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Public Affairs : Cadets conduct Uganda research

Cadets lead research in Uganda
By Amy Richmond Krakowka
Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering

WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 28, 2013) — Ever been somewhere where venturing outside of town could mean a violent death via a lions’ ambush, an elephants’ stampede, or a crocodile’s lunge? Where hard, shriveled skin and exposure to poisonous gases are all part of a day’s work, but an hour’s wage? Where the best primary school around has a one-room library and a small bowl of porridge at lunch? A research team from West Point returning from Uganda has.

Dr. Amy Richmond Krakowka and Maj. Dylan Malcomb, of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, recently traveled with Class of 2014 Cadets Ethan Kindley and James Link, and Class of 2015 Cadets Kyle Okular and Tyler Tingstrom to examine human and environmental connections within Uganda’s Water Sector.

Over the 17-day trip, this interdisciplinary team of engineers and social scientists conducted interviews with international organizations, non-governmental organizations, leading academic institutions and government representatives at the national and district levels. The interviews were often led by the cadets and focused on water vulnerability perspectives, as well as environmental, historical, political and legal issues related to water access and quality.

In addition, visits to several rural villages highlighted the importance of water as the common thread that links everything from agriculture, transhumance, sanitation, government capacity, health and infrastructural development. At the household level, water use, such as cooking and hand washing, is accomplished by carrying containers to the nearest water source, which is often unprotected and unsafe. This is often done by women and girls and frequently over long distances.

Agriculture remains the primary occupation in Uganda, but less than two percent of farmers have irrigation. Most farmers rely on Uganda’s two wet seasons to grow their crops. Recent climate variability has made this more task more difficult. Uganda is currently experiencing an unusually long dry season, which has caused crop yields in districts such as Kamwenge in the west of Uganda to decrease by 70 percent. 
Four U.S. Military Academy cadets and two faculty members from the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering traveled to Uganda for an interdisciplinary research project. The team is photographed with their environmental guide as they stand on the escarpment of the Albertine Rift Valley in Western Uganda. The visit during the dry season meant numerous wildfires were visible in every direction. Courtesy photo
Degradation of environmental resources, to include water, coupled with one of the highest population growth rates in the world, will continue to put Uganda at the forefront of vulnerability research. However, a key finding of this research is that water access and quality issues are not limited to Uganda’s arid regions.

The team discovered that some of the most vulnerable areas included informal settlements in wetland areas where sanitation is a major concern and farms located on the Victoria Nile River where irrigation is forbidden and monitored by the Egyptian government. These areas do not look vulnerable at first glance, yet they are surrounded by water they cannot use—a common discovery in village after village.

This research was made possible by the Army Research Office and DOD Minerva who helped to fund this research through West Point’s Network Science Center.

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