The Monitor (Kampala)

Uganda: Landslides - The Curse Around Mt. Elgon

opinion

They all went to sleep just like it was any other night but the next morning, many families were less by one person or many people. A mudslide had changed their lives forever.

Many people move slowly through the remains of their gardens, now covered by the mudslide in the seemingly abandoned places.

Some pause for a few minutes by the big stones that rolled down Namwidisi hill at the slopes of Mt Elgon in Kimuli village, Mabono parish, Sisiyi sub-county. Others walk past, seemingly unmindful of what befell people's houses.

A woman comes wailing from a distance. She is being consoled by others who are walking with her. Although Ms Anna Nabuduwa survived the mudslide after her house was demolished, her two children and relatives were all buried under the rubble.

The buried Kimuli village, that is located under a cliff on the lower part of Mt Elgon looks at a distance, like a freshly dug garden ready for planting. You will only notice that there was a mudslide when you see the remains of mattresses, iron sheets and old mud and wattle debris scattered everywhere.

Except for these and some clothes in the gardens as well as other debris scattered everywhere, everything has been buried. The surroundings look like an abandoned place with no crops.

When Daily Monitor approaches Mr Jacob Nasami, a local council one chairperson in Kimuli village and a survivor of the devastating mudslide, he says, "We had all gone to bed and were deep asleep. After the rains reduced, I heard a sound like that of a bomb and all of a sudden, mud and stones started rolling. I woke up my family and we went outside and stayed there in case anything happened to the house. When we came back, we found everything buried. I don't know what will happen next. We are stuck, there is no food. The gardens and crops were all buried by the mudslides. We will undoubtedly need relief food throughout as we mourn the dead," Mr. Nasami says.

Nasami, says the greatest problem that remains unresolved is hunger and the daunting task of recovering those buried under the rubble.

As I move towards the centre of this devastated area, a woman, Angella Mwambu 29, is wailing alone. She gets onto her knees and points at the place on the ground under which she suspects her children are buried. Then she starts using her hands to try to retrieve the bodies.

"My child is gone, buried oh God!" Mwambu cries again and then starts to yell as she raises her head.

The bodies buried seem to be mostly those of children. There is one of an unidentified old man. There is also a pair of severed limbs of varied sizes while at a close distance a body of another person sticks out.

Armed with spades, pickaxes and in some cases bare hands, the rescuers lift or crash stones and scoop the mound of wet soil. They seem to be losing hope.

LCV councilor for Sisiyi sub-county Mr. Namwata Nagimesi, 79, says the absence of fork lifts and graders or other heavy machinery to blast or remove huge rocks has let them down adding that they have so far recovered 16 bodies.

"We would have loved to give our people a decent burial but our hopes are fading. The ground is getting hard as the rocks have covered the bodies and there are no hopes of getting better equipment," said he says.

The LCV chairman Mr. Simon Wananzofu says, "Despair, hopelessness and helplessness are the three words that can describe the feelings of the people in Kimuli village after the mudslides buried 43 people in separate places."

He said the landslides have also destroyed houses, domestic animals and birds and peoples' crops sending people deeper into poverty.

As sad as the situation is, perhaps the residents should have seen it coming. Uganda Wildlife Authority says that the massive encroachment at Mt Elgon National Park coupled with deforestation and poor farming methods signalled an environmental disaster in the surrounding areas but the people never heeded to the advice given to them to leave the park.

"We knew there would be an environmental catastrophe because of encroachment on this mountain which had seen the water catchment belt at Mt Elgon destroyed thereby posing great danger of mudslides. And there is more trouble in the waiting as it continues raining. The people must vacate the areas," Mt Elgon area conservation manager Mr Adonia Bintorwa says.

He says the local residents of the neighbouring villages Mabono, Masabasi, Nakidibo and Bumwidisi should relocate out of the affected areas and other places were the landslide is threatening to occur again.

As the local council leaders give their advice, people keep digging the ground, hoping against hope that they shall find the bodies of their loved ones.

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