Kampala Floods Expose Climate Change Readiness Gaps

FILE PHOTO: Floods at Kampala-Bombo highway
FILE PHOTO: Floods at Kampala-Bombo highway
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Kampala witnessed severe flooding on September 20 and the preceding days, attributed to unusually heavy rainfall during the September season. The floods, which brought significant disruption, have raised concerns about the city’s preparedness for climate change impacts.

During the heavy rains, various parts of the city experienced flash floods, with dramatic scenes and videos circulating on the internet. Instances included vehicles submerged in flooded streets and bank employees forced to stand on desks to avoid inundation.

These floods serve as a reminder of physical planning gaps and violations that need attention to prepare for future climate-related challenges. Climate change, along with the impending El Nino in 2023, is a real threat, as emphasized by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN General Assembly.

The floods have not been limited to Kampala; similar incidents have occurred in upcountry areas, leading to crop loss, submerged homes, and casualties. There is growing evidence that climate change is contributing to these extreme weather events.

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The recent flash floods in East Libya, resulting in casualties and damage due to breached dams after a hurricane, underscore the global scale of climate-related disasters. Fortunately, Uganda has not yet experienced the full wrath seen in other parts of the world.

Addressing the issue requires a comprehensive approach. The Physical Planning Act of 2010 and the National Environment Act of 2019 grant obligations for environmental and physical planning throughout the country. This includes the development of territorial master plans, environmental studies, and compliance monitoring to account for factors like drainage patterns and flood predictions.

However, these plans have often been compromised by illegal or unplanned human activities encroaching on natural drainage systems. Additionally, a comprehensive environmental master plan for Kampala is lacking, making it challenging for developers and residents to reference.

Efforts to mark and demarcate wetland boundaries by the National Environmental Management Authority have been limited, allowing construction of sewage lagoons in wetlands like Lake Victoria. The rate of encroachment outpaces conservation efforts, leading to clogged drainage channels and plastic waste accumulation.

Paul Magimbi, a retired physical planner, has highlighted institutional and resource challenges in city planning. A comparison with Kenya’s stricter environmental and physical compliance enforcement suggests that Uganda has much work ahead.

In light of these issues, institutions responsible for environmental planning and management must expedite efforts to secure resources and implement corrective actions, enhancing climate change readiness. The recent Kampala floods underscore the urgency of holding responsible parties accountable for violations and negligence.

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