From warnings to action: strengthening Karamoja's resilience to weather shocks
Inside the European Union-funded Pro-ACT project
With a megaphone to amplify her voice, Sheila Jean, the community leader of Nadunget sub-county in Moroto district, lying right in the central of Karamoja region, north-eastern Uganda, goes to the weekly village market to disseminate early warning information. Karamoja suffers high poverty rates and experiences frequent climate shocks. Sheila is moving around to warn her community about a looming drought ahead.
Sheila, and many other community workers like her, have been tasked by various local governments across Karamoja to deliver these messages. The aim is to mitigate the impacts of recurring drought-related climatic conditions that, if not well prepared for, will worsen the situation in a region where 45 per cent of the population is facing high levels of food insecurity.
“A long drought is coming; please only plant crops that mature in a short time; preserve your food stocks and reduce wastage." These messages from community workers blare out of the megaphones on market days and across local radio stations.
The messages are shared under the ‘Strengthening Shock-Responsive Systems in Karamoja’ project, a collaboration between the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Department of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Management of the Office of the Prime Minister.
Funded by the European Union under the Pro-Resilience Action (Pro-ACT) project, and by Danida (the Danish International Development Agency), the project is partnering with Uganda’s National Meteorology Authority to forecast climatic changes, disseminate timely weather information and prepare communities for impending drought and its impact. The project aims to strengthen the Ugandan government’s capacity to quickly anticipate and reduce the effects of shocks, and to sustain climate-resilient rural development.
The importance of this project is obvious, with studies by the government and by partners such as WFP reporting an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, which threaten to worsen Karamoja's fragile food security. There have been visible changes in the past 35 years, especially unpredictability in the rainy and dry seasons. These patterns undermine agricultural production, thereby aggravating food insecurity in Karamoja.
With support from Pro-ACT and Danida, efforts have been made to develop a Drought Anticipatory Action Plan (AAP) for the Karamoja region. A recent simulation exercise, organized for the different stakeholders in the region, focused on testing the plan's effectiveness in mitigating drought impacts.
Through the simulation exercise, WFP and partners sought to stimulate national-level actors, district-level local governments, media, communities and leaders to prepare for a forecast drought. It further explored the likely impacts of drought and how changes over time have influenced Karamoja’s anticipatory actions. Different stakeholders were apprised of what the dissemination of early warning information entails, message-flow processes, coordination measures and the requirements for activating the Drought AAP. There was an emphasis on understanding the respective roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders. At the end of the simulation, gaps and challenges were identified and recommendations were made to improve the region’s Drought AAP.
Lessons from the simulation
Following the simulation exercise, many stakeholders, including the farmer communities and district’s local government officials that attended the simulation, realized that they needed to become intentional and innovative in the dissemination of the early warning information they received. They decided this should be done through different communication channels to enable farming communities to take informed, climate-smart decisions regarding matters such as planting timeliness, the type and quality of seeds, related agronomic practices, as well as animal husbandry.
The visible impact of the project
Many stakeholders, including farmer communities and local district government officials that attended the simulation, now realize that they need to become more deliberate and innovative with the early warning information they receive. For example, they now see the benefits of disseminating it widely, and of using different channels to inform farming communities about impending droughts. This is especially important for informing decisions on the timing for planting crops, the type of seeds used, and livestock management.
Veronica Lokee, who lives in Kakingol village, Katikekile sub-county, attests to the benefits of receiving an early climate warning. She received messages from the sub-county disaster management committee during one of the market days in Nadunget.
"I was motivated by the early warning messages I received... to grow my vegetables at the onset of rains in March 2023. I now have a steady flow of vegetables and food in my household and have made sales of over 15,000 Ugandan shillings [about 3.74 euros / 4.06 US dollars] to buy sorghum flour.”
Many other farmers are impressed with the project’s effectiveness in avoiding time lost by planting seeds due to unknown weather patterns and subsequent poor yields. If implemented in a timely manner, the AAP will improve the region's food security situation and save lives that could otherwise be lost to famine.
“Before we started hearing those messages, we would just gamble in the garden for weeks and months,” Aleper Nause says. “If it rained at the beginning of the year, we would plan for the next year based on that. Not anymore!”
Speaking about the project's relevance, Janaan Edonu, a district local government official from Moroto, affirmed how critical the project has been in helping communities prioritize time and resources. “The Anticipatory Action Plan is a very good thing, because it has helped us articulate the priority actions that respond to the most important impacts felt by our poor and vulnerable communities in Karamoja,” he noted. “It prevents us from spreading our limited resources [too thinly] and helps us concentrate on actions that will derive the most important benefits for the communities.” He is optimistic that the district disaster management committees will undoubtedly go further to elaborate AAPs for each of the districts.
This article was written by the project team at WFP.