Climate Change: A crisis leading to millions of displaced people across the globe

Growing up in rural Uganda in Mpondwe village, Rwenzori subregion, I enjoyed swimming with my peers in Mpondwe river which flows from Mount Rwenzori. This was typical of village life. We would innocently dive in the deep water, oblivious of the risks and swim, forgetting any other chores we had for the day. Our goal was to graduate and swim in bigger rivers like Nyamwamba. At the end of a fun-filled day, the reward was an award-winning punishment from our parents that deterred us for a week before we resumed our mischievous fun. Sadly, many years later, the rivers that brought us so much joy have been the source of misery for many families.

Since 2013, Kasese and Bundibugyo districts in the Rwenzori sub-region have been faced with floods that have caused rivers Nyamwamba, Nyamughasana and Lamia to burst. The increase in heavy rainfall is attributed to the changing climate patterns and rapid loss of forest cover. The devastating impacts of this have been the loss of lives, property, and displacements. During the 2020 COVID-19 lock down, Kasese was hit by floods affecting thousands of people and sweeping away Kilembe mines hospital. Many of the affected families ended up in internally displaced camps. The numbers are bigger if we add the various districts like Bududa that have experienced similar climate emergencies.

Climate change displacements are on the increase. A 2021 sixth Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) report indicates that with the accelerated increase in global warming and its associated disaster events, climate change-induced migrations and displacement will increase more by 2040 if no action is done. While locally, climate change and its impacts have been attributed to trees being cut down to be used as fuel and other land practices, the overbearing impact of climate change that these already vulnerable communities face is largely attributed to global warming.

Largely, the primary contributors are the most industrialised and coal mining countries like the USA, China, and Brazil. According to a report by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), just 100 of all the hundreds of thousands of companies in the world have been responsible for 71% of the global GHG emissions that cause global warming. While such countries are considered the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, they are still reluctant to develop robust strategies to reduce their emissions.

The biggest emitters are routing for land-based forest investment. According to an Oxfam August 2021 Net Zero report, land-based investment in forestation can lead to explosion demand for land that is not subject to careful safeguards, which may result in mass hunger and displacement of indigenous land occupants and land conflicts. Unless governments take drastic measures now, a future of terrible hunger, extreme temperatures, floods, storms, and droughts is a certainty for communities, Oxfam warned.

Communities in many parts of Uganda are already vulnerable and grappling with the socio-economic losses due to climate change. Most of these have weak coping mechanisms. COVID-19 has further increased their vulnerability. They deserve a better future than what is before them.

Global warming and its impacts, according to Oxfam, contribute to undermining the fundamental rights of people living in fragile areas of the globe and more especially countries in the Global South and the Pacific. Their adaptive capacities are still weak but also have insignificant contributions to the major causes of these extreme events like droughts, floods, land, and mudslides that have resulted in internal migrations of communities affected.

It is now apparent that Climate Change is the reality of our time, and urgent climate action is crucial to stop the emergency. As someone whose community has been affected by Climate Change, I add my voice to call on the relevant actors to take the necessary climate action. Countries responsible for these emissions should up their commitments to cut their emissions, finance adaptation, implement mitigation measures and increase investment in addressing losses and damages.

For Africa and Uganda in particular, investment in land-based forestation should focus on the restoration and preservation of existing natural forests and wetlands and pasture and soil management. These, according to Oxfam, would allow people to use the land for food while sequestering carbon.

Refugees, internally displaced people, and stateless persons are on the frontlines of the climate emergency. Developed countries should fulfil their pledge of USD100 billion annually for climate action in developing countries like Uganda.

As we celebrate this year’s World Humanitarian Day, we must reflect on the resilience of these communities that have suffered multiple displacements. We must stand in solidarity with these people who need climate action the most.