Last Saturday night’s downpour around the Mt Elgon region that could have begun as any usual rainy evening brought untold damage and loss to both lives and property.
By Sunday morning, as horrific images and videos of the disaster the rains brought were only beginning to be known, the news caught the attention of the nation. Messages of support and condolence poured in on social media platforms.
Government later announced that the Mbale flash floods claimed 29 lives, with five people still missing, 48 hours after the Saturday night tragedy. The number of the dead, the Mbale City Resident Commissioner warned, could go higher.
As President Museveni condoled with the bereaved families in a series of tweets on Thursday, he underlined the dangers of environmental degradation by cutting of forests, invading wetlands, cultivating on river banks, and throwing polythene bags in drainage channels, thereby blocking the free flow of water.
While announcing that Cabinet will next week issue new directives on protection of the environment that must be followed this time without fail, he sent a strong message to those destroy the environment.
But governments world over are beginning to live with the reality: climate change is here and it is happening. Experts are calling upon authorities to not only prevent the worst consequences of climate change through mitigation strategies, but also to develop and implement adaptation strategies on how best to survive the unavoidable impacts.
And a more recent approach is community-based adaptation to climate change. This is a community-led process, based on communities’ priorities, needs, knowledge, and capacities, which should empower people to plan for and cope with the impacts of climate change.
The communities around the Mt Elgon region, for instance, can be educated on drivers and effects of climate change; the seasonal calendar and the links to their livelihoods and most importantly, disaster risk reduction and adaptation measures.
Communities need to be involved as we face these uncertain times in our generation. Many of them still use rudimentary ways of doing things, including predicting the coming of the rain season, without any knowledge of the amount and time it will come.
Experts warn that climate change is likely to change the magnitude, frequency, and timing of extreme events such as flooding, landslides, and storms, as well as generate new disaster events.
As government continues dealing with the short, medium and long term impacts of climate change, it needs to involve communities so that they know how to not only how to sustain their livelihoods, but also keep safe from extreme disasters such as what we witnessed in Mbale and the surrounding areas last weekend.