.

The National Water and Sewerage Corporation’s [NWSC] Engineer, Moses Omara today was speaking out that the corporation has no mandate to stop people from encroaching on the lagoons because their main concern is to make sure the water released from the pond is safer before it is released to be open.

NWSC owns the lagoons; we are under no obligation to chase away the people, as this would interfere with the work of NEMA. Our responsibility only stops at the fence of the lagoons, “he says, “we also make sure we cut the bushes around ponds and remove the dirt that comes with sewerage”, he adds. Omara contends that this problem is country wide. This has not happened here alone.

Again speaking to the Mbarara Town Clerk Mr. Naluwayiro David, he said people/residents who stay around the lagoons is due to over population even when residents are told they cannot listen.

He further reported how he wants the area to be clean so that they live under good sanitation so that it is preserved.

With this problem of the lagoons, it is not happening here in Mbarara, but in other urban areas across the country.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Climate change reporting training

You are welcome to this blog, which will talk about the experience, issues raised and lessons learnt from the journalists’ training I have undertaken with the Uganda Media Development Foundation (UMDF) on environmental and climate change training.
Eventually, this blog will turn into something big I hope with other science related postings since I am science journalist.
But for now, I am facilitating workshops in over 35 districts in Uganda but with 10 stations where journalists converge to train. This blog is where I am documenting some of my experiences and how much journalists know and report on the environment and climate change.
This project will therefore give you an insight of what environment and climate change problems as well as climate change adaptation issues, journalists in different parts of Uganda have observed and have written about. Plus, the role journalists that think can play in the climate change arena.
The training takes 4 days with about 25 participants for each training station. Here below is the programme as it runs. The project is sponsored by Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF). It started in February 2009 with Masaka district as the first training station.
Arrival of journalists and the training team of 3: We have informal introductions and dinner together. 
 The facilitator, Esther Nakkazi –a Science Journalist and two officials from UMDF the organization coordinator John Bosco Mayiga and workshop assistant Gertrude Banderana.
DAY 2- 8.30-9.00am
Participants’ registrations, introductions and their expectations. Expectations are as varied as expecting to get a certificate from the workshop to learning how to write an environment story.
9.00 -9.30 am
Official opening of the workshops. 
(Usually done by the district LCV chairman or the RDC) but the presidents of the press clubs in the particular region usually invite them. (We have never had any of the officials invited come in on time except in Mbarara. So we usually get to business when the officials invited get there we pause for them to officially open the workshop.
Environment policies, institutions and other players. 
 Uganda has many policies that pertain to the environment. We have the Land Act, the National Environment Act, and Fisheries Act etc. The purpose of explaining these polices is to create awareness among journalists about the fact that they exist (the majority are not aware) and to help them understand that in their work they can link governance issues to these policies and see if they are being enforced.
I also talk about the major institutions both government, non-governmental organizations and international organizations that are players in environment issues. (Usually the participants list them as I write them on the flip chart)
10.30-12.00am District Environment Officer (DEO):
The DEO of one of the districts will come over to highlight the major environment problems in the region/district and the role of the media in covering environmental news. This also gives the journalists an opportunity to get to know the DEO as a source for their stories and to engage him with questions and concerns.
12:00-1.00pm Continuation of policies. 

(Usually the time allocated is not enough to go through policies and we cannot hold the DEOs so we continue with our programme when they have finished)
1.00-2.00pm Lunchtime:
2.00-4.00pm Climate Change session: 

A brief about local and international context of climate change. We talk about 
CO2 emissions, Carbon trade (CDM projects in Uganda), Climate change and agriculture, 
Social Justice in climate change. 
 Climate change adaptation and Copenhagen negotiations in December 2009.
Participants get into two groups. 

Group 1: Identify the major environmental problems in the region. Impact and challenges. 

Group 2: How have people in the region adapted to climate change?
4.00-4.30 Tea Breaks
4.30 -5.30pm How to write an environment story?
• Story approach. 
• News Values.
• Sources.
• Working with editors.
• Using Its for research.
• Investigative skills.
• Resources (websites and bogs)
8.30 -9.00 am Registration and recap of previous work. 
9.00-12.00 noon Case study
• Participants come up with the major environment problem in the region. 
• the problem- causes and effects. 
• Institutions/ players. 
• Sources to contact for the story. 
• What questions to ask the sources identified. 
• How do we the story and align it to become an environment story. 
• Identification of an environment story by each participant.
12.00 -5.00 p.m Field Work
Journalists go to the field and practice what they have learnt. Each of them is required to write an environment or climate change story.
DAY 3: 8.00- 9.00am Registration and recap of previous day.

9.00am -12.00 noon Evaluation of individual stories. 
 We distribute the different stories written to non-owners and critique them. The writers talk at the end of the critiques kind of defending their stories.
12.30 pm Official Closure. 

The Resident District Commissioner (RDC) gives a speech and also hands over certificates of attendance to participants.
1.30 pm
Lunch and Closure.

STATION 4: Busoga media club- Environmental reporting, 6th-9th May 2009, ZAMO Hotel in Jinja.
We had 22 Journalists from the Busoga region – Kamuli, Mayuge, Bugiri, Iganga, Jinja and Kaliro. The Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Jinja district Mr. Christopher Bagonza opened the workshop. The contact person was Mr. Moses Lwocha.
The RDC highlighted environmental issues in the region like forest conservation, carbon trade, protection of biodiversity, he summarized by saying everything that was created by God should be protected.
Mr. Bagonza demonstrated to journalists what we all know and acknowledge that the wisdom of our forefathers conserved the environment. The older generation used to attach spiritual beings to water sources and trees. In that way word was passed around the community that if say a tree were cut, the spiritual bodies would be angry with the community. There were no scientific explanations to it but it worked. This was respected and thus conservation of the environment.
A brief survey in the room revealed that very few journalists have done much environmental reporting but some few especially the ones that have just joined the profession want to try it out.
The environmental Officer, Mr. Eris Nabihamba Jinja Municipal Council urged journalists to specialize in environmental reporting and stick to a particular arm of environmental reporting.
He explained the issues below as the major environmental challenges in Jinja district.
1. Encroachment and degradation of wetlands- they are used for agriculture and development because of the growing population.
Some sections of Lake Victoria have turned green because the lake is fertile due to pollution. This could lead to the lake dying. A survey revealed that the most degraded wetlands are in Jinja.
2. Solid waste disposal- Jinja district generates at least 220 tones are generated everyday of waste but 120 tones are collected when the district does its best. When the waste is piled there is lack of oxygen and so there is no decomposition. Methane and carbon are created which are affecting global warming and climate change. A composite plant is being built that will serve 9 municipalities under the World Bank CDM compost project. Green House emissions are reduced. Initially everything will be composted and manure will be made and sold off to households. The challenge is to change the community culture to start roper disposal of rubbish.
Solid waste is a challenge because it is expensive and requires many players each doing their work. One of the major problems is lack of proper disposal of especially medial waste.
3. Pollution- factories and runoff are the biggest pollutants. Those who make crude beer and the skin and hides tanneries.
A tannery is good because it would use skins that would rot but the process of tanning uses too many chemicals. They are supposed to put pre-treatment plant but they do not use them because the power used is too much and the power tariff in Uganda is high.
There is a lot of air and water pollution.
Pollution is the major environmental challenge in Jinja because as an industrial town it has a lot of industries. The high level of corruption where industrialists give some politicians money because they are not properly disposing off and treating their waste is a big problem in this area.
There is also a lot of Noise pollution especially from the places of worship. Some denominations have warned him and threatened a holy war for cautioning them over noise pollution. He said in future noise polluters are going to be penalized.
4. Care of the natural environment-deforestation. The officer has tried to plant trees but the public especially small children just unpluck them because they are not informed or educated. Children should be taught in schools on the importance of trees.
When there are political campaigns, supporters of the different candidates just destroy tree branches and trees to wave while shouting names of their candidates to show support for them.
5. There is a lack of awareness because the environment is an issue that needs a concerted effort.
6. Investors and sugar cane estate owners are offering out-growers a service of clearing their land for replanting. But when the estate owners are clearing the land with tractors for growing sugarcane they clear everything including trees.
NB: The environmental officer gave each participant a soft copy of all the environmental laws.
Climate Change:
We discussed climate change problems, effects and adaptation. Adaptation I explained is unique to particular regions and although some issues are cross cutting some are just unique to some region.
1. Some adaptation issues highlighted were similar to other stations but what was different and stood out in this region was the fact that crocodiles are now resorting to eating and hunting man in Mayuge. Although not scientifically proven it was discussed the loss and decline of aquatic life has made them resort to man for survival. The journalist who presented this was asked to go ahead and make research about it.
2. Farmers are resorting to intensive organic agriculture on small pieces of land in order to intensively utilize and maximize output.
CASE STUDY: Garbage disposal in Jinja.
STATION 3: Kigezi region –Kanungu, Rukungiri, Kabaale, Kisoro.

Ebenezer Bifubyeka talking to fellow journalists at the Kigezi region workshop.
Date and Venue: 21st-24th April, Hotel Riverside Rukungiri.
Mobilizers: Patson Baraire President Kigezi Press Club- The Daily Monitor correspondent Rukungiri. 
Goodluck Musinguzi General Secretary Kigezi Press Club-Uganda Radio Network correspondent Kabaale district. 

We left Kampala on Tuesday 21st with Savanna Bus Company. It took about 2.5 hours for the bus to fill up. It was a long 7-hour journey to Rukungiri. None of the training team knew much about Rukungiri. It was the first time UMDF did any training here but they had had trainings for the Kigezi region in Kabale.
UMDF abandoned the region after journalists demanded that they be paid to be trained. So it was 4 long years since UMDF ever came back here and it was quite different from other stations most of the journalists did not even know the basics of writing a story. But the General Secretary said they had actually preferred to train the young, fresh journalists.
Some unique issues about the training in Station 3: 
We had 4 non-journalist participants- 3 young people from Kanungu press club and the police community liaison officer Rukungiri. All these participants appreciated the most and seemed to benefit more from the training. Rukungiri also had the least number of female participants ever, only four women among over 20 males.
The police officer Sgt Baruku was genuinely interested in establishing good working relationship between police and journalists. He was very active and upbeat through the workshop. I must also say his story ‘Impact of electronic magnetic rays from masts on health and environment’ was one of the best in the group. He was also interested in knowing policies on environment, which is important as he is charged with policing the community.
The LCV chairman, Rukungiri district Mr. Zedekia Karokora opened the workshop, the most knowledgeable of environment problems in his district, of all the politicians we had at any of the training stations.

LCV chairman, Rukungiri district Mr. Zedekia Karokora talking to journalists.
Some of the issues the LCV Chairman highlighted in the opening speech:

• Politics overriding environment conservation, reporting and policing. 

• NRM government is positive about the environment as they have mainstreamed environmental issues and set up structures.
• Road construction disturbs the soil structure which is predisposing the environment to soil degradation. 

• Gravity flow schemes are degrading the ecological systems. There are many gravity flow schemes, which are being started without real research and it’s affecting the ecological system. The schemes get water from higher grounds, however, the demand is too high and politicians are using them to garner votes without following proper engineering procedures. So the problem is being made worse by political pressure. 

• Residents are also using the schemes to get back at politicians. When the water pipes are flowing through some a community and it does not have water, they cut the pipes. 

• In Insingiro district, River Kagera is full of mud (silting) with thin water flowing because the residents have cultivated up to the riverbanks. 

• The RDC suggested that maybe journalists should use scaring messages (similar to the ones used for HIV) to bring about change. He cited an example of showing people crossing Lake Victoria on foot from Luzira in Uganda to Mwanza in Tanzania. Perhaps if such scenarios were created it would change people’s ways as we drum up support of change of behavior to mitigate climate change. 

• Food security threatened by polythene bags. 

• Poor waste disposal- Lack of proper dumping of electronics, no refurbishment centres. 

• Lack of laws governing electro-magnetic pollution. High voltage electric lines can predispose people to leukemia, blood cancer but this is not scientifically proven. 

• Noise pollution: two laws in contradiction. Freedom of praise and noise pollution especially from churches, which law, prevails over the other?

Participants who attended the workshop in Mbarara.
The Kigezi Group identified these as some of the environmental and climate change problems and effects:

• Soil erosion, exhaustion and reduced soil fertility.

• Water pollution and silting of water bodies.

• Decreased biodiversity some tree species and fruits are scarce.

• Depletion of wetland resources and drainage.

• Reduced vegetation and increased open ranches.

• Forest deforestation, encroachment on forests for agriculture, bush or forest fires.

• Climate change-erratic or unpredictable whether conditions.

• Brick making in swamps or wetlands.

• Poor waste disposal.

• Water sources drying up.

• Livestock resources- inbreeding, poor breeds, water shortage, poor pastures, unhealthy animals, overgrazed farms.

• Farmland resources: poor or low quality seed, increased diseases and pests.
Some unique observations of adaptation due to climate change:

As a result of warmer conditions because of climate change in Kabaale district some fruit trees have started growing like Jackfruit and Pawpaw. Some of the other fruit trees like mangos used to grow but they never used to bear fruit or it would take them so long. Now they grow and bear big fruit.
In the same district participants say there is better hygiene because previously especially men used not to wash or could do it just once a week because it was very cold. Now as the temperatures are warmer they wash at least once a day. (hilarious but true)
Station 2: Masaka District

This was the first training station we had in February. The turn up was good and the participants were very active and vigilant. Most of them were professionals, a few had written environment stories. They showed a willingness to learn and all were able to come up with amazing stories.

Micheal Ssali gets his certificate after the training workshop in Masaka.
Adaptation issues that Masaka participants pointed out:

• Change of seasons- dry and wet season.
 Farmers used not to plant in the first months of the year but now they are planting in different season. Communities are cultivating in wetlands- crops such as beans, rice and others.
 Some farmers have began irrigation of crops.

• Due to increased drought the cattle corridor in Sembabule and Lyatonde, pastoralists migrate in search of pastures. Pastoralists gang up in groups and zone off some pastures so that during the dry season the zoned off areas are used to feed the animals. This never used to happen earlier.

• Bush burning has increased so that the grass grows fast when the rains come. When the dry season is about to commence, pastoralists sell off cattle at very low prices- before the animals start dying, which makes the pastoralists poorer.

• Due to declining water levels has meant that there is a reduction in water consumption- for domestic use, hospitals, etc which has means people observe less hygiene.

• Low food production means there are reduced meals. Families now have one big meal a day which is a result o threatened food productivity and security.
Group 2: this Group answered the question- what does climate change mean to them.
 Although some examples had been studied as seen in the training manual, the researcher was looking for more in-depth and local examples only unique to this region. This is what the participants said:
• The day-to-day change in the whether conditions which are both negative- feminine- dry spells-high food prices.
• Increased malnutrition due to lack of good nutrition. 

• Changes in whether with increases fog, snow, hail storms in Sembabule. 

• More people are getting mad because of the hot season (of course this has to be scientifically endorsed) but as a positive aspect to this they say a proper unit has been built for mad people. 

• Technological discoveries as a result of climate change. (Not elaborated)