Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Program :: Center for Science and Technology Policy Research

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notes from the field

These field notes are personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre

Drew Zackary

Lira, Apac, Karamoja and Otuke, Uganda

Blog Post 1
June 9, 2014

On the way back from the corner shop, arms full of supplies for my upcoming summer, I dodged dozens of zipping boda-boda’s, bicycles and a few cattle, which means it must be “hello from Northern Uganda!”  I have finally reached my first of three field site areas as an intern researcher for the Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre. I am working with the Partners for Resilience partners on building case studies on climate change resilience in rural communities and investigating the Early Warning Early Action forecasting system.   Recently, NGO’s have begun to focus on how to help communities adapt for the future conditions that climate change will bring.  By pre-emptively working development projects into the fabric of climate change forecasts and emergency preparedness the hope is to build more resilient communities. Rural communities are most vulnerable to disasters and livelihood insecurity.  In Northern Uganda there will be an increase in flood risk as well as a shifting in the rain seasons.  Northern Uganda is one of a few places on the planet that has a bi-modal rain season.  Climate change is effecting the El Nino seasons and will shift the rain seasons.  The majority of people in northern Uganda are rain fed agriculturalists.  As seasons shift, dry seasons lengthen and rainfall collects into smaller timeframes this leads to increased chances of waterlogging and floods.  Partners for Resilience are working on tools to help local communities adapt and act in ways that can make their lives more resilient in the face of these climactic changes.

Kampala from the top of a minaret Kampala from the top of a minaret

During the coming months I will be traveling across central North-East Uganda.  My first stop is the remote village of Otuke.  Northern Uganda has a complicated and often tragic history.  The people who live here in the Lango sub-region, mainly the Langi, have experienced marginalization and violence since the colonial era.  Most recently the Lords Resistance Army led by Kony pushed people into IDP camps and destabilized the region for a generation.  It is only since 2007 that this area has been secure. With multiple initiatives from the Ugandan government, World Bank, USAID, DFID and multiple NGO’s, humanitarian development and governance work has shifted into high gear. 

The people who live in Otuke district are working hard at reclaiming traditional lands and developing infrastructure, effective governance, and resilient livelihoods.  The Partners for Resilience project has worked very hard on developing hazard maps and early warning systems in the parishes of Otuke. (A parish is the smallest unit of governance in Uganda)

It has taken a lot of time and effort by many people to get me to my remote field site.  I attended many days worth of meetings with the people who work with CARE, Red Cross and CORDAID.  They fed me delicious food and gave me mountains of information over my stay in Kampala. Of note is the courage and tenacity of the CARE driver Anthony.  On road conditions in a thunderstorm that would have made most people pull over and sink in the mud he smiled widely and said “not so bad” while bumping along, casually dodging buses who followed no logical path during a blinding downpour.  I was excited to stop at the famous Karuma bridge but I was told we did not have time and it was too dark.  I got my chance however, because we got a flat tire at the bridge.  While swatting mosquitos we changed the tire.  I learned that this place used to be an ambush point during the LRA conflict.  No need to worry now, the only danger I was told of was the possibility that baboons would take our supplies if we didn’t keep watch.

Downtown Lira Downtown Lira

I arrived in Otuke four days ago.  It has taken time to situate myself and go through the requisite introductions.  I have shook dozens of hands and introduced myself to a wide array of local elites, officials and farming groups.  There has been a great amount of support and kindness from everyone.  One of the best things I experience is the phrase “ you are welcome “ from Ugandans after I give my brief spiel about my upcoming work.  So far I have met one group of farmers from a parish.  Doreen and Alfred introduced me and I was put in the hot seat when I was asked to explain “what anthropology is”.  After some thought I said “ I am interested in learning from you how your lives are.  I want to know what it is like to be a farmer here from day to day. I want to talk and listen and watch how life here goes.”  I judged by the smiles, after Alfred interpreted the statement in Langi for the people who speak little English, that this was acceptable. “You are welcome” I was told.  Alfred and I with the local farmer groups expect to work together on documenting the effectiveness and utility of the hazard map and early warning projects in the coming weeks.  In the next post I will describe how these projects are being implemented from the ground up and what issues the famers in Otuke are working on.

Doreen and Alfred Doreen and Alfred work with community member, Otuke

Photos by Drew Zachary