Why Is Uganda Poor? Climate Change Has a Role

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KAMPALA — Uganda has been very successful in pulling its citizens out of poverty in recent years. The proportion of the population living in poverty has decreased from 31.1 percent in 2006 to 19.7 percent in 2013. While the country has been able to reduce the incidence of those living on $1.90 or less a day, poverty reduction remains fragile in the nation. With households found to be vulnerable to adverse shocks, climate change plays a significant role in answering the question ‘why is Uganda poor?’

Around 84 percent of Uganda’s population lives in rural areas. Additionally, 71.9 percent of the Ugandan labor force works in the agricultural sector, making it the most important industry for the economy. With such a dependence on natural resources, Uganda’s population is extremely vulnerable to changing climate conditions.

In Uganda, increased droughts, floods and variable precipitation cycles have a detrimental impact on the water supply and other natural resources that are used for agricultural production.

In recent years, the country has been faced with rising temperatures and prolonged droughts. These events have decreased the productivity of coffee trees and increased the trees’ exposure to pests and diseases. Nearly all coffee production comes from small farmers that have little to no access to irrigation or other modern farming conveniences. Therefore, these climate effects significantly impact the income of these farmers. This helps answer the question, “Why is Uganda poor?” as the poorest citizens of the country are small farmers living in remote areas across the country.

In the Ugandan government’s 2015 Economic Analysis, climate change is predicted to halve coffee production by 2050, creating an economic loss worth $1.2 billion. As coffee is the nation’s most valuable industry, climate change is worsening the living standards of the country’s population by destroying its main source of income.

Since 2005, lake levels in Uganda have been unusually low, leading to power shortages and disruptions to water supplies in urbanized areas around the lake. Research indicates that when women and girls spend more time obtaining water, the less time these same individuals spend in education. Lower levels of female education are associated with higher fertility, early onset childbirth and poverty.

These outcomes are prevalent in Uganda as the country’s fertility rates are among the world’s highest, with 5.8 children being born to every woman. The rapid population growth contributes to the degradation of Uganda’s natural resources that are the backbone for household livelihoods in the country. This overpopulation issue is cited as a major contributing factor to poverty in Uganda and can be partially attributed to climate change.

On top of low female education rates, Uganda is experiencing a greater overall demand for free education due to the changing environment. As unpredictable rainfall patterns are adversely affecting farming, many households are subjected to poverty and famine. In an interview with Black Star News, Elizabeth Aonyo Otiko from Ayu Lupur village spoke of her support for free schooling in Uganda, saying most families are unable to afford school fees with the recent volatility in agricultural cultivation. With low education levels, individuals are unable to pursue employment in the formal sector which exacerbates the issues of poverty in the nation.

Why is Uganda poor? Climate change has been shown to have direct and indirect impacts on the living standards for households in Uganda. While climate change is significantly impacting the internal affairs of Uganda, to address this issue, an international effort must be made.

Climate change is increasing global inequality and will continue to widen the gap between the wealthiest and the rest if nothing is done. Therefore, to address the issues of climate change, there must be an international effort to boost support for climate justice that starts at a local level.

Tess Hinteregger

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Tess Hinteregger

Tess lives in Bluffton, SC. Her academic interests include economics, education policy, environmental policy and public policy. Tess moved to the United Kingdom for her undergraduate and graduate studies.

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