Primary school supports innovative approach to flood risk management in Kampala

United Nations Human Settlements Programme - Headquarters

Pupils at Outspan Primary School in Bwaise, a poor, flood-prone neighbourhood in Kampala, Uganda, are learning how to collect meteorological data – and, along the way, something about how climate change increasingly will affect their lives. Two times a day they measure the amount of rain that has fallen over the past several hours at their school grounds. They then jot down observations on the duration of the rainfall and its effect in terms of flooding of their school yard.

The school’s head teacher, Mr. Leonard Okokes, is pleased about the pedagogic benefits of the activity. “The collection of rainfall data is important for our education programme. Classes are studying weather changes on a daily basis, and this provides practical lessons to our pupils“. At the same time this hands-on activity is not merely a classroom learning exercise, but rather forms part of a much broader, real world assessment.

This innovative learning approach is being tested as part of the data collection component of the UN-Habitat-supported Kampala Integrated Flood Management project. The Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) recently joined forces with UN-Habitat’s Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI) to gauge that city’s flood risk; this assessment is a first step in helping KCCA to develop a strategy to manage the city’s urgent flooding problem. A diverse team led by the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation at the University of Twente (ITC) in the Netherlands, along with faculty members of Kampala’s Makerere University and a German engineer who specialises in urban hydrology, is implementing the study.

Flooding is an urgent environmental concern in Kampala. Much of the city is built on former wetlands and swampy ground. A high proportion of the urban poor live in these flood-prone areas. In recent years unplanned urbanisation, poor management of solid waste which can clog storm sewers, as well as other factors, have increased residents’ exposure to flooding and ancillary hazards. These secondary hazards include health issues: over the past 15 years, Kampala has suffered from several disease outbreaks that are at least partly attributable to increased flooding, and which especially afflict the most vulnerable.

Along with negative effects on health, flooding also interrupts people’s everyday lives. In the case of students and teachers at Outspan Primary School, three heavy rainfall events between April and May 2012 flooded classrooms and left the school grounds temporarily inaccessible. Poverty and a lack of resources underlie the flooding issue. In the future, without a long-term strategy, increased urbanisation coupled with climate change may well lead to deteriorating conditions.

The approach taken in the present study reflects a new conceptual paradigm: Integrated Flood Management (IFM). While little tested to date in cities in developing countries, IFM promises to be a useful approach to help KCCA address its flooding problem. Previous flood management efforts in Kampala focused on a traditional sectorial engineering solution: the development and implementation of a storm-water drainage master plan for the city’s eight major water catchment areas. In a resource-poor city such as Kampala, however, such plans may take decades or more to realise.

The new integrated approach, however, will embrace both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ solutions in a holistic and cross-sectorial manner. ‘Soft’ measures may well include cost-effective approaches such as community-based early warning systems in flood-prone neighbourhoods, and improved land management. Other measures that fall under the rubric of ‘sustainable drainage systems’ (e.g., increasing permeable surfaces, retaining and harvesting rainwater) also may be proposed.

The project involves analytical and prescriptive work at two spatial levels: a city-wide assessment of the risks of flooding, coupled with a more detailed risk assessment in a representative ‘hotspot’ neighbourhood in that city. The neighbourhood selected, Bwaise, picked in large part for the exposure of a poor population to frequent flooding, was chosen by the project’s steering committee - a group that includes not only the heads of two key KCCA departments, but also a representative of the National Slum Dwellers Federation that is active in Kampala. Mr. Joseph Ssemambo, Acting Director of Physical Planning at KCCA and chair of the committee, supported the establishment of this body from the outset: “It is a very good idea, especially for community ownership of the project, to [build support for] implementation of the recommendations that will come thereafter“.

As informed by pilot work in Bwaise, the project will result in a proposed city-wide strategy and action plan for IFM in Kampala. This plan will include both policy recommendations as well as other cost-effective steps that the city can take to better manage the risk of floods. Recommendations undoubtedly will include a mix of strategies aimed at linking urban drainage needs with the city’s services, systems, functions, spaces and storm water flows. Dr. Sliuzas, the ITC team leader in Kampala, explained how people in affected neighbourhoods could be motivated to support implementation of proposals: “It is not easy to trigger residents’ support if measures will only improve lives downstream. But with the price of potable water in Kampala slated to rise in the future, people may begin to understand how, for example, rainwater harvesting can help them to save money they would otherwise spend on piped water for sanitation, washing, and cleaning”.

While the data collected by the pupils of Outspan Primary School will help to underpin the planning process, Dr. Sliuzas cautioned that more than one station will be needed around the city in order to have a minimum number of data collection points. As another step in that direction, the ITC team installed an automatic rainfall station at Makerere University campus to collect high resolution temporal data. As Dr. Sliuzas explained: “Establishing weather stations in schools or other public facilities has the advantage that the data collection can be institutionalised, which ensures functional, well-maintained stations through which data can be regularly collected on an ongoing basis, even after a development project winds up”. At the same time that collecting data is crucial from a technical point of view, such an activity in a community like Bwaise also helps to raise the schoolchildren’s - and the community’s - awareness about crucial environmental issues.

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