Analysing the implications of COVID-19 pandemic on vegetation conditions and resource utility in Kasese District.
Malinga, Aggrey Augustine
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In Uganda, there is paucity of studies addressing the effects of Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on the environment, however, a knowledge gap still exists on what the effects were on vegetation, especially for the rural and disaster prone ecosystems. Putting into context both the ecological and socioeconomic responses, the gist of this study was to assess the implications of the pandemic on vegetation conditions and utility of vegetation resources in Kasese District. A mixed approach constituting of both longitudinal and cross-sectional designs was employed to realize the objectives of the study. Vegetation conditions before and during the COVID-19 period were assessed using time series Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectro-radiometer (MODIS) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data for the period 2002-2021. To distinguish human activities from climate-induced signatures, precipitation data for Kasese District for the period of 2002-2021 was also used. A Breaks for Additive Season and Trend (BFAST) analysis was conducted to detect any abrupt changes in vegetation conditions and precipitation during the COVID-19 period. To analyse the household utility of vegetation resources before and during the pandemic period, a household survey was conducted. To evaluate the effect of COVID-19 on disaster and environmental management, Focus Group Discussions and Key Informant interviews were carried out and complemented by the household survey. Results show that no breakpoints were identified in the NDVI and precipitation trends during the COVID-19 period. This implies that the pandemic did not significantly alter the vegetation conditions in Kasese District. With P-Value = 0.6013, there was no significant difference between the total usage of vegetation products before and during the pandemic. Apart from medicinal herbs, all the other individual vegetation products did not have a significant change in their usage during the pandemic period. Results also show that the attention given to COVID-19 management in Kasese left a vacuum in the management of the re-current natural hazards. The pandemic and its restrictions did not directly change the rate of environmental detoriation in Kasese district but generated some environmental management challenges. From the study, I recommend further research to understand the exact medicinal herbs that were being used, how they were harvested and utilized in Kasese district during the pandemic. I also recommend the establishment, activation and maintenance of multi-disaster response and management structures to handle co-occurrence of multiple disasters including natural and bio-hazards rather than handling them separately.