Friday, February 19, 2010

Kampala Is Feeling Hot

The first thing Ramadan Kiraga had to give up when he saw a passenger was his prized spot under a tree. Then, before his motorcycle gave a violent lurch to the right, and just as someone prepared to take his place, the man also had to empty into his stomach whatever was left in his water bottle.

Later, after doing the trip, Kiraga would claim that he was spending as much on water as on fuel, the inevitable result of surging temperatures in recent times. “I have taken two liters by now,” the motorcycle operator said. “The heat is killing us. We may have to charge people for this. I don’t know when this is going to end.”

Kiraga is not alone in his misery. After all, the whole of Kampala is feeling unseasonably hot. In the capital, as in some other parts of the country, especially in northern Uganda, temperatures have been rising since late January, severe conditions that are forecast to last until the end of February.

Jackson Rwakishaija, a senior communications officer with the Meteorology Department, yesterday said that, while the month of February has traditionally been hot, there is now a marked rise in average temperature over the same period last year. “For about five days, the temperature has been 31.6 degrees Celsius in Kampala,” Rwakishaija said. “I think it was 32 degrees Celsius yesterday. I am sure even today it will be 32 degrees Celsius. It used to be a maximum of 30 degrees Celsius [in this period] in Kampala. On average, there is an increase of 1 to 2 degrees Celsius around the country.”

Despite this significant rise in temperature, Rwakishaija was reluctant to sound the alarm bells, saying that some of the heat would be lost starting in March. “February has always been like that, except that that the degree now makes a big difference,” he said. “Maybe our bodies have now become very sensitive. I can say that we are now more conscious about climate change.”

The dry spell, he said, would “continue for the next three weeks,” towards the end of February. "It is mainly in the central and northern parts of Uganda because the dry winds move from the north southwards,” Mr Rwakishaija said. “It’s winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the southern hemisphere. The intensity of winter [there] creates a similar intensity [in the degree of heat] here.”

The heat in Kampala has recently attracted a frenzied discussion of the subject on social networking sites, especially on Facebook, where some young people occasionally post comments to reveal how “hot” they feel. “Oh, Lord, it’s too hot,” one of them cried out. Another raved: “There’s almost nothing as disgusting as inhaling truck exhaust on a boda-boda on a hot day in Kampala. Okay, maybe a few things, but this one is up there.” And one even offered greetings from “a steaming hot Kampala.”

Their cries, like several others that do not get heard, seemed to represent a growing consensus among Ugandans that climate change is upon us in a real way --- in conditions we can actually feel. In a 2008 assessment of climate change in Uganda, a study commissioned by the Department for International Development and conducted by sustainable development consultants LTS International, it was noted that temperatures would continue to rise over the next 20 years and beyond. “Human-induced climate change is likely to increase average temperatures in Uganda by up to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next 20 years and up to 4.3 degrees Celsius by the 2080s,” the report said. “Such rates of increase are unprecedented. Changes in rainfall patterns and total annual rainfall amounts are also expected but these are less certain than changes in temperature.”

The report noted that the grim forecast was not unlike what was being expected in other parts of the world. “In Uganda, as for the rest of the world, there are likely to be changes in the frequency or severity of extreme climate events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and storms,” the report said.

Maruzi MP David Ebong, who chairs the Parliamentary Forum on Climate Change, a pressure group whose mandate was partly derived from the grim statistics mentioned in the LTS report, yesterday said his group had failed to find its rhythm. He did not say why. “Our forum is still a young forum,” Ebong said. “Nobody can demand too much from us as this point. This is the year when we could do more.” The forum, the first of its kind in Africa, was established in mid-2009 with the hope, Ebong said, of making Uganda “responsive to the challenges of climate change." A realistic goal, he said yesterday, would be the passing of legislation that deals decisively with climate change in Uganda.

Independent experts, citing everything from the unrestrained importation of second-hand vehicles to the destruction of swamps and to poor regulation of industries, say Uganda is not doing enough to combat climate change. “The worst is yet to come,” Frank Muramuzi, of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists, said yesterday. “Many things are going to happen, and people are going to fall sick. Ask yourself: How many junk cars are in this country?”

Every ministry must have a climate change unit, according to Muramuzi, who charged that Ugandans have not been sensitized to lead environment-friendly lifestyles. “All they need is to be guided,” he said. “The rise in temperature is abnormal. I don’t cover myself these days. This is the effect of climate change.”

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