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Travelling north in Uganda, the land flattens out and becomes drier, turning from tropical to semiarid. Paved roads change to dirt and after a few hours you reach the most remote region of the country. Home to a seminomadic cattle keeping people, the Karimojong, Karamoja is scarred by dry river beds and dotted with manyattas, small settlements made of sticks and ringed by fences of thorns.

About ten kilometres outside of Moroto, the largest town in the Karamoja, in one of these manyattas, lives Lowakabong Tapem. Crawling through a small opening in the fence, you’ll find him and his eight wives and 40 children. Tapem used to be a rich man. He carries a walking stick and wears a navy blue suit jacket over cargo shorts. Around his wrist is an ivory bracelet that he bought for ten cows. But then last year, warriors from a neighbouring clan came and stole all his animals in a series of raids. He lost 70 cows, 30 camels and 40 goats.

‘I don’t have anything to give my wives; they are the ones who take care of me now, by going and looking for herbs,’ Tapem says. The elder blames the drought that has plagued the region of Karamoja in recent years for the theft of his livestock. ‘The hunger has increased the raids,’ he says. ‘Someone sits under the tree for a whole day. He doesn’t have anything to do; he doesn’t have anything to eat. “So he thinks, let me just go for a raid”’.

The hardships of climate change that environmentalists warn of have already arrived in the poorest and least developed region of Uganda. Three out of the past four years have seen poor or no harvests in Karamoja. But in addition to

Climate change starving the region agriculturally, climate change is also exacerbating violence in the region. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in 2007, ‘changes in our environment and the resulting upheavals - from droughts to inundated coastal areas to loss of arable lands - are likely to become a major driver of war and conflict.’

The conflicts Moon spoke of might seem abstract and apocalyptic - too far in the future to worry about. But in Uganda, it seems climate change driven violence is already here. The cattle keepers of Karamoja have raided each other’s herds for generations: for prestige, to pay dowries and to increase their wealth. But today, many in the region say that warriors are increasingly driven by hunger.

Global warming reality Sitting on a bench in the stark afternoon sunlight, the elders of Tapem’s manyatta agree the climate of Karamoja has undergone a transformation in recent years. ‘Previously during this season there was rain and it was green around. Now you look around . . . everything is different. It’s completely changed,’ says Apangamea Lobur.

Before, ‘we would expect that when you came around here you would find green grass and plants of medium size,’ Lokawa Pareo says.

The government of Uganda estimates that the average temperature has increased between 0.2 and 1 degree C in the country since 1974. The semi-arid region of Karamoja, already suceptable to drought, has been particularly affected by this change.

Andrew Achila-Ododongo is the Production and Marketing Coordinator for the district of Moroto. In his office in Moroto town, he gets out a chart showing plunging rainfall patterns in the area.

‘If you look at our crop calendar, by now we should be recording maximum amount of rainfall. This year, we only got three days of rain,’ he says. ‘It used to be every five years you would get a serious drought, but now, almost every year you get drought.’

It adds up to an undeniable change in Karamoja’s climate, says the official. ‘Climate change is aggravating the situation and the impacts are being seriously felt. [Global warming] is becoming a reality.’

And as the environment has worsened, the people`s hunger pangs have sharpened. A 2010 report by the Danish NGO DanChurchAid concluded that in Karamoja ‘climate change is worsening food insecurity dramatically.’ According to the report, 85 per cent of people surveyed in two districts of Karamoja have only one meal a day.

The change in the environment has meant that families that used to look to agriculture, as an alternative to livestock, to feed themselves are no longer able to rely on that either.

Achila-Ododongo says the drought has decimated harvests. ‘Production and productivity are going down every day. It’s been crop failure, crop failure, crop failure for the last four years. There are no bumper harvests like we used to have. We have been relying on food aid for the past four years.’

Back inside the manyatta, one of Tapem’s wives shows off an empty garden. ‘If we plant anything, the sun will just come and burn up all the crops, so we don’t even think of planting. If we last up until the following day, we thank God for that,’ says the patriarch.

These days, the people of the manyatta are largely dependent on

Number 25 July 2011

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