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Issue 07 | March 2023
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Challenges in disaster management at local government level in uganda

Rebecca By Rebecca Nalwoga-Mukwaya, Research Officer ACODE & Hamuza Wamono

Floods, mudslides/landslides, prolonged periods of drought, and human and livestock epidemics have recently devastated several parts of Uganda with significant social and economic consequences.1 Disasters have an impact on the well-being and safety of individuals, communities, and countries as a whole. All communities are vulnerable to emergencies and disasters, including those caused by natural disasters, infectious disease epidemics, conflicts, technology advances, and other risks.2 In Uganda, under the decentralization framework, local governments are critical in disaster management. Therefore, this article explores the challenges that local governments face in disaster management measures.


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) defines a disaster as serious disruptions to the functioning of a community that exceeds its capacity to cope using its resources.’3 According to the National Policy for Disaster Preparedness and Management (2011) for the Republic of Uganda, “Disasters can be broadly categorized into natural disasters and man-made disasters. Among the natural disasters are drought, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, landslides, and disease outbreaks whereas man-made disasters include; genocide, political instability and unrest, war, cyber warfare and terrorism.”4 In the Hyogo Framework of Action 2005-2015, the international Disaster Risk Reduction(DRR) community is increasingly viewing disaster risk management (DRM) as a governance concern and acknowledges the role of local governments in disaster management.5 Responding to disaster needs local expertise, the right skills and efficient levels of preparedness. Having a proactive stance on emergency management, as opposed to a reactive approach will help to manage the consequences of a disaster.6 According to the Annual Disaster State Report of 2020, natural disasters in 2019/2020 affected more than 355,000 households leaving at least 126,182 persons displaced.7

The local government is one of the foremost actors in responding to disasters and one of the actors who greatly influences disaster resilience in the local community. Thus, resilience as the paradigm for disaster management needs to be discussed with the local community.8 A study carried out by International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in Uganda highlighted four major roles of local governments in implementing disaster risk reduction; To play a central role in coordinating and sustaining a multi-level, multi-stakeholder platform to promote DRR in the region or for a specific hazard; To effectively engage local communities and citizens to disaster risk reduction activities and link their concerns with governments’ priorities; To strengthen their institutional capacities and implement practical disaster risk reduction actions by themselves; and To devise and implement innovative tools and techniques for disaster risk reduction, which can be replicated elsewhere or scaled-up nationwide.9

The National Disaster Preparedness and Management Policy 2011 provides for the establishment of various structures at the local government level including; District Disaster Management Technical Committee; District Emergency Coordination and Operations Centre; Municipal / Town Disaster Policy Committee; Municipal / Town Disaster Management Technical Committee; Sub-County Disaster Management Committees (SDMC) and Village Disaster Management Committee.

Challenges of disaster management in local governments

Limited capacity and lack of knowledge: A study by Serwadda (2011) indicated limited capacity on the part of local government staff in understanding the key standards that pertain to disaster responsiveness.10 The research reveals that in practice, decentralized platforms for DRM are currently underused and interaction among members of these platforms remains very limited.11 Many Local Governments lack sufficient knowledge about disaster risks and vulnerabilities of their communities as well as appropriate response mechanisms. Response to disasters demands that Local Governments must have the capabilities required which include needs assessment, especially on risk environment, determining the vulnerabilities of their local communities, information exchange, and logistical expertise and taking the appropriate actions to mitigate them all of which are absent in local governments.

Thus local governments often find themselves reaching out to development partners and OPM for assistance which is highly dictated consequently rendering the implementation of the District/City/Municipal/Sub-county and village Contingency Plans highly impracticable.

Inactive disaster management structures in Uganda: The National Policy for Disaster Preparedness and Management 2011 does provide for the District Disaster Management Committee in the district. The committee is chaired by the CAO and comprises heads of departments, DPC, army representatives and representatives of other relevant government agencies and Partners within the district including the Uganda Red Cross Society and relevant NGOs. However, these have been largely inactive and in some cases non-existent.12

Poor implementation of the legal and policy framework: The government’s emphasis on decentralized disaster risk reduction and management was first exhibited in the NDPII and now NDP III which highlights the need to develop and implement robust early warning systems and disaster preparedness plan for resilience building. NDP III does mention the Contingency Fund and its purpose in the event of a disaster among others. Other targets of the plan include the integration of disaster risk reduction and management practices into development planning. Initially, the Contingency Fund was first established in Section 26 of the Public Finance Management Act which has to be replenished every year with an amount equal to 3.5% of the Government’s annual budget. 15% of the Fund is ring-fenced for disaster response and management However to date, the contingency fund has never been operationalized and this explains the ineffectiveness of disaster institutional structures in local governments. Challenges in Local Governments have cornered disaster structures to lose interest and capacity in playing a visible role in responding to disasters in their jurisdictions hence surrendering the roles to CSOs, Central government and international humanitarian agencies.


Local government’s role in dealing with disaster response has been recognized as a key factor to build proactive communities especially in dealing with disaster management because this facilitates local ownership of disaster risk reduction and the local implementation of disaster management strategies in place. Local authorities should have the responsibility of implementing disaster risk reduction and be accountable to the community they represent in doing so.13

Key recommendations

  • The Office of the Prime Minister, through the Directorate of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees should build the capacity of local governments on disaster awareness and creation of contingency plans when disasters occur.
  • Investment in mitigation and prevention and disaster preparedness reduces vulnerabilities and risk exposure at the local government level thus reducing disaster risk. Thus, there is a need to increase public spending on managing disaster risk at the local government level through better planning and coordination within and across sectors and by building disaster risk knowledge through pre-disaster risk assessment.
  • There is a need for the Ministry of Local Government to revitalize the disaster management committees at all local government and administrative units so that they can easily address the various issues of disaster management.
  • Local Governments during their annual planning need to consider developing contingency plans for their districts as well as make budgetary provisions for disaster response.
  1. See link
  2. See link
  3. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  4. Office of the Prime Minister (Government of Uganda). May 2010. Disaster Risk Reduction and Forced Mitigation. Five Year Strategic Plan 2009/10 - 2015/16, Kampala.
  5. Batamuze, Y (2015) Disaster risk governance in eco systems dependent livelihoods exposed to multiple natural hazards in Uganda. In: Companion M.(Ed), Disaster Impact on Livelihood and Cultural survival . CRC Press.pp. 19-36
  6. Job van der Poel. Disaster preparedness: A local Governance Imperative.
  7. ibid
  8. Dae Woong Lee (2019): Local government’s disaster management capacity and disaster resilience, Local Government Studies
  9. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.Local Governments and Disaster Reduction.Good practices and lessons learned.
  10. Sserwadda, B (2011) Disaster preparedness under the decentralization system of governance in Uganda. WIT Transactions on the Built Environment, Vol 119, © 2011 WIT Press.
  11. Jan Maes, Constanza Parra, Kewan Mertens, Bosco Bwambale, Liesbet Jacobs, Jean Poesen, Olivier Dewitte, Liesbet Vranken, Astrid de Hontheim, Clovis Kabaseke, and Matthieu Kervyn. Questioning network governance for disaster risk management: Lessons learnt from landslide risk management in Uganda. Environmental Science and Policy 85(2018) 163-171
  12. Muhwezi, W. W., Mbabazi, J., Kasalirwe, F., Atukunda, P., Ssemakula, E. G., Otile, O. M., Mukwaya, N. R., and Akena, W. (2020). The Performance of the COVID-19 District Task Forces in Uganda: Understanding the Dynamics and Functionality, Kampala, ACODE Policy Research Paper Series No.101.
  13. UN (2010) Local Governments and Disaster Risk Reduction Good Practices and Lessons Learned A contribution to the “Making Cities Resilient” Campaign

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