Building Resilience In Northern Uganda

This article has was originally published by the Danish Refuge Council.  All content and images are credited to the Danish Refugee Council, East Africa and Great Lakes (DRC EAGL).

Resilience to climatic shocks and stresses is an essential concept for DRC because it touches the lives of displaced communities in all possible phases of displacement situations, during an acute crisis, during shorter or longer displacement and also when solutions are found to a displacement situation.

Extreme weather events such as floods and drought can trigger displacement and conflict with immediate, visible consequences. But helping communities be more resilient and absorb shocks also means that they are more self-reliant and less dependent on humanitarian assistance, which is very important for long term, durable solutions.

In addition, the presence of a large displaced community in a given area can sometimes be a strain on resources and we need to ensure resources such as water are optimised.

Uganda Areal Web

Over 85 percent of Northern Uganda’s rural population rely on farming for livelihoods. Soil erosion and extreme weather patterns therefore constitute a direct threat to communities’ resilience, which can be prevented and mitigated by nature-based solutions enhancing agro-ecosystems.

Uganda Drctalks Web

This was the very objective of the resilience-design training of trainers developed and implemented by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in the Northern Uganda district of Nebbi as part of the DANIDA-funded Northern Uganda Resilience Initiative (NURI). NURI aims to contribute to poverty reduction through inclusive and sustainable economic growth, promoting democracy, good governance and human rights while supporting Uganda’s stabilising role in the region.

Uganda Digging Web

The training aimed to buffer communities from extreme weather events by using the principles of permaculture to build resilience. After a 2-day theory training, the 52 participants – including 11 government engineers – worked with the community to redesign individual homes, farms and landscapes using natural contours and create pathways channeling flood water into the soil. Doing so, rain water will no longer flood farms and damage infrastructure but instead fill dams and contribute to the hydration of the agro-ecosystem.

Uganda Road Web

“Resilience design is about slowing, spreading, and sinking water into the ground so that the ground can receive the rain and become something life giving. The benefits include the ability to grow more, the possibility to plant for longer during the year, the creation of a buffer from extreme temperatures and the ability to  create an environment that is drought proof,“ says Warren Brush, Resilience Design Consultant.

The Nebbi community is now at the forefront of an innovative process and design that will not only see them address extreme weather patterns but also rehabilitate degraded land and restore its ecology and biodiversity.

Uganda Drcworker Web

“I want to thank NURI for this intervention. This is a project which the district was unable to take on due to financial constraints. Our community will benefit because a lot of rain water floods our gardens and farms destroying crops. This kind of drainage installed, that directs water to the dam will stop the recurring problem,” says Gabriel Ocibre, Local Counselor, Nebbi district


Natalie Topa was working as an urban and regional planner, based in Washington, DC, primarily focused in Transit Oriented Development (TOD), sustainable urban revitalisation and post-disaster recovery planning when she moved to South Sudan to work on post-war town planning and reconstruction in 2005. She then became Sudan Country Director and then East Africa Regional Representative for a large agency. Natalie quickly began to recognise patterns that were common in many of the contexts throughout Africa, especially in drought- and flood-prone dry-land and arid contexts. All countries in the region seemed to suffer from increasingly extreme cycles of weather and climate events. Each year people faced food, water and energy insecurity despite decades of investment. Year after year, donors and NGOs didn’t seem to address root causes of issues that caused the greatest vulnerability that can also lead to instability and conflict. Ms. Topa was seeing strong links between extreme weather events and ecological degradation, including biodiversity loss and soil erosion which undermined livelihoods and community wellbeing. This came with the realisation that extreme events were spurred from ecological degradation as much if not more than climate change at large. Since then, Ms. Topa embarked on a learning journey to build her technical skills to address the challenges she witnessed in the region. Among the courses, Natalie did her first PDC at the Greening the Desert site in Jordan with Tom Kendall, followed by a PDC with Warren Brush at Quail Springs in California, Water Harvesting Earthworks courses with Brad Lancaster and Warren Brush in Arizona, with Geoff Lawton and Glenn Armstrong at Zaytuna farm as well as with David Spicer in Portugal. Natalie has traveled to India three times for courses with Dr. Vandana Shiva and is personally moved by the atrocities of ushering people in to seed slavery. Natalie has since dedicated her life to supporting efforts to heal and restore community agro-ecosystems as a basis of circular bio-economy at the bioregional level. Ms. Topa believes that building systems-based resilience for households, communities and regions can happen by applying design and regenerative thinking to all contexts, including the natural, built, social and economic environments, particularly in this transformative COVID-19 era. The video and article represent Natalie’s efforts to bring restorative thinking and practices to her agency’s work with displacement affected populations.

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