LANDSLIDES around Mt. Elgon will continue to claim lives if people are not helped to change their perceptions of risk to landslides.
"The landslide will not happen again in my lifetime...God will not let this happen again...it will happen again in 20 years, by then I will be dead already...Womaniala, the rain maker is not here anymore, we are safe" are some of the responses I received from Bududa during a study I carried out in July 2011 for my master thesis.
The study was aimed at understanding how people perceive vulnerability or call it 'risk of death' given that the Government had declared Nametsi and the surrounding areas around Mt. Elgon to be risk prone and unsafe for human settlement yet people continued to settle in these areas.
How do people in Bududa perceive their vulnerability to landslides? How do their perceptions influence their response? It is generally believed that in light of a looming disaster, those who promote and regulate health and safety need to understand how people think about and respond to risk.
This study communicates people's perceptions through 3D GIS maps.
People in Bududa are classifi ed to have either high risk perception, medium risk perception or low risk perception based on their perceived knowledge of causes of landslides, level of risk fear, perceived household safety and willingness to move to safer locations.
In my univariate indicators for derived levels of risk perception, I considered people with high risk perception to be those who are aware of landslides and inherent dangers having witnessed a catastrophic landslide disaster less than two years in the past; are afraid of landslide threats; consider their household to be at risk given the fact that they are living in an area declared to be risk prone and unsafe; and are willing to move to a safer location.
Those considered to have low risk perception were people who are aware of the causes of landslides and the associated dangers but express no fear for landslide threats; continue to believe that their household is safe from future landslides in spite of the Government warnings and declaration of risk prone and unsafe areas; and are not willing to move to safe locations.
Of those interviewed in Bukalasi and Bumayoka sub-counties, 85% were found to have a low risk perception but most important to note was the disconnect between sensitisation efforts and provision of social services to affected communities.
Reviewed reports showed that the 2010 Nametsi landslide buried a government health centre with all its occupants at the time of the disaster, (may their souls rest in peace).
This leads me to ask the question, 'why was this health centre built in that location in the first place?' I think there is need for the Government to lead by example as they warn people about unsafe areas for human settlement.
No social service or facility should be provided in such areas, as this only encourages people to stay. Such services, if located in locations far enough from the risk prone areas, can serve as pull factors to attract people to the safe zones.
The other pitfall was the fact that the disaster management committee in Bududa was found to be inactive at the time of the research.
Officials at the district cited lack of resources as the reason why the committee could not be active on fulltime basis, thus they could only be sanctioned whenever a disaster occurred.
I believe these committees are very important if sensitisation efforts are to be fruitful especially before landslides happen.
The Government needs to commit resources to enable the disaster management committees in all affected districts carryout routine preventative activities at least until majority of the affected populations have been relocated to safer areas.
The writer is a Physical planner and GIS instructor.