UNSW students recently established a new humanitarian engineering project in northern Uganda, in partnership with the Love Mercy Foundation (LMF), a non-profit organisation founded by UNSW Alumni of the Year (2017) Caitlin Barrett almost 10 years ago.

Students are standing in a field talking. They are gathered in a circle with their backs to the camera.
Students speak with agronomists in the field. Credit: DRU

The student-led project, Drought Resistance in Uganda (DRU), aims to combat rising issues of water scarcity and unseasonal drought.  The initiative has been co-designed with LMF, who had identified that the local communities participating in their agricultural livelihoods and women’s empowerment program, Cents for Seeds, are increasingly facing the disruptive impacts of unpredictable weather patterns and drought caused by climate change.  Currently these communities rely on unpredictable rainfall to water their crops, and LMF approached UNSW to help design solutions to provide more reliable supplies of water. 

The team plan to work on three solutions as part of a long-term project: more reliable weather forecasting, irrigation, and drought resilient agricultural practices.

As a first step, the team travelled to rural northern Uganda in November 2019 with the support of Australian Government Endeavor grants sourced by Dr Susanne Schmeidl (School of Social Sciences) and the UNSW Institute for Global Development.  A key goal of this first visit was to install two weather stations, which will enable the collection of more reliable weather data in order to better inform further DRU design decisions. DRU plan to summarize and disseminate this weather data to the community and inform locals of the statistical relations between particular crop growth, rainfall and evapotranspiration. 

Students are installing a tall weather station with locals.
Students install a weather station to gather data. Credit: DRU

Travelling to Uganda provided the team the valuable opportunity to liaise in person with the local farmers and bore hole engineers, gain insights into the Ugandan culture, and explore the complexity of the issues to be addressed through the initiative.  The team have reflected that the visit has greatly enhanced the group’s understanding of the context, informing the trajectory of their future involvement, and helped them gain a better appreciation of the real-life consequences design decisions could have for participating communities.

The DRU project was instigated through participation in the humanitarian engineering program.  It is the third UNSW student-led project to be established with foundations Uganda, following on from the Rice Cycle project (which is now exploring a partnership with Yangon Technological University in Myanmar), and KUA (formerly the Bugisu Project, now an established coffee social enterprise).

About the Author

Alice Hood is a co-founder of Drought Resistance in Uganda (DRU) and is currently studying Civil Engineering and Commerce at UNSW.