Storm clouds over Kidepo Valley National Park in Uganda
A storm gathers over Kidepo Valley National Park in Uganda. Photo credit: Shannon Vasamsetti, USAID B4R

Integrating Climate Change into Biodiversity Programming in Karamoja, Uganda

A Participatory Tool for Sustainable Land Management
By Shannon Vasamsetti

Karamoja, located in northeastern Uganda, is a complex region. A lack of development and investment in the area, combined with cross-border conflict for valuable livestock and dependency on rainfed agriculture, results in physical, food, and water insecurity and high poverty levels that make Karamoja’s population vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The USAID/Uganda Biodiversity for Resilience (B4R) Activity implemented by RTI International supports the National Forestry Authority to conserve Central Forest Reserve water towers, including in Karamoja. While the presence of adequate clean water depends on the region’s watershed quality, unsustainable land management and loss of forest, woodland, and grasslands have inhibited the Kaabong River’s capacity to provide watershed protection.

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Map of Kidepo landscape
Map of Kidepo landscape in Karamoja, Uganda. Photo Credit: USAID B4R

USAID B4R helps local communities develop and implement sustainable land management practices to address the threat of agricultural expansion into natural ecosystems. During the initial planning phase, climate variability (primarily flash floods and prolonged droughts) was identified as one of the underlying causes of unsustainable land management in Uganda. The project piloted a climate lens to develop and implement climate-smart land management practices to boost resilience and improve watershed management. Aligned with USAID’s 2022-2030 Climate Strategy this pilot supports USAID’s targets that address the climate crisis with an integrated approach to community resilience.

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Photo of a dry streambed in Uganda.
A dry streambed in Kaabong District in Karamoja, Uganda. Photo Credit: Shannon Vasamsetti, USAID B4R

Methodology

To investigate the impact of climate change on local water resources, USAID B4R utilized downscaled climate projections under a moderate emissions scenario from the United Nations Capital Development Fund and remotely sensed historic precipitation and temperature values from NASA. To model streamflow, the team used RTI’s freely distributed Hydrologic Resource Assessment Model (HydroRAM) under historic and projected climate conditions. These streamflow estimates were then used to generate maps of water availability across Karamoja.

Using these maps, the team identified shifts in seasonality of rainfall and streamflow, focusing on changes during the dry season. In general, dry spells during the crop growing season are expected to happen more frequently and to last longer in the coming decades.

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A group of community members in Uganda discussing watersheds.
People living in Karamoja, Uganda discuss the connectivity of a watershed in the region. Photo Credit: Shannon Vasamsetti, USAID B4R

For example, spring streamflow, correlated with the onset of the first rainy season, is expected to arrive (and conclude) a month earlier than in previous years according to the downscaled climate change projections. Taking a community-led participatory approach, communities validated this finding, reporting observations in 2023 in which rain fell in April but stopped in May.

Understanding the changing weather patterns over time will allow communities to be proactive about building resilience by utilizing water conservation techniques such as water harvesting, mulching, and micro-irrigation or investing in drought-resistant crop varieties.

Community members voted on which threats impacted their livelihoods most severely. These responses will help the community prioritize where resources should be directed and develop activities to determine climate adaptation strategies.

Low Adaptive Capacity

Discussions between local government leaders and community members revealed that communities do not easily adapt to threats and lack knowledge of actions to take to increase their resilience. They agreed that climate-smart agricultural practices and tree planting varieties would support community resilience.

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Woman presenting on impacts of climate change to her village in Uganda.
A Karamojong woman presents on the impacts of prioritized climate and non-climate threats and hazards to her village in Uganda. Photo credit: Shannon Vasamsetti, USAID B4R

With a 2°C increase in temperatures all but guaranteed in northeastern Uganda according to current climate models, the impacts on water surface resources are already evident. The HydroRAM streamflow model revealed that groundwater resources, infrastructure (such as small reservoirs), and water conservation techniques could support a climate-resilient water supply for Karamoja. However, implementation must be made in an equitable way to best adapt, prevent overuse, and ensure that everyone is able to benefit from these resources.

USAID B4R will continue to support the development and implementation of climate-smart, sustainable land management practices, initially focusing on 21 parishes, reaching about 100,000 people in the Kidepo landscape. Lessons learned from this activity will enable local governments to develop and implement climate change adaptation plans at district and sub-county levels.

Country
Uganda
Strategic Objective
Adaptation
Topics
Adaptation, Climate Change, Climate Risk Management, Water Management
Region
Africa
Shannon Vasamsetti headshot

Shannon Vasamsetti

Shannon Vasamsetti is a Climate Adaptation Specialist at RTI International, where she bridges field-level programming with the latest climate science and modeling of RTI’s Center for Applied Economics and Strategy to integrate into programming and project design. She is an expert in climate change, community-based adaptation, natural resource management, biodiversity, agricultural and rural development, climate finance, monitoring and evaluation, and ecosystem service valuation. 

Prior to joining RTI, Ms. Vasamsetti was a Senior Natural Resource Management and Climate Change Specialist at DAI. Her past roles include Deputy Chief of Party on the USAID Mekong Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change project and Project Manager for several USAID programs globally.

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