By Shemei Ndawula.
For close to four months in 2020, several islands in the Kalangala archipelago were virtually cut off from the rest of the country after weeks of unprecedented rising water levels on Uganda’s largest water body, Lake Victoria to record breaking levels last seen in the 1960’s. For a region that thrives on fishing and tourism, and trying to recover from the worst throes of the COVID19 pandemic and the subsequent economic and social lockdowns, the situation was dire for many residents as it was for many the first time, they unmasked the ugly unforgiving face of climate change. As someone with business interests and close relatives in several of the Ssese islands I could in my interactions with residents of the islands feel the palpable distress of the islanders many of whose lives and livelihood are tethered to the lake as they navigated this largely underreported crisis on the world’s second largest fresh water lake.
Almost two years later, in December 2022 just after the COP27 conference in Egypt, I was glad to see the European Union in Uganda in a move to reaffirm its commitment to helping Uganda transition to green energy launch the Get Access Mini-grid Solar Program; a green energy initiative aimed at providing modern, affordable and clean electricity to over 110,000 people, 800 public institutions which include schools and health Centers and at least 700 businesses in remote rural areas. Even more pleasing was to find the Kalangala archipelago, one of the frontline battlegrounds in the fight to curb climate change included as one of the regions set to benefit from the clean energy initiative worth approximately 35 million Euros (136.2 billion UGX). Coupled with its earlier energy development commitments at the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) as well as support for the establishment of the loss and damage fund to support vulnerable economies like Uganda in coping with the adverse effects of climate change the European Union’s commitment to aiding the sustainable and affordable energy transition of sub-Saharan Africa is commendable.
Interestingly in its effort to spur the green energy transition the European regional block by implementing the GetAccess Solar Energy program also has the potential to spur the economic development of many untapped or under-utilized sites with great Tourism potential like the Buvuma islands in the east, the shores of Lake Albert in the West and the Kalangala(Ssese) islands spanning the central and southern regions of the country which could spark a blooming green economy based on environmental tourism built around natural sites and resources supported by sustainable energy.
As someone whose childhood bears fond memories of walks through the Kabaka’s Luggo forest on Buggala island as well as the Equatorial evergreen forests of Bukasa island (Kalangala) I have over recent years watched in utter devastation the trend of deforestation that has seen a rapid shrinking of the green forest cover over the last decade as trees are cut down for wood fuel in the rapidly urbanizing islands of lake Victoria, and this is why the efforts by the European Union and German government to support alternative clean energy programs sparks hope in the possibility of the preservation of the rich biodiversity of both flora and fauna much of which is unique to the islands and an integral part off the cultural heritage of the residents .
The question of climate change and global warming especially in the global south is one that cannot undeniably be ignored, lest it explodes into a full fledged crisis and the 2020 historic rise in water levels on lake Victoria was an important loud and clear call to action and we are glad that development partners like the European Union in Uganda and its member states are heeding that call instituting a Sustainable Development department headed by Ms Nadia Cannata with the sole purpose of catalyzing the Ugandan/African transition to sustainable energy to meet global targets with several awareness campaigns as well as grass-root projects like the GetAccess solar project aimed an the green energy inclusion for hitherto energy deficient parts of the country.
This in lieu with efforts of other development partners like China in the sector of infrastructure development.
The prosperity of Uganda and Africa within the next two decades will largely depend on how well it can assimilate to affordable and sustainable green energy to consolidate current economic interests and with the help of development partners like the European Union and its individual states to achieve the global climate targets established at the COP21 Paris Agreement in 2015.
Shemei Ndawula, is a Research Fellow at the Development Watch Center.
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