I grew up in the central region of Uganda, East Africa. Up to the early 80’s, this was one place where I could randomly throw avocado seeds, mango, jack fruit and the African custard- apple seeds or the simple beans, outside the kitchen and wake up one morning to find robust saplings standing up majestically in less than two months. By then the rains and hot seasons were as regular as the Swiss clock work.
I used to take this for granted until I relocated to Botswana in Southern Africa. Botswana is three times the size of Uganda and yet two thirds of the country is covered the Kalahari Desert. 1994 -1995 was a drought year and I did not need to be told this since I never saw a drop of rain until six months after my arrival. As I went about doing my work, I was always being reminded by big posters that Water is Life. No water, no life. It was clear to me why the currency of Botswana is called the Pula which means ‘ rain’ in Setswana and rain is regarded as a blessing.
I learned to treasure water and to recycle it. I would use the clean water from the kitchen to water the vegetables in the kitchen garden. I also learned to harvest rain water and to generally use water sparingly. Due to the global climate changes, the country swings between being in a drought and having just enough water. Surprisingly, the Gaborone dam which supplies water to the capital city: Gaborone, recorded its lowest capacity of 1.3% in 2015 and then in February 2017 – due to Tropical cyclone Dineo, the dam was overflowing! This last happened ten years ago. The residents moved from water scarcity and rationing to being on alert for displacement by possible flash floods.
Back home, the global climate changes have resulted in changed weather patterns: erratic rains and prolonged dry spells. All these combine to cause crop failure. It now requires each household to harvest rain water and invest in water storage for use during the dry spells.
The September rains of 2016 failed to come in many districts in the country and as I write this now, the April rains are on in the central region and surrounding districts. Looking through the window, I can see lush green mango, orange, avocado and jack fruit trees bending in the wind. My vegetable garden is thriving too and I cannot wait to harvest my own vegetables. The trees and vegetables have all been transformed by the rains.
On the contrary, districts in the north of the country are still under the prolonged dry spell. Reports from districts like Karamoja indicate that some of the cattle keepers have already lost herds of cattle due to the drought and the rest have been forced to slaughter their cows and sun-dry the meat. The people themselves are feeding on the sun-dried meat which the Batswana call Biltong, but have no staple food to eat with it. The grasslands have dried up and there is no sign of rain yet. Drought relief programmes should have been put in place first to save the people and then their herds of cattle.
Climate change has become part of our lives and demands that we come up with locally appropriate solutions to fight it. The Batswana in the Kalahari Desert have been living under harsh conditions and yet beef is their third biggest export after the diamonds, copper and nickel. They export the beef to the European Union and South Africa. We have a lot to learn from them.
Meanwhile water remains the source of life everywhere and the human adult body is up to 65% water. This makes us extremely vulnerable to water loss through vomiting and diarrhea and drought conditions. Having become a child of two worlds: Uganda and Botswana ,has taught me not to take things for granted.
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