December 7, 2023
Rivers in flood: A year of impact
In September 2020 we began our partnership project with the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda. Supported by the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, the project looks to protect cultural heritage at-risk from flooding and rising water levels in East Africa. You can read more about this project here.
As we approach the close of a second phase of work, this blog takes a look at the impact we are already seeing.
A year of impact for Bakonzo culture
The Rwenzori Mountain foothills are littered with cultural heritage sites of spiritual value to the Bakonzo people. Without intervention these sites have experienced worsening damage from flooding caused by glacial melt and changing weather patterns.
At Ekyisalhalha Kya Kororo waterfall, flooding was causing the site, used in traditional cultural rites, significant damage in the rainy seasons. In a year of engaging with the project however, community, cultural and spiritual leaders have rallied together to improve the site’s resilience to flooding and champion their ancestral heritage.
With over 140 farmers attending community workshops, efforts towards natural flood management (NFM) have significantly ramped up in the area. As well as planting indigenous flood-resilient tree species, this month saw the construction of the first leaky dam in the area through NFM learning exchanges with the National Trust of England Wales and Northern Ireland
Further down-stream at Kyiriba Kyathumba hot springs a year from project kick off, the site is a vibrant cultural hub. New signage and shelters have increased capacity to host community tourism. With over 350 visitors a day, the hot springs are an important healing ground in Bakonzo culture. Through sensitisation workshops carried out with the site management committee, the local community meet regularly to ensure the site remains adaptive to a changing climate.
Cultural advocacy for climate resilience
Climate-preparedness is as much about people as it is about practical preparedness. This is where culture plays a key role to play in climate action.
Since the early forties the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been gazetted as a forest conservation reserve. Management plans have consistently dismissed the cultural value of the mountains to the Bakonzo people. Access to sacred sites was heavily restricted, pushing people further away from their ancestral history.
This phase of the project has now mapped and marked 17 cultural sites within the park boundary. Places of sacrifice, places of prayer that connect the Bakonzo to their mountain identity.
Project partners CCFU have negotiated an MOU in collaboration with park managers, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to ensure communities now have increased access to these sacred sites. A by-law that ensures sustainable land management on riverbanks to increase flood resilience at cultural sites has also been passed through project advocacy.
This project has also shared expertise and inspiration across land borders and seas – the essence of what the INTO family does.
This phase of work partnered with the Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage Society where similar experiences of rising water levels are impacting heritage sites on Zanzibar’s shores.
A 3-day workshop in Stone Town brought together academia, government, heritage, tourism and conservation to share learning and best practice around protecting UNESCO sites from climate change.
We’ve also seen real impact from our UK and Uganda collaborations.
In December, two National Trust experts in natural flood management visited the Rwenzori to share their experiences of managing similar cultural sites. Building on community plans for natural flood interventions, 4 interventions were identified drawing from experiences of similar riverways around the UNESCO site of Fountains Abbey, leading to the pilot interventions early this year.
The project has also served as an integral case study in climate change adaptation at World Heritage Sites, one that we have share more widely with the INTO Africa group, COP26 and global heritage conferences like Climate.Culture.Peace.
This project is supported the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which supports projects which protect cultural heritage at risk due to conflict or climate change, mainly in the Middle East and parts of North and East Africa
Watch our short documentary
This short film illustrates the immense cultural value of Uganda's waterways, and the impact that climate change is having on spiritual sites lining river banks across Eastern Uganda.Watch it now