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Africa Climate Week: Urgent need for adaptation in mountain areas

As Covid-19 ebbs and the climate change crisis worsens, experts underlined the imperativeness of all EAC member states to urgently accelerate collaboration and integrate climate action into global pandemic recovery.

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River Nyamwamba in the Rwenzori mountains often floods. Experts have stressed the critical urgency of climate adaptation in East Africa’s mountain areas
River Nyamwamba in the Rwenzori mountains often floods, leading to loss of lives and property. Photo credit: Gilbert Mwijuke

Experts attending the Africa Climate Week summit have stressed the critical urgency of climate adaptation in East Africa’s mountain areas where communities have in recent years suffered the effects of adverse weather patterns that have led to catastrophic floods and landslides.

Forty delegates from the six East African Community (EAC) member states – Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda – came together at the Africa Climate Week 2021, which was hosted by the Ugandan government from September 26-29.

During a virtual side event dubbed “Adaptation Solutions and Climate Action in Africa’s Mountains” that was organised by the Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS), delegates sought to increase knowledge on climate change and offer appropriate adaptation solutions for mountainous areas because they are “more sensitive to climate change”.

East Africa has the highest mountains in Africa – including the trans-boundary Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elgon and the Rwenzori Mountains – and more than 80 per cent of the region’s population depends on biomass for fuel, which puts the mountain ecosystems in a critical and vulnerable situation.

“The effects of climate change in the mountains are felt more acutely on both the ecosystems and the communities than in downstream areas,” said Daniel Essey, the Programme Management Officer at the United Nations Environment Programme.

As Covid-19 ebbs and the climate change crisis worsens, experts attending the Africa Climate Week underlined the imperativeness of all EAC member states to urgently accelerate collaboration and integrate climate action into global pandemic recovery.

Maureen Anino, the Assistant Commissioner at Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment, told the Africa Climate Week delegates that the EAC will develop more from a harmonised framework that specifically targets sustainable mountains development because the mountains are rich in biodiversity and therefore significantly contribute to the tourism industry, which is one of the region’s biggest foreign exchange earners.

“These mountains are fragile and prone to various climate change-related threats as well as human-induced threats, which impair their capacity to provide crucial environmental services,” Ms Anino said. 

On the part of Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment, Ms Anino said that the government has built two adaptation learning centres in the Mount Elgon region to provide climate change-related information to the communities in this area.

This is part of the Uganda National Sustainable Mountain Development Strategy, which aims to “maintain and enhance the conservation, health, vitality and stewardship of mountain ecosystems for their inherent value and for the mutual benefit of mountain communities,” she said.

Climate adaption solutions

Godfrey Mwesigye, the Regional Policy Officer at the ARCOS Network, presented his organisation’s preliminary findings on the adaption solutions collected from mountain areas in all the six EAC member states.

In Burundi, one of the solutions that needed to be accelerated, according to Mr Mwesigye, is the Climate Resilient Altitudinal Gradients project in Ruhwa and Muhira Catchments, which addresses the issue of soil erosion on the mountains and hills where heavy rains cascade down their slopes and lead to soil erosion, flooding and landslides.

The project aims to sensitise local communities on integrated water catchment and smart agricultural practices such as agroforestry, whereby farmers are encouraged to integrate tree species such as bamboo, which is known to control soil erosion, in their crops.

In Kenya, Mr Mwesigye cites the example of trout fish farming around the Mt Kenya region, which aims to create employment opportunities for the youth while promoting food security after climate change has taken a toll on their farms due to the resultant floods and droughts.

“Also,” Mr Mwesigye said, “there has been a significant reduction in the use of charcoal in the area because of increased household-level use of biogas. The Elephants and Bees project in the Taita hills of Kenya is another adaptation solution used to address human-wildlife conflict in a way that bees scare away elephants from destroying people’s crops.”

ARCOS also advocated for the acceleration of the use of terracing for agriculture in the Rwandan hills of Gicumbi and landscape approach to forest restoration and conservation in the Gishwati-Mukura landscape.

Access to alternative livelihood activities such as beekeeping near Udzungwa Mountains and the World Bank-funded Eco-Tourism Resilient Natural Resource Management project in the southern highlands of Mount Rungwe – which is touted to improve management of natural resources and tourism assets in the area – are some of the adaptation solutions that need more efforts in Tanzania.

In Uganda, adaptation solutions that need to be galvanised include the Atari Irrigation Scheme in Mt Elgon, which aims to curtail the effects of climate change-induced floods and droughts, as well as the Sustainable Beekeeping project in the Rwenzori Mountains, which is an alternative, sustainable source of income for residents whose farms are frequently destroyed by flood.

In the Virunga massif, a chain of eight volcanic mountains that straddle Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, projects such as Water for Virunga, which focuses on effective management the Virunga Mountains’ critical water resources amid growing pressure, were cited by ARCOS as ideal climate change adaptation solutions.

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