27 Nov 2023

Uganda acts in anticipation of the peak impacts of floods

As floods continue to affect large areas of East Africa, the Uganda Red Cross Society has activated its Early Action Protocol (EAP) for Floods. It has now received 348,761 Swiss francs (395,000 US dollars / 362,000 euros) from the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which will be used to support 2,383 households (around 11,200 people) in the areas predicted to be the worst affected across the country. 

Data collected by the Uganda Red Cross Society indicate that 25,000 people have already been affected by the floods. As the region heads towards the peak of the current El Niño period, these impacts could become worse unless anticipatory actions are taken ahead of further heavy rainfall. “My check at the impact-based forecast portal today [24 November] … [showed that] the trigger information is still indicating [a flood],” said Ntale Emmanuel, the anticipatory action focal point at the Uganda Red Cross Society. “I’m confident that the wise decision is to take action.” 

Acting in anticipation to help communities prepare for further floods 

A series of anticipatory actions, which are preagreed and outlined in the EAP, are now being carried out to help people to prepare for these peak impacts. The immediate actions include: 

  • cleaning water sources and desilting drainage channels that, if flooded, pose a risk to communities  
  • community awareness-raising on the expected risks 
  • rapid community mapping to map out evacuation centres, evacuation routes and holding places, as well as the location of community meetings. 

Further anticipatory actions will follow, including:  

  • cash and voucher assistance so that people can evacuate the affected areas and buy essential household items (in Butalejja, Kikuube and Ntoroko districts) 
  • shelter kits, which contain items such as tarpaulins, mosquito nets, blankets and tents 
  • the distribution of water-purification tablets, soap, and cans to store and transport clean water. 

“This is what we need,” confirmed Dr Brian Kanaahe, director of disaster risk reduction at the Uganda Red Cross Society. “Early warning saves life [and] minimizes loss and damage.” 

Activating Uganda’s EAP for Floods

The EAP for Floods uses data from the Global Flood Awareness System’s (GLOFAS) impact-based forecast portal. The threshold (trigger) to activate is when a forecast indicates at least a 60 per cent probability that a flood with a five-year return period will occur in flood-prone districts and will affect more than 1,000 households. This threshold was met on 15 November 2023, leading to the activation. 

The notification report provides further details of how the data is collected and analysed to forecast a major flood. 

Image: a map from the impact-based forecast portal indicating expected rainfall levels in Uganda. Source: GLOFAS

The effects of El Niño

There is a high likelihood that the severity of these floods is linked to El Niño. The third National Climate Outlook Forum forecast that many parts of Uganda would experience heavy rains in the September to December season, with a 90 per cent probability of experiencing the El Niño phenomenon. This was consistent with earlier projections from global and regional forecasting centres, including the IGAD Regional Climate Application and Prediction Centre and the World Meteorological Organization, which also predicted with 90 per cent certainty that Uganda, like the other East African countries, would experience above-normal rainfall for this period. This EAP activation in Uganda follows similar recent activations in Djibouti and Kenya

This is what anticipatory action looks like; with my check at the impact-based forecast portal today, three days since the alert, the trigger information is still indicating [a flood]. I’m confident that the wise decision is to take action; this is what a ‘no-regret option’ means to us.

Ntale Emmanuel Manager, climate and environment, and anticipatory action focal point, Uganda Red Cross Society

Thanks to Ntale Emmanuel and Irene Amuron for their help with this article.