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"Net Zero: Heritage for Climate Action” is a pioneering two-year multi-level capacity-building project aiming to combat the climate crisis and its associated risks through heritage-based adaptation and mitigation strategies in climate hotspots. The project brings together communities and produces field-tested solutions by cross-linking traditional knowledge with climate change science.

Generously supported by the Swedish Postcode Foundation, Net Zero is rooted in the idea that every place has a climate-culture story. These stories are held in the history and knowledge of places, which have been shaped by the dwelling environment and generations of human-earth interactions.

Gathering such stories from our five innovation sites, ICCROM Flagship Programme First Aid and Resilience for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis (FAR) is pleased to launch a blog series that shares the Net Zero journey of the five project innovation sites – in Brazil, Egypt, India, Sudan and Uganda.

This blog was authored by the team from the Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda: Ms Barbra Babweteera, CCFU Executive Director; Mr Fredrick Nsibambi, CCFU Deputy Executive Director; and Mr Aliguma Ahabyona Akiiki, CCFU Programme/Communications Coordinator.

Interviews and conducting the GIS mapping at the Ekisalhalha Kya Kororo Site Interviews and conducting GIS mapping at the Ekisalhalha Kya Kororo Site.

At the foothill of the magnificent Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda, surrounded by low-lying intersecting waterfalls, lies the Kasese district. Set at the confluence of the Kabiri and Kithangetse rivers, Kasese is intertwined with the sacred cultural site of the Ekyisalhalha Kya Kororo waterfall, where a unique flora- and fauna ecosystem makes for a picturesque and diverse landscape. 

Kasese is home to various communities, including the Bakonzo and Basongora groups. These communities hold a great spiritual connection to the river, tracing their cultural roots to the Rwenzori Mountains. Ritual cleansing of the river water, a traditional weather forecasting system, planting native species of trees along riverbanks, and using medicinal plants have sustained life over hundreds of years in the harsh mountain conditions. 

In recent years, however, Kasese has become increasingly vulnerable to the reality of climate change – the impacts of which will only become more violent in the years to come. Intense rainfall and melting glaciers from the Rwenzori mountains have devastating consequences for the local communities, with destructive floods ripping through the valleys, creating a path of destruction and affecting thousands of peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Confined to marginal environments and increasingly exposed to climate change, these communities of pastoralists and farmers are struggling to find alternative subsistence economies, resulting in land-related intercommunal rifts and a loss of social cohesion.

The wealth of Indigenous Knowledge within these communities constitutes a source of information that can be directed towards climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies for the people living on the site. When explained and strengthened by science, Indigenous wisdom and practices have the potential to mitigate a global crisis, enhance community resilience and improve social unity.

For this reason, we, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU), applied for the ICCROM Net Zero Project: Heritage for Climate Action project. We are working to preserve and promote heritage through community engagement, proudly safeguarding and harnessing Uganda’s diverse cultures for an equitable and prosperous future in the face of climate change.

In other words, is it possible to reconcile Traditional Knowledge with modern-day technologies into a sustainable strategy to combat climate change? While simultaneously strengthening social cohesion and promoting peace- and capacity-building activities? 

Alternative plant spicies for riverbank strenthening identified near at the site Alternative plant species for riverbank strengthening identified near the site.

Through the Net Zero: Heritage for Climate Action project, our team has become equipped with global perspectives on the effects of climate change, mitigation measures and diverse research and data collection methods. We collected data following a 7-step questionnaire developed by ICCROM's First Aid and Resilience for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis (FAR) programme to create a complete overview of the site, which contains relevant information on topography, community resiliency factors and sociopolitical structure.

Next, it proved crucial to combine our findings on Indigenous Knowledge with the expertise provided to us by various area specialists during an in-person training in Rome and Cinque Terre, Italy. With climate scientists, biodiversity and flood mitigation experts, and ecologists, we took a virtual walk down the banks of River Kabiri. We looked at the climate-related risks through a cultural lens, recording changes in land use over the past century. This combination of traditional and modern approaches generated a sustainable, community-centred action plan for the future of Kasese.

Our main project activities include:

  • Carbon sequestration through reforestation using native plant species, such as bamboo and Ficus;
  • Reducing the risks of landslides and floods by enforcing riverbanks with native plant species;
  • Intergenerational transfer of Indigenous knowledge by organizing story circles with clan leaders and school children;
  • Bridging data gaps on climate variability and change in consultation with key stakeholders to inform Kasese’s climate change adaptation plan;
  • Raising community awareness about climate change, its associated risks and the mitigating potential of Indigenous knowledge by coordinating with local stakeholders and establishing a local climate change committee; and
  • Enhancing social cohesion and peaceful coexistence among ethnic groups through collective intervention, such as tree planting and capacity-building workshops.

We are currently implementing this action plan on-site. The community in Kasese is receptive and appreciates the project, as it has strengthened the unity and collaboration between the Bakonzo and Basongora groups. Recently, they formed a committee called the River Valley Climate Change Mitigation Committee. In the upcoming months, we plan to engage 250 youth participants in planting indigenous trees and compile a publication with the gathered Traditional Knowledge.

We are convinced that this project will reduce the risks of flooding by strengthening the riverbanks of the Kabiri River, promoting and enhancing crop production and securing the sacredness of the site and its tourism potential, hence providing employment and income-generating activities for the communities.