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Preparedness saves lives from Disasters

Preparedness saves lives from Disasters

By Rosa Malango, UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Uganda

Each year the International Day for Disaster Reduction is observed around the world on 13 October, as designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. The theme for this year’s Day is ‘Live to tell: raising awareness, reducing mortality’. The United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Uganda, Ms. Rosa Malango’ reflects on the importance of the day and Uganda’s progress.

Preparedness saves lives. And today, as Uganda joins the rest of the world to mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction, it’s worth reflecting on the significant progress Uganda has made in preparing for disasters and strengthening its resilience to shocks.

Earlier this year, I was honoured to be part of Uganda’s delegation to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. Led by the Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, the core of Uganda’s message to the international community was clear - there is an alternative to the ‘business as usual’ model.

The Uganda model speaks to a people-centred, progressive and rights-based approach. This is demonstrated in two key areas: (1) Uganda’s dignified resettlement of refugees; and (2) Uganda’s move away from managing disaster events to managing risk.

Underpinning both areas is a commitment to invest and to integrate. To make evidence based decisions and to build, incrementally, on success and learn from failure.

As Uganda faces more frequent and intense natural hazards, it has transformed its approach to disaster. Uganda provides a global best practice to understanding, anticipating and reducing climate and disaster risks. Addressing risk, and building resilience, is one of the key ways to bridge the humanitarian-development divide.

Uganda also recognizes the threat climate change and natural hazards present to the significant development gains achieved and to its middle-income aspirations. To protect these, and to strengthen the nation’s resilience, Uganda is committed to further investment in risk analysis, monitoring and financing and to the empowerment of communities to make risk-informed decisions on their development.

In that regard, the United Nations has partnered with the Ministry of Water and Environment to procure and install high resolution weather and hydrological equipment for real-time monitoring of the environment and climate. The $2 million (Shs6.7 billion) worth of equipment will be shared by the Uganda National Meteorology Authority and the Department of Water Resource Management.

The result is that in the past two years, Uganda has improved the timeliness and reliability of weather early warning information; from 40 to approximately 80 percent. Uganda now ably receives “real-time” weather information, not only from the region but across the world. The next step will be to increase access to this information by citizens as well as decision makers. Real time data on weather is important for development and human security.

The National Emergency Coordination and Operations Centre is another example of Uganda’s investment to reduce mortality in the event of disasters. The centre is unique with its clear role in managing risk, bringing together the right people, at the right time, to equip the government, districts and households with critical information that ultimately contributes to saving lives and reducing losses.

The challenges Uganda faces are considerable. Over half the country is vulnerable to drought and a third to floods. According to the Government, it is estimated that 43 per cent of Ugandans could regress into poverty during shocks. Compounding and exacerbating this risk is climate change, with significant implications for Uganda’s social and economic development particularly in potential breadbasket areas.

While less than one fifth of Uganda’s population lives in poverty today (down from more than a half in the early 1990s), Karamoja still suffers from chronic food insecurity and vulnerability to hunger, as well as poor access to services. The majority of Karamojong cannot meet their basic nutritional needs, which necessitates a new partnership between the Government and partners to mobilize investment in innovative approaches to water management for agriculture and household use, urban planning including establishing vocational training schools that will enable inhabitants to build schools, health centers and accommodation for teachers and health workers in a harsh climate. External support will be key too support inclusive tourism, crafts and arts and other alternative sources of income for the population to overcome their reliance on rain-fed agriculture and pastoralism.

Informed by a commitment to support a new approach, a joint United Nations resilience strategy is now in-place that outlines planning and implementation of resilience efforts so that in partnership with the Government of Uganda the underlying root causes are addressed.

Disasters and the after-shocks know no borders. Late last month, Uganda welcomed over 2,000 Kenyan Turkana and Pokot pastoralists, with their livestock, as they sought pasture and water in Karamoja. Drought had hit their home, across the border (North Western Kenya), and conditions were expected to further deteriorate. This is the climate risk that hovers over our heads! Recently an earthquake with an epicentre in Tanzania, affected families in Kenya and Uganda, raising questions about quake-resistant infrastructure at a time that Uganda is investing heavily in new infrastructure.

In addition to those displaced by climate risk, Uganda is now home to over 665,000 refugees and asylum seekers escaping conflict from across the Great Lakes region and beyond. Uganda is the third largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and eighth largest globally. While other States with much larger populations, and frankly greater resources, grapple with refugee influxes, Uganda has quietly and consistently offered protection and dignity to those seeking safety, mostly women and children.

Uganda’s refugee policies are some of the most progressive in the world. Indeed, the Government’s inclusion of refugees in its second National Development Plan, the development of a Settlement Transformation Agenda for refugee hosting districts and acquiring a soft loan from the World Bank to fund this new agenda demonstrates its clear commitment to leaving no one behind and turn rhetoric into concrete action. To support this commitment, the UN System has developed an innovative framework called ReHOPE that allows for the mobilization of resources for services for both refugees and the host communities. This presents an example to the world of how development and humanitarian assistance can become part of a national vision to manage risk for refugees and citizens alike.

Walking abreast with Uganda, shoulder-to-shoulder to build a resilient and sustainable Uganda is the United Nations. From risk-informed development to durable solutions, the United Nations offers expertise, financing and a global network of best practices.

As the head of the United Nations in Uganda, I reiterate our commitment to supporting Uganda realise its commitment to leave no one behind and to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, a truly transformative agenda. For this to be fully realised, managing risk, reducing mortality and taking action on early warning will play a fundamental part.

As we mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction, today, we need to all engage in efforts to prevent, mitigate and overcome man-made and natural disasters. I call upon civil society organizations, religious – cultural and business leaders to join our efforts. The United Nations stands with the people of Uganda, as a partner, in building a resilient nation.

UN Agencies in Uganda