KAMPALA – The United Nations Development Programme – UNDP and Joshua Cheptegei – a three-time 10,000m World champion from 2019, 2022 and 2023 on Friday launched the UNDP Elgon Half Marathon.
This is intended to amplify the need for climate action and biodiversity conservation in the Rwenzori Mountains following the rapid loss of glaciers which have resulted in destructive floods coupled with a pattern of less frequent but heavier rainfall.
Through this marathon, UNDP intends to create awareness of the urgent need for decisive global-scale climate action and the conservation of the Rwenzori Mountain ranges’ unique biodiversity.
The Marathon will also diversify Uganda’s tourism offer, broaden community participation in the tourism value chain, and ultimately elevate Uganda’s development agenda.
Speaking at the launch at the National Forestry Authority – NFA, Bugolobi, UNDP Uganda, Resident Representative, Ms. Elsie Attafuah noted that the region is endowed with a varied landscape with rich biodiversity and diverse cultural heritage, including the fourth highest peak in East Africa, Mount Elgon National Park and extensive transboundary conservation area which calls for its conservation in order to remain productive to the nation.
“However, many communities that live around the Elgin region, the onset of rain often spells disaster for them. This is so because when the rains come pounding on the slopes, they trigger catastrophic mudslides, landslides and destructive floods in the low planes that destroy homesteads and affect the livelihoods of many communities – becoming more frequent to the degradation of the mountain ecosystem by human activity which has resulted in climate change and biodiversity.”
“Mountain ecosystems provide various ecosystem services and products that support real unique biodiversity and shape climate systems. They are also formed to great cultural diversity among people adapted to the challenges of mountain lives and are important water towers and sources of subsistence forest products,” she added.
Ms. Attafuah says that much as mountains have long been attractive to tourism destinations, this potential remains largely unexploited tourism source in Uganda.
“As UNDP and our partners, we are convinced that tourism is really a labor-intensive sector with multiple links across the economic value chain and this (marathon) represents an opportunity to uplift local communities and stimulate socio-economic growth.”
“I commit that under my leadership, UNDP will continue to partner with us all to enable Uganda attain a more inclusive and sustainable future for people and for clients.”
Cheptegei is optimistic that the marathon will be a race that will address different challenges faced by planet Earth.
“As you can see, everyone can smell it from your locality from where we are. It is getting hotter and hotter every day; what are we doing? So it is for this reason that we need to awaken and champion this course. Furthermore, this will promote sports tourism, attracting athletes.”
“So, I’m proud to stand here today not just as a world champion but as an ambassador for youth empowerment, sports tourism and the climate action agenda. Together we can champion sustainability and advocate for a greener future for generations to come.”
“Therefore, I implore all the corporates to join us in this noble cause,” he concluded.
Basil Ajer, Director for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities at the Ministry of Tourism commended UNDP, Joshua Cheptegei, and all for the move, noting that there is a need to diversify different products if the country is to increase the benefits of tourism.
“We have come up with a policy to support the long-term engagement of different aspects of sports,” he revealed.
To mention, he noted that there are athletes who are already on the payroll of the Uganda Wildlife Authority which is all intended to support them.
“We are going to be having different academies and people like Cheptegei to encourage the young people so that they come to this area.”
He also called for the conservation of natural resources and deterring cases of encroachment onto ranges of the mountains, leading to biodiversity loss.
For instance, Mr. Ajer blamed the recent heavy rains that caused the loss of lives in the region on the encroachment and failure to conserve the resources.
“We need to work collectively beyond the marathon. You cannot have a marathon; you cannot conserve the areas when you cannot access them.”