Pupils of the Outspan Primary School in a flood-prone neighbourhood in Bwaise, Uganda, are assisting in the collection of important meteorological data as part of a new integrated approach to flood management.
The school’s head teacher, Mr. Leonard Okokes, is pleased about the pedagogic benefits of the activity. “The collection of rainfall data is important for our education programme. Classes are studying weather changes on a daily basis, and this provides practical lessons to our pupils“. At the same time this hands-on activity is not merely a classroom learning exercise, but rather forms part of a much broader, real world assessment.
This innovative learning approach is being tested as part of the data collection component of the UN-Habitat-supported Kampala Integrated Flood Management project. The Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) recently joined forces with UN-Habitat’s Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI) to gauge the city’s flood risk.
According to UN-HABITAT, flooding is an urgent environmental concern in Kampala with much of the city being built on former wetlands and swampy ground. In recent years unplanned urbanisation, poor management of solid waste which can clog storm sewers, as well as other factors, have increased residents’ exposure to flooding and ancillary hazards.
Along with negative effects on health, flooding also interrupts people’s everyday lives. In the case of students and teachers at Outspan Primary School, three heavy rainfall events between April and May 2012 flooded classrooms and left the school grounds temporarily inaccessible. In the future, without a long-term strategy, increased urbanisation coupled with climate change may well lead to deteriorating conditions.
This assessment is a first step in helping KCCA to develop a strategy to manage the city’s urgent flooding problem. A diverse team led by the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation at the University of Twente (ITC) in the Netherlands, along with faculty members of Kampala’s Makerere University and a German engineer who specialises in urban hydrology, are implementing the study.
The project involves a city-wide assessment of the risks of flooding, coupled with a more detailed risk assessment in a representative ‘hotspot’ neighbourhood in that city. Mr. Joseph Ssemambo, Acting Director of Physical Planning at KCCA commented on the neighbourshood of Bwaise being selected for the study, stating that “It is a very good idea, especially for community ownership of the project, to [build support for] implementation of the recommendations that will come thereafter“.
The approach taken in the present study reflects a new conceptual paradigm: Integrated Flood Management (IFM), which will embrace both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ solutions in a holistic and cross-sectorial manner. ‘Soft’ measures may well include cost-effective approaches such as community-based early warning systems in flood-prone neighbourhoods, and improved land management. Other measures that fall under the rubric of ‘sustainable drainage systems’ (e.g., increasing permeable surfaces, retaining and harvesting rainwater) also may be proposed.
As informed by pilot work in Bwaise, the project will result in a proposed city-wide strategy and action plan for IFM in Kampala. This plan will include both policy recommendations as well as other cost-effective steps that the city can take to better manage the risk of floods. Recommendations undoubtedly will include a mix of strategies aimed at linking urban drainage needs with the city’s services, systems, functions, spaces and storm water flows.
Dr. Sliuzas, the ITC team leader in Kampala, explained how people in affected neighbourhoods could be motivated to support implementation of proposals: “It is not easy to trigger residents’ support if measures will only improve lives downstream. But with the price of potable water in Kampala slated to rise in the future, people may begin to understand how, for example, rainwater harvesting can help them to save money they would otherwise spend on piped water for sanitation, washing, and cleaning”.
While the data collected by the pupils of Outspan Primary School will help to underpin the planning process, Dr. Sliuzas cautioned that more than one station will be needed around the city in order to have a minimum number of data collection points. As another step in that direction, the ITC team installed an automatic rainfall station at Makerere University campus to collect high resolution temporal data.
As Dr. Sliuzas explained: “Establishing weather stations in schools or other public facilities has the advantage that the data collection can be institutionalised, which ensures functional, well-maintained stations through which data can be regularly collected on an ongoing basis, even after a development project winds up”. At the same time that collecting data is crucial from a technical point of view, such an activity in a community like Bwaise also helps to raise the schoolchildren’s – and the community’s – awareness about crucial environmental issues.