UNDP, GEF support Uganda’s national emergency centre to handle disasters

United Nations Development Programme

Uganda’s economic and human development are closely tied to several climate-based resources with sectors such as agriculture, water, health and industry interconnected to the natural resources and environment.

However, the country still suffers multiple natural hazards, 70 per cent of which are of hydro-meteorological origin like drought, flooding, earthquakes and landslides. Flooding ruins gardens, affecting hundreds of livelihoods, while landslides especially in mountainous regions destroy both crops and properties.

The national economic loss to natural hazards alone is estimated at US$3.1 million (approximately 11.7 billion shillings) annually. It follows therefore that if climate and disaster risks are not prevented and mitigated, they could slow down Uganda’s growth.

As part of commitment to protect Ugandans from such disasters, the government invested in relief and disaster preparedness. However, more is needed to strengthen and improve early-warning systems and emergency coordination.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supports countries to strengthen their resilience to crises and shocks, foster greater coherence of disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation efforts; provide access to risk information and early-warning systems; and strengthen preparedness and response measures.

In Uganda, UNDP supported the government to establish the National Emergency, Coordination and Operations Center (NECOC). UNDP’s offer included equipment; installation of the modelling and communication systems; establishing and equipping disaster management committees at national and district levels; and training technical and first-line disaster responders.

NECOC, based at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), provides early-warning information on disasters, climate modelling and forecasting, and also serves as the strategic space to coordinate a whole-of-government response to emergency and supporting risk-informed development.

Government appreciates UNDP support

To get a better understanding of the operations of the NECOC and inform UNDP’s continued support to building resilience to climate and natural disasters, Ms. Elsie Attafuah, the new UNDP Resident Representative in Uganda, toured the centre and got a briefing from several officials.

The Commissioner for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Management, Mr. Martin Owor, explained that NECOC has given the Government of Uganda the capacity to anticipate disaster and provide regular-early warning and life-saving information to many Ugandans.

“We are grateful to UNDP for building the capacity of Government of Uganda through this centre to foretell disasters, and the ongoing capacity building efforts,” Mr. Owor stated.

Prior to the establishment of NECOC, Mr. Owor said, the department of Disaster Preparedness would mostly react to disasters like crop failure and spend billions of shillings procuring and providing food aid to the affected communities. Three years after the setting up of the centre, in 2017, the department acted proactively with satellite data for the first time.

Since then, there has been a significant reduction in food aid and for the financial year 2016/17, the Government saved 9.6 billion shillings (US$2,518,291); which was 50.5% of the overall emergency fund of 19 billion shillings ($4,984,118) in the period, according to the commissioner.

The Permanent Secretary for the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Ms. Christine Kintu Guwatudde, equally commended UNDP for the long-standing relationship and partnership with the Government of Uganda that has contributed to the success of NECOC and disaster reduction measures.

Ms. Attafuah appreciated NECOC for the vital role it plays in providing a whole-of-government integrated mechanism in mitigating climate and disaster risks in Uganda. She called for increased private sector engagement in disaster risk reduction and proposed that the data generated at the centre should guide the development of Uganda’s third National Development Plan (NDP III).

“We can implement the NDP III but if we do not look at the risk dimensions to it, it can ruin all the gains so far; and achieving Vision 2040 will be very difficult,” Ms. Attafuah said.

Ms. Attafuah also congratulated the government on winning a global award for the use of satellite technology in managing drought and famine in the country in 2019. She reaffirmed UNDP’s commitment to continue supporting government on disaster risk reduction and tackling climate related disasters.

UNDP’S further support

Over the last five years, the UNDP in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other development partners, notably USAID and GIZ, supported automation of the climate information system and built capacity for forecasting and dissemination of climate information for early warning.

Under UNDP Uganda’s Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Uganda (SCIEWS)’s project, automatic weather and hydrological stations and a messaging system that enable data to be available in real-time, were installed across the country.

The system links data from its network of weather and hydrological monitoring stations to feed into the National Early Warning System hosted in the NECOC. 

As a result, the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) can provide more timely and reliable weather forecasts while the Office of the Prime Minister Disaster Risk Management department is able to issue timely integrated early-warning alerts.

UNDP also supports production of a monthly bulletin, Uganda National Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning News (U-NIEWS). The newsletter publishes information and forecasting captured by satellite technology and other sources, including government ministries, departments and agencies and partners, to provide national multi-hazard early-warning information and issue alerts.

The bulletin can also be used to understand the conditions of crops and pasture, food insecurity and weather/climate forecast to determine the anticipated disasters. It also provides the disaster and humanitarian response status update based on monthly statistics.

Michael Namutambo, 35, a horticulture farmer and resident of Kisambwa village, Suume parish in Bukalasi sub-county in the disaster-prone Bududa district, testifies how the early-warning information sent to his sub-county authorities has enabled farmers like him know when to plant their crops. “The early warning information also guides us on when disasters like landslides are anticipated,” Namutambo says.

In 2018, UNDP’s support to NECOC enabled the building of multi-hazard and vulnerability assessments in all districts of Uganda and the development of a National Risk Atlas (NRA). The atlas supports decision-makers, both in the public and private sectors, to make evidence-based, risk-informed investment and planning decisions.

UNDP continues to offer technical and operational assistance to NECOC. International experts are recruited and deployed to work with the NECOC team, in addition to financing publication of the U-NIEWS bulletin and paying for maintenance of equipment, office consumables and internet services at the centre.    

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