The weather has finally broken, much to the relief of most Ugandans in the eastern region. The expected rains in November didn’t come so for many places there has been no rain since lst August. Add to this day-time temperatures of over 400C and you can imagine that the place has been pretty dry and barren.
Maize forms a big staple of the diet in Uganda and a failed maize crop has pushed market prices. The maize failure also removed a cash income from farmers who rely on sales of their excess maize harvest. Pretty much every staple foodstuff has been in short supply so process across the board are up making life hard for the majority of the population.
But now it has started to rain. There has been intermittent rain showers off and on for the last few weeks but the heavy rain started three days ago on Friday. The rainfall was so intense it quickly flooded gutters and drains. After six months of baking in the sun the ground has become like concrete leading to rapid run-off across roads and through houses. Most farmers had prepared their field and broken up the surface so the rainfall has been quickly soaked up into the fields. Now everyone is busy hoeing and planting to get the crops in. You would have thought that the danger from famine must now be receding, but far from it. Most annual crops take two to three months to grow to a point where they are ready for harvest. This means that food supply won’t pick up until May, so the next few months are going to be lean.
One quick win has been the regrowth of grass. In my first blog post I put up a picture of Sironko, dry, dusty, empty, and empty of life. Here is a picture of the same place one month on.
OK, so the place looks nicer but people don’t eat grass so what good is all of this new growth to the locals? Well, the cattle have been going crazy with all the fodder they can munch on. The beef cattle have become so thin and they are very very hungry. Soon milk yields will pick up for household consumption and sale, and the skinny cattle will soon be fat enough for sale at a good price.
The rains are also filling up water butts both large and small at schools, clinics and homes. Rainwater harvesting provides a free source of relatively safe drinking water and is being promoted hard by many different aid and development organisations.
So everything in the garden is looking rosey, right? Soon Uganda will be a lush paradise, rich in food where everyone will be able to fill their bellies and stock up for the next lean time. Well, not quite.
Firstly the rain is so intense it is painful to be out in it. And these down pours are squally accompanied with high winds and lightening. These natural forces are so intense that they destroy standing crops leading to loss of banana/matoke trees and damage to cassava, both of which are reliable food sources even in the most desperate of dry spells. This makes life even tougher for everyone, growers and consumers alike.
The heavy rains also lead to flash floods so everyone is watchful for outbreaks of diarrhoeal diseases as water supplies get contaminated with surface run-off and shallow pit latrines flood and spill over. Every year there are cases of cholera so already water purification tablets for household treatment of water are being stockpiled and distributed to strategic stores. Community education and re-education is taking place on safe hygiene practices and Red Cross volunteers are having refresher training on cholera case management. So far so good, no cases of cholera or acute watery diarrhoea.
The floods, torrential downpours and high winds damage huts, schools and churces. Already several houses have lost their roofs leaving families living in the open. Personal possessions have been lost too, washed away in streams of mud and soil. With no insurance and little in the way of worldly goods, such losses are difficult to replace. And there have been deaths. Already two children have been killed as the roof and walls of their home collapsed in a rain storm.
So as the rains finally start to build up there will be both blessings and hardships over the next months.