Building resilience to drought: communities share their stories

Improving the resilience of dryland communities to the impacts of severe droughts is what the ‘Building Drought Resilience’ project in the Upper Aswa sub-catchment in Northern Uganda is all about.

Communities face an uncertain future with longer and more severe drought spells in parts of Eastern Africa

The three-year project (2011-2014) aims at supporting communities in improving their resilience to drought both from an environmental and a socio-economic point of view. The majority of the population in this area has recently resettled after a long period of displacement caused by the 20-year long war that tormented Northern Uganda.

With limited livelihoods to rely on, people engaged in subsistence agriculture, resorting to cultivate along streams, wetlands and even in river beds due to the low fertility of the soil. This has caused not only a severe deterioration of the catchment, but also tensions among the different water users, i.e. domestic, cattle keeping and agricultural. Poverty has also been a major driver behind the cutting of shea butter trees, an activity predominantly oriented to the production and sell of charcoal as an income option. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this Shea butter tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) is classified as vulnerable and in urgent need of conservation.

In order to support these communities to improve their livelihoods without compromising their natural resource base, IUCN introduced a revolving fund: the Community Environment Conservation Fund (CECF). Each village is assigned a fixed amount to enable its members to access micro credit, on condition of the community's commitment to the sustainable management of natural resources within their territory. In particular, appropriate actions were to be carried out in 3 priority areas, i.e. management of water sources, river/stream banks restoration, and re-vegetation of the micro-catchments.

The fund is managed with the involvement of the entire community, so as to guarantee transparency and accountability, and is structured in a way to ensure that no community member is marginalized or excluded.
Even though the revolving fund has been operational for 3 to 6 months, depending on the parish, people can already see positive changes from its implementation. “I borrowed 90 000 Ush ($ 35) from the fund” says Kenneth, a 30 year old farmer from Arwotngo Parish. “With this money, I bought some rice seeds and timber for carpentry. I sold the furniture I crafted, and with that profit I was able to pay some medical expenses I had for malaria. I can see a great difference if I look at how my life was before: in the past, no one was supporting me in overcoming difficulties”.

The project is reported to have brought positive impacts not only at household level, but on the communities as a whole. In all six project parishes, tree cutting for charcoal has been stopped or considerably reduced, and instead, tree nurseries are managed as a means to support reforestation of the micro-catchments, and as an alternative income for the villagers.

Communities are also engaged in stream bank restoration and in keeping their water sources clean and fenced, so as to preserve the quantity and quality of the water resources they rely on. Thanks to the participatory activities and monthly meetings, social cohesion has also increased. “Before the project people had no time to meet and share ideas”, notices Lawrence. “Now, thanks to the periodical meetings and the activities carried out together, community members managed to create better and more friendly relationships, they share more, and misunderstandings are less common”.

The Community Environment Conservation Fund (CECF) has only started functioning recently and more time is needed to assess the impacts on the involved communities and their environment. “I’ve just borrowed the money from the fund and used it to buy gee nut seedlings. I have to wait some 4 months for them to grow and hopefully sell the produce”, says Molloy, a young woman from Orit. “However, I can already say the project brought a lot of change in my life: now I have hope and can foresee a better future”.

This article was written by Elisa Calliari, scholar from Associazione Giovanni Lorenzin, and affiliate to the Euro- Mediterranean Center on Climate Change and Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM).

The Community Environment Conservation Fund (CECF) has so far been disbursed to 98 villages, translating into 2,426 households engaged in ecosystem restoration. As a result, a total of 109.9km (out of over 350km) of the Aswa river and its tributaries have been demarcated, and are under natural regeneration to enhance ecological and socio-economic benefits. To promote availability of, and access to, clean and safe water, 196 water sources have been protected. To diversify livelihood options and re-vegetate the degraded catchments, communities have established tree nurseries with a capacity of over 400,000 seedlings.

The 'Building Drought Resilience' (BDR) project in the Upper Aswa basin (Upper Nile water management zone, Uganda) and Lower Tana Basin (Kenya) is funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation and is being implemented in partnership with the Directorate of Water Resources Management in the Ministry of Water and Environment.

For more information, please contact Robert Bagyenda, Programme Officer Water & Wetlands, IUCN Kampala:; or Barbara Nakangu, Head of the IUCN Uganda Office:


Work area: 
Climate Change
Global Policy
Environmental Law
East and Southern Africa
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