Women carry firewood out of a forest in eastern Uganda. Officials say a high population density in the Mount Elgon region had put a lot of pressure on the area’s ecosystem.(Image: Irin)A three-year project to increase forest cover and help local communities in eastern Uganda adapt to climate change has been launched. “The planting of one million trees has started to sustain an area of tropical forest in Africa the size of Wales,” said John Griffiths, counsel-general of the Welsh Assembly, which is supporting the project.“These trees will not only absorb carbon but provide shade for crops.”The US$1-million (R6.8-million) Territorial Approach to Climate Change project, launched in the eastern town of Mbale on 28 October 2010, is also supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UK government. It will be implemented in the districts of Bududa, Manafwa and Mbale.“Mount Elgon’s ecosystem plays a crucial role in determining the weather in eastern, central and northern Uganda and western Kenya,” said Bernard Mujasi, the Mbale local council chairman.“We hope that by protecting and restoring the forest cover of the mountain and protecting the environment, we will help mitigate the challenge of climate change.”Lebogang Motlana, Uganda country director for UNDP, said the country was highly vulnerable to climate change as illustrated by a landslide in Bududa near Mbale, earlier this year, which left at least 300 people dead and was attributed to deforestation and unseasonable rain.Twenty-first century threatKate Wedgwood, from the UK Department for International Development, said: “We very much hope this project will enable the people of Mbale region to provide the rest of the country with a vivid example of how to creatively mitigate against the effects of climate change in a way that also contributes to economic growth.“Climate change is the biggest health threat for the 21st century, the effects are all around us – increased rainfall causing floods and drought causing hunger,” Wedgwood added.According to multinational NGO Oxfam, Uganda loses 800 000ha of crops annually to natural disasters.Most of Mbale region’s 955 247 people are subsistence farmers and are extremely vulnerable to changes in weather patterns. The region has the highest population density of 1 000 people per square kilometre and a population growth rate of 3.4% per annum.Joseph Wesuya, an official of the African Development Initiative – a community organization in Manafwa district – said high population density in the Mount Elgon region had put a lot of pressure on the area’s ecosystem.“Our environment is depleting at a fast rate; people are cutting down trees up the mountain, encroaching into wetlands,” he said. “The snow caps high on Mount Elgon are melting and you hardly see frost.”Gabriel Buyera, an official of the Shunya Yetana community conservation group in Bududa, said they had planted 1 500 tree seedlings along the slopes of Mount Elgon.