“There’s absolutely no rain, I don’t know what to do next”: Perspectives on climate change and conflict in Uganda and Kenya

17 April 2023 “There’s absolutely no rain, I don’t know what to do next”: Perspectives on climate change and conflict in Uganda and Kenya

We talked to Geoffrey, Tebanyang, David, Mohammed and Leonard from four of the organisations we partner with in Uganda and Kenya to find out how climate change is impacting the people they work with, and how they are adapting to build peace.

The effects of climate change – particularly drought – are contributing to conflict across Uganda and Kenya, as people compete for scarce resources such as crops, water and pasture. Increased levels of gender-based violence, disease, conflicts over land and rising migration have also been linked to the climate crisis. With gaps in climate change policies and legislation, organisations are finding unique ways to adapt and to address communities’ needs with practical solutions.

Geoffrey Odong, Project Coordinator, Gulu Women Economic Development and Globalisation (GWED-G) – Uganda

GWED-G, a women’s rights organisation based in the city of Gulu, Northern Uganda, works on human rights, gender equality, livelihoods and food security, peacebuilding, youth empowerment and education.

How has climate change affected your community?

Prolonged drought due to climate change between May and July 2022 led to massive crop failures. This increased food prices since there was a scarcity; for instance, a kilo of sesame seeds – which was 6,000 Ugandan shillings in April – increased to 12,000 Ugandan shillings in July. People are hungry, as crops in people’s gardens were destroyed [because of the drought] and, due to a lack of income, some people are unable to buy food from the market.

Cases of gender-based violence have increased in households; especially physical and economic violence (when a spouse denies his or her partner access to, control and ownership of productive resources like money, assets, land and other resources). This is because in the Acholi traditional setting, a man is supposed to provide for his family but when he fails in his duties, like providing food and healthcare, the likelihood of conflict increases. Land conflicts have also increased due to displacement and struggles to access cultivatable and arable land for farming.

“I planted groundnut seeds on a three-acre piece of land but it has all dried because there is absolutely no rain… I don’t know what to do next… I only expect famine and hunger in the near future.” – Okello Keneth, a farmer in Nwoya District.

How is GWED-G adapting to the effects of climate change?

We are supporting organised groups such as village savings and loan association groups – as well as religious and cultural leaders – in Acholi sub-region by providing tree seedlings such as teak, pine and eucalyptus tree seedlings. We then link people to government agricultural extension services for technical support. We’re also helping community groups with traditional or organic food crops that are resistant to drought, pest and diseases. We’re carrying out community sensitisation and awareness campaigns on climate change and disaster risk reduction, and we’re partnering with organisations involved in climate change-related work.

Has climate change exacerbated conflict in the areas where you work?

Climate change has led to serious land conflicts. Pastoral communities often migrate with their animals from areas affected by serious drought in search of places with greener pastures and clean water for animals. The animals at times stray and destroy other people’s crops, leading to conflicts between landowners and pastoralist communities. In Balalo in Northern Uganda, pastoralist communities cross from South Sudan to Uganda to raid cattle in Lamwo district. This creates violent cross-border conflicts between landowners and pastoralist communities. Dangerous weapons like small arms, spears, bows and arrows are sometimes used against animals and people.

Climate change has also increased vulnerability levels among people experiencing poverty and other marginalised communities. For instance, people whose homes have been destroyed by floods often become very vulnerable because they are unable to cope with the impact of flooding. People can resort to sex work to survive (which is criminalised in Uganda) – this can expose young girls and women to gender-based violence including economic violence, intimate partner violence and physical abuse.

Before, you could predict when rainfall and dry seasons would begin in northern Uganda. Elders often observed this by movement of wind and birds. Communities had strategies that enabled them to survive through hard periods, including every homestead having a granary (food store), and planting drought-resistant food crops like millet, sorghum and cassava. However, due to drought and flooding, crop yields have decreased and most households are unable to store enough food for both domestic consumption and market purposes. This can lead to a greater likelihood of economic and domestic violence among family members.

Tebanyang Emmanuel Arukol, Policy Analyst, Karamoja Development Forum (KDF) – Uganda

KDF is a research, lobbying and advocacy organisation that advocates for pastoralists’ rights. The organisation is based in Moroto in the northern Ugandan region of Karamoja, and works in all nine districts of the region.

What issues do people living in Karamoja face?

Karamoja has the lowest literacy rates in Uganda and the highest poverty levels. Land, the biggest natural resource, is communally owned and customarily managed.1 This land is at risk of private and public (government) acquisition for investments. Over 62 per cent of land in Karamoja is in protected areas, with about 35 per cent potentially rich in minerals and earmarked for exploration and or mining lease. This leaves little land for use, especially for pastoralism, and has led to land grabbing and land conflicts.

How has climate change affected the people you work with?

Climate variabilities have exposed pastoralists and agro-pastoralists to livelihood losses such as crop failure and livestock losses and therefore hunger, leading to the loss of lives.  It has led to unpredictable migration, especially of pastoralists from Turkana, Kenya, into Uganda, and by Karimojong pastoralists into other regions and districts of Uganda such as Acholi, Lango, Teso and Sebei. This has created conflicts due to rivalry over access and use of natural resources including water and pasture.

Conflicts related to sharing grass and water, livestock theft, and social-cultural conflicts (such as disagreements over which language to use for community dialogues) often increase along border areas – due to resistance from communities to allow pastoralists from Turkana to occupy their lands and use their forage crops and water. Due to the porous borders, illegal small arms and weapons often find their way into Uganda and are used for raiding and killings.

How are you working to mitigate or adapt to the effects of climate change?

We continue to form and strengthen local community groups that will protect land and share information between each other. This information is related to livestock diseases, livestock market prices and climate information. We’ve also distributed mobile phones for information sharing. We have worked with partners to advocate for resilience programming such as land rights protection, securing grazing areas and corridors, and the development of infrastructure such as valley tanks and dams.

We’d like to see increased sharing of (understandable) climate information, more resilience programming, and documentation of traditional practices that enhance adaptation to climate change and the sharing of the same. We need to strengthen adaption mechanisms (adjusting to current and future climate change effects), not just mitigation (making the impacts of climate change less severe by reducing emissions).

1 Customary land ownership is where land is owned and managed according to traditional or customary laws and practices, also based on collective ownership of land by a community or group of people, rather than on individual ownership.

David Kangole and Mohammed Yusuf, Turkana Pastoralists Development Organization (TUPADO) – Kenya

TUPADO has several humanitarian programmes, which include livestock production, peacebuilding and security, climate change and governance, and human rights. Its main office is in Lodwar, Turkana County, in north-west Kenya.

How has climate change affected people in Turkana? Has this increased conflict?

People face numerous challenges ranging from drought, food shortages at home, animal diseases, human health issues like malnutrition in children, scarcity of water in some areas (especially pastoral regions), and insecurity within county and national boundaries.

There have been deaths of animals due to starvation, and destruction of livelihoods. People rely on the natural ecosystem, especially the fishing community around the lake. Pastoral communities have migrated to border areas especially in Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia. Climate change has also affected pastoral community households’ nutritional status, leading to increased acute malnutrition. Water catchment areas that the pastoralist communities depend on have dried up. It has also led to communities relying on less preferred food intake and skipping meals as a way of survival.

Conflicts have also intensified along border areas because of these climate changes – local community grazing guidelines and rules are often disregarded, and there is competition for access to water and pasture across county and community borders as a result of shortages. Host communities are resistant to allow pastoralists from Turkana to occupy their lands and use their forage crops and water.

What are your thoughts on the climate-conflict nexus?

There is a connection between climate change and conflict. During a project in Kalopetase village in Turkana North, people stated that, because of climate change, they were forced to migrate towards Uganda to look for pasture and water. When reaching Urum, on the border of Uganda and Kenya, they faced a serious attack from host communities; all their livestock were taken away and they also lost some of their relatives to the incident.

Leonard Kamsait, Chief Officer for Water, Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change, Pokot Youth Bunge County Forum (PYBCF) – Kenya

PYBCF is a community-based organisation that advocates for climate change adaptation and resilience, conflict mitigation and peacebuilding, youth and women empowerment, and childhood literacy. PYBCF is based in Kapenguria in West Pokot County, in western Kenya.

How has climate change affected the people you work with?

Harsh climatic conditions have resulted in massive movement and migration of people and livestock from Kenya into Uganda in search of water, pasture and food. In the process, daily sources of livelihoods are affected, and conflicts increase due to pressure on resources in the new areas. There is an increase in animal and human diseases such as foot and mouth disease, and learning in schools is affected (schools may be closed because of conflict, or children leave school when their families migrate). A scarcity of water and pasture also forces people to move to neighbouring counties with their livestock, meaning that tensions are likely to increase, and intercommunity conflicts may arise due to a scramble for resources.

Due to destructive human activities such as deforestation and poor farming practices that leave the ground bare without any cover, the highlands of West Pokot (Lelan, Tapach, Batei and Sekerr) frequently experience landslides, leading to massive displacement of people, destruction of property and even deaths.

“Pastoralism is immensely affected by climate change since if there is no pasture where you are, then you are forced to move, the whole family is also forced to move because pastoralism is the main source of livelihoods in this region. So when they move in search of water and pasture, they meet other people who with time may not be friendly… pressure mounts on the little resources, resulting in conflicts.” Fredrick Lokal, religious leader, Lomut Ward, West Pokot County (Fredrick works closely with PYBCF). 

Are you working on ways to mitigate or adapt to the effects of climate change?

Yes, we are sensitising members of the community to start growing fast-growing crops that are drought resistant, and practice small irrigation farming along the riverbanks and existing dams. We also: encourage community groups to set aside pasture farms and store the harvest for usage during drought season, support community action groups to identify priority needs in key sectors (water and pasture), and lobby for funding and implementation by relevant government authorities/departments. We are also encouraging farmers to embrace crossbreeding of livestock to have livestock that are resistant to drought and diseases.

What other measures do you think would help?  
The county government of West Pokot has a Climate Change Act of 2019. This act, along with other frameworks, should be actualised to boost the climate action agenda at the community level. In the act, it talks of the formation of ward climate adaptation committees that will spearhead proposals from the community level on tackling climate change adaptation measures.

What's the most surprising thing you've encountered about climate change in your work?
Sometimes what governments might encourage on the one hand contradicts with policy and practice elsewhere (and vice versa). When doing community sensitisation on climate change and the environment, [people tell us] that some political leaders promote deforestation through encouraging charcoal business as a source of livelihood among families; this contradicts the frameworks and policies that seek to control or even stop this practice.

Read more about Saferworld’s work in Kenya and Uganda.  
In Kenya, we are working with consortium and civil society partners on the IMARA programme, a partnership programme that aims to increase the resilience of vulnerable households to climate change-related shocks – through diversified livelihoods and improved natural resource management and use – in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya. Read more about the IMARA progamme here.

The views expressed in this blog are the interviewees’ own and may not reflect the views of their organisations or of Saferworld.

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