Karamojong communities take active steps to build their resilience

The Karamoja region is one of the most disaster prone areas in Uganda. In order to be better prepared for disasters that are likely to occur, 23 communities have been supported to draw up Community Disaster Management Plans according to their own assessment of the hazards they are likely to experience.

©Mai Gad
Members of the Nackuka Tree-planting group showing the trees, Napak District, Karamoja.

A drive through the arid landscape of eastern Karamoja proves that only a few trees are left here, most are cut down for firewood or to make charcoal. A dirt road leads to the small village of Nachuka, and here is a rare sight in Karamoja.
A two-hectare wood lot is carefully nursed by a group of 30 members from a near-by village who form the Community Disaster Management Committee (CDMC).
Out of the 800 trees planted, 750 survived the changing weather and prolonged dry spells that repeatedly hit the area.

A tree-planting project

The tree-planting group is part of a Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CMDRR) initiative, which is a component in DCA’s cross-border Drought Preparedness project. The project is implemented under the Drought Risk Reduction Action Plan for the Horn of Africa (DRRAP), a funding programme from the European Commission – Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Office (ECHO).
DanChurchAid (DCA) is the consortium lead, which also consists of the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), The International Institute for Cooperation and Development (C&D) and Caritas Moroto (SSD).
The consortium members are implementing CMDRR in a total of 23 Karamojong (Uganda) and Pokot (Kenya) communities.

“The CMDRR is mainly a response to the drought, which many communities in Karamoja consider as their main hazard. The CMDRR provides the communities with a grant to implement a project according to their own assessment of the hazards they face and are most likely to experience,” says Gabriel Agiro Okot, ACTED Head of Programmes in Karamoja and Cross-border.
In Nachuka village, it is as the CMDRR methodology prescribes, the community members themselves who have decided on the tree-planting project.
After receiving training on CMDRR concepts and principles, the community carried out a participatory Disaster Risk Assessment to define and prioritize what hazards they were most likely to face, such as pro-longed dry spells and floods. Based on the assessment the community then drew up an action plan to guide them in activities they could undertake to respond to the disasters and risks they identified in Nachuka. They found a tree-planting project as the main component in their plan.
“There are few trees in Karamoja, we have planted acacia and neem trees. We decided to plant trees to ensure an income. When the trees are big enough we can sell them for poles and firewood,” says 50-year old Elizabeth Abura, who is the chairperson in the group.

Village Savings and Loans

Besides from the tree-planting project, the group also meets every Tuesday to save up money. They do this through the Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) methodology, which functions like a local bank, where people who do not have access to banks and saving schemes can save up money and take loans to invest in their livelihoods.

The group decides on the weekly savings minimum amounts that each member must contribute, which means that all funds for loaning are accrued by the group members themselves and no further funds are injected from outside, making the scheme sustainable. So far, Nachuka Tree planting group has saved 350.000 Uganda shillings in the first cycle of savings. 
“We have a plan of expanding the tree-lot, we will do this by investing in trees using our savings in the VSLA, as well as by using the seeds from the trees we have now planted. We would like to set a good example by encouraging others to plant trees in Karamoja,” Elizabeth Abura, a CDMC group member, says.

A cereal bank ensures food in the dry season

In southern Karamoja, in the small village of Tokora, opposite a World Food Programme (WFP) storage facility, a CMDRR group has decided to use the grant given to them to build a cereal store. The cereal store will provide a place for members and the wider community to safely store both seeds for future planting and cereals for consumption in the dry seasons.

©Mai Gad
There is only five bags of Maize left in the seed bank in Tokora, but the group is planning to buy 11 bags of maize, 5 bags of beans and 10 bags of Sorghum, each 100 kilo.

The group members have realised that they need to be self-reliant: “Before organizations brought food, but now we grow our own crops. Often there are not enough crops, and right now most of them have dried up. The nearest market is 18 kilometres away, but with the cereal bank we can now ensure that people can access food nearby, and this benefits the entire community,” says Namer Jasinta, the chairperson of Tokora CMDRR group.
As part of the action plan, Jasinta and her group decided to support 200 of the most vulnerable people in their communities with seedlings, and seeds (tomatoes, onions, cabbages and eggplants) and a watering can.
“We selected the most vulnerable people with support from the local government and the entire community, it was mostly widows, orphans and elders,” Jasinta says.
60-year old Natee Alice is one of the widows selected to benefit from the project.
“From the seeds I received and planted, I harvested and was able to sell vegetables for 40.000 Uganda shillings, I used this money for savings in the VSLA group, this will help me in times of crisis,” Natee says.

Community plans to fit into Local Government plans

The community projects like the ones in Nachuka and Tokora are products of communities prioritising their own development needs. In the 23 communities where CMDRR has been implemented, projects have been carried out surrounding community purchase and operation of grinding mills, the creation of a butchery, camel and goat rearing, rehabilitation of water points, creation of vegetable gardens, and training in animal health.
“Due to such interventions these communities are not only sensitised to the potential disasters and hazards that they face. They are now taking active steps to build their resilience to potential threats,” says Lisa Baumgartner, DanChurchAid Drought Preparedness Consortium Coordinator.
In 2012-2013 the CMDRR groups were supported to receive 10 extension visits by local government, in order to encourage the communities as right holders to know their duty bearers (local government) and the services they can offer.
“The consortium is working with the local government to provide for them the actions plans so they can understand the priorities of their population and integrate their concerns into District Development Plans and District Contingency Plans,” says Lisa Baumgartner.
Moreover, these community groups act as entry points for future work in the communities by DCA, the government and other development partners.
By Mikkel Danielsen and Mai Gad, DanChurchAid

Read more about the project in the latest newsletter from the Regional Learning and Advocacy Programme for Vulnerable Dryland Communities (REGLAP), or the DCA Disaster Risk Reduction project web page.