Week 2 – but really week 4

This week is week two of my time with Ugandan Red Cross in Mbale. I was fortunate enough to bring students from the University of South Wales out on January 8th and spent two weeks in the field looking at both rural and urban vulnerability and determinants of health. Now settling down to a new rhythm at the Red Cross.

URCS#1

Very pleased to say that my predecessor ILO James was a bit of a star here. The Red Cross branch was so impressed with his work on community first-aid that they are planning on making a recommendation to head office in Kampala to adopt the every-day first-aid approach that James introduced as a national scheme for first-aid training.

As for myself I’m working with the district branch of the Ugandan Red Cross on their disaster risk reduction programme. This region of Uganda has many disaster risks; flash floods and landslips that wash away farmsteads and fields, major landslides that burry whole villages under meters of mud, and cholera outbreaks that breakout every few years or so are just three of the dangers communities face in and around Mbale region. These risks are superimposed on top of the everyday hardships of life; endemic malaria and HIV/AIDS, daily difficulties in accessing safe drinking water, widespread poverty and marginal livelihoods in both rural and urban communities. Add into the mix a missed rainy season in mid-2016 and extended drought and heatwave and things could look bleak, but … Life goes on here in a very vibrant and exciting way, there is no despair just a gritty determination to get on with the business of making a living and an optimism that things will get better.

Sironko#1

So far I’ve been concentrating on a review of a three-year Red Cross project on disaster risk reduction being run across six districts that cover the majority of Mount Elgon. This mountain is in fact an extinct volcano that stretches over a vast area of this part of Uganda and across the border into Kenya. For comparison, you could squeeze two and a half Brecon Beacons National Parks into the Mount Elgon area, and you would have to climb Pen y Fan three and 2/3rd times to get to the highest point of the volcano. The landscape is stunning but the steep sided slopes and deep valleys make for numerous landslides when it rains. The landslide risk is increasing as population pressures force more land to be deforested and turned over to agriculture. It’s so very easy to criticise such unsustainable development but the success of child primary healthcare programmes and general public health improvements has lead to population growth in rural communities and this population needs feeding.

Sironko#2

They key message is to integrate disaster risk reduction with sustainable development activities that make a positive impact on people’s livelihoods. Whether it can be achieved is an open ended question, but right now it is a wicked problem that is not complex, interconnected and possibly unresolvable. Health action improves survival to adulthood – that’s a good thing; this population needs feeding so more land is turned over to agriculture – that’s a bad thing; more land is recovered to tree planting – that’s a good thing; but the growing population rely on charcoal and firewood for cooking so trees are cut – so that’s a bad thing – and so it goes on.

That being said, it is not all doom and gloom. Positive steps are being made in terms of family planning and sustainable family size. Changes in agricultural practices are leading to better crop yields and improving land efficiency. Systematic tree planting is being used to stabilise slopes and reduce the risk of landslides, and diversification into goat and poultry rearing and bee keeping is providing families with cash incomes that does not rely on turning land over to banana and cassava.

It’s a tough challenge but I’m really enjoying lending a hand to the Red Cross branch here as they develop local disaster risk reduction strategies that support sustainable development.

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