Young man addressing a group
Lobe Andrew, a reformed warrior in Losilang, Uganda, talking to community members about their youth in the bush and how they changed from using violence to resolving conflicts. | USAID/Mercy Corps

Calming Climate-Related Conflict in Karamoja

By Christine Chumbler

Competition for resources, whether land or water, is at the heart of many of the world’s conflicts. As populations grow and climate events such as droughts become more severe, there is a high risk that these conflicts will expand and deepen. Karamoja, a region in northeastern Uganda, is particularly prone to this phenomenon.

Karamoja has long faced challenges of competition over grazing land and water. The pastoralists who live there fiercely guard their herds of livestock and the pastures those livestock depend on. Livestock thefts between communities and conflicts over grazing land and water are not uncommon, including cross-border raids between Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan pastoralist communities. And now more frequent droughts are adding even greater pressure.

As Robert Bagyenda, a USAID/Uganda environment expert, explains, a 2013 USAID climate vulnerability assessment presented stark numbers for Uganda. “The study found that 73 percent of households were very vulnerable to climate change impacts,” he says, “because they [pastoralists] rely on sensitive crops and because they lack other assets and financial capital and other sources of income.” These findings draw attention to the importance of climate risk management (CRM) to reduce the vulnerability of governance programs to present and future climate impacts.

USAID Uganda’s Securing Peace and Promoting Prosperity in Karamoja activity, implemented by Mercy Corps, helps local leaders—whether local government officials, NGO staff members or village elders—to find ways to jointly mitigate conflicts. “What the activity is doing on the ground is to negotiate access to grazing resources, especially water and pasture,” Bagyenda says. “Last month there was a joint meeting of all these stakeholders—the Wildlife Authority, the clan leaders, the elders, the district local government, the Ministry for Karamoja Affairs, the area members of parliament—trying to negotiate access to and utilization of grazing land and water resources, particularly those found in wildlife reserves.” A key outcome of the meeting was that an agreement was drafted on mechanisms to sustain good relationships among the warring clans that will help livestock keepers to negotiate access to and utilization of grazing land and water in wildlife reserves. He says this was a recommendation made during the CRM process.


Goats on a Karamoja grazing area.

The CRM process also identified two more opportunities for reducing the risk of resource-related conflict: coordinating with outside donor projects planning to construct livestock watering facilities and with traditional governance systems that include conflict resolution. “What we would like to see at the end is the parties moving from conflict to cooperation over resources,” Bagyenda says.

He encourages other missions going through the climate risk management process to raise awareness about climate risks continuously and build up a team of climate champions. “The climate risk management process is not supposed to be a one-man process,” he says. 

Bagyenda also says the process must continue beyond initial documentation and design. “It’s ongoing, on the ground.” The Uganda mission’s climate risk management team recommends that related details be added to relevant Mission Orders to ensure that moderate to high climate risks are adequately represented in solicitation documents.

Bagyenda sees these efforts as being very worthwhile if the activity’s goals are achieved. “If we have identified the climate risk and it is now being addressed, then it’s likely that peace will be secured and the local livestock economy will prosper.” This would be no small achievement.

Strategic Objective
Climate Risk Management, Conflict and Governance, Disaster Risk Management, Rural
Christine Chumbler Headshot

Christine Chumbler

Christine Chumbler is a communications professional with more than 20 years experience in writing, editing, and publications design. She has expertise in every stage of publication production, from concept and writing to editing, design, and printing. In the mid-1990s, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi. This experience led to a career using her writing and editorial skills with international development and foreign policy organizations, many of which worked to directly support USAID’s efforts. She has worked in a freelance capacity full-time since May 2016. Chumbler has a Master’s in journalism from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor’s in environmental studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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