TRAGEDY has once again hit the people living on the slopes of Mt Elgon. Over 50 people are feared to have been killed by landslides that swept through four villages in Bulucheke sub-county, Bududa district on Monday.
The landslide that occurred at 2:00pm followed torrential rains that pounded the area on Saturday and Sunday, completely destroying and burying homes, killing scores of people and displacing hundreds of them.
According to Phoebe Lubango, the sub-county woman councilor of Bumwalukani and Bushiyi parishes, the heavy rains washed a huge amount of soil down the mountain. She said so far, 18 homes had been buried by the landslide, "we can not establish the exact number of people who were killed.
We also do not know the fate of the children who had gone to the school in the affected area." She added that the residents had ignored advice to vacate after experts confirmed cracks on some of the mountain slopes.
Some authorities in the region have expressed fear that this time round, the landslides may be more severe than the ones that occurred in 2010. In March 1, 2010, landslides swept through three villages in Nametsi in Bududa, killing over 100 people and displacing hundreds of survivors who through the government initiative were relocated to Kiryandongo district.
Unfortunately most of these survivors have decided to return to their ancestral sites despite the government warnings. Those who have settled down in Kiryandongo reportedly still need a lot of government support in terms of foodstuff and other necessities. Recently some of them while in search of food were reported to have seriously engaged in a fight over mango fruits with other settlers in Kiryandongo.
Those cut by machetes were hospitalized. To avoid such unfortunate occurrences, community leaders need to carefully guide different families on how to access some of the resources in the area.
I would suggest that the government through the ministry disaster preparedness revisits her disaster initiated programmes and compile a comprehensive plan which may at this critical time make a provision to forcefully and convincingly resettle the affected families from the potential dangerous landslide corridors.
It is important for the authorities and experts to cooperate with the locals and map out the 'landslide death traps' which are potentially threatening lives on the slopes of Mount Elgon and then sensitize the affected families on the way forward. The authorities should in this case lay emphasis on family planning methods, modern agricultural farming techniques, hard work and improved educational standards in all households.
These measures most likely will in future lessen the burden of resettlement exercise. It is very easy for the government to relocate and provide for a family of three compared to a man loaded with three wives and fifteen to twenty children, knowing that polygamous families produce out of competition and insecurity. Every woman will want to make a strong statement in a home and community.
It is also very possible to relocate households which have attained some form of educational skills as compared to those with none who may end up fighting over mangoes and wild fruits in the bush as in the case of Kiryandongo instead of contributing to the welfare of the community and the nation.
The historical trends of landslides in the region should provide enough evidence in future for the government to draw strategic resettlement plan. For instance, in 1997, a landslide killed 16 people in Nametsi. In 1972 in Bufumi village about 200 metres away from Nametsi village, a landslide then killed about 100 people during a circumcision ceremony.
Bushiyi has a history of devastating landslides, so are places like Bumabono, Bufuma, Bubita, Buwali, Bushika, Bumayoka, Bumakuma, Bundesi, and Bumasata which are landslide prone zones. There is no doubt that the slopes of Mt Elgon are proving to be very dangerous for human habitation.
They should instead be gazetted for farming and other economic activities like tree planting and tourism. For ancestral attachments, they can still serve as burial sites.
The 40 km-split which was reported in the aftermath of March 2010 and August 2011 landslides could be threatening about 8000 residents in eight sub-counties on the slopes of Mt Elgon, a likely unforgettable tragedy in the history of disaster. Lives will be lost affecting the political and socio-economic structures should the government delay to take necessary measures.
The crack runs through the sub-counties of Mukoto, Tsekululu, Buwabwala, Bukhabusi, Bupoto, Namabya, Bumbo and Bukokho. The affected residents should know this pending tragedy may hit any time of the day while they go about their business or they may be swept away in their sleep at night.
The way forward is for them to cooperate with the government early enough in order to lessen the burden of relocation exercise. In this season of circumcision, the youths should be told to exercise discipline and moral restraint to avoid circumcision madness which is another form of landslide devastation.
Writer is the Western Regional Overseer, Pentecostal Assemblies of God