The Independent (Kampala)

8 July 2012

Uganda: Caught Unprepared, Again

As they wait to bury their loved ones and perform final rituals for the dead, survivors on the Bududa landslide are staying with relatives or in temporary camps.

Many are waiting to be relocated to safer areas.

Bududa District Chairperson John Baptist Nambeshe told The Independent they know of no such plan.

Nambeshe says initially the district did not want to put people in camps because of the challenges experienced in 2010 with poor sanitation and hygiene, including a cholera outbreak, but there were not enough relatives and friends to take in survivors. As crowding around the site of the landslide increased with the delay in recovering the dead, concerns were growing over poor hygiene and the risk of a cholera outbreak.

Minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, Stephen Malinga, said at a recent press briefing that people had refused to move because they did not want to leave their fertile land and homes. But Nambeshe told The Independent that while this was true in 2010, it is not anymore as most people are ready to move after seeing landslides for three consecutive years bury people around them.

Unfortunately, government has failed to prepare for relocation.

The Commissioner for Disaster Management in the Office of the Prime Minister, Martin Owor, said the plan had been to relocate all 400,000 people living in at-risk areas on the slopes of Mt Elgon.

Appearing on a local television show, Owori said the plan would cost an estimated Shs 15 billion, moving 10,000 people every year. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Finance did not allocate funds for it last financial year nor the current one.

The government's plan is that when money is allocated, people would be transferred to Kiryandongo District, but people are reluctant to go there as the ones relocated there in 2010 are said to still be without sufficient accommodation and food.

Nambeshe said the district had recommended that modern housing estates be constructed in the town councils to accommodate the people moving out of at-risk areas, but the central government says there is no money for this.

Mbale Municipality MP Jack Wamanga said government should buy land in the low lands of Bunabutye so that people are not moved too far from their ancestral lands and communities, where they could grow food.

"If there are proper plans, this can be achieved and will not necessitate the movement of people to foreign lands," Nambeshe said.

An estimated 45 people were buried alive and 15 reported missing on June 25 when a landslide rolled over four villages of Bunakasala, Bunamulembwa, Mabaya and Walwanyi in Bumwalukani Parish, Bulucheke Sub County, Bududa District. 15 homesteads were buried by the afternoon disaster.

Nambeshe says, the number of causalities would have been higher had it not been a market day when most residents were away from home and some children were at school.

Justine Khainza, the Woman MP for the district says unlike in 2010 when the area was experiencing heavy rains, the June landslide came in a relatively dry season and caught residents by surprise.

Only a few bodies had been retrieved by the weekend, due to delay in delivering earth-moving equipment, and Nambushe said they are considering turning the area into a mass grave.

This would add trauma to survivors who expect to find comfort in burying their dead, but may be the most logical choice. Four days of digging with hoes, pick axes and rakes - even with the help of soldiers, police and Red Cross - had yielded little. The heavy equipment came too late.

Government warned

Wamanga said it was unfortunate as government had been warned by geologists about an impending disaster as cracks emerged on the mountain's slopes, but did nothing. Even when it happened, government dragged its feet coming to the rescue, the ministers' presence offering no comfort without the earth-moving equipment needed to recover bodies of the dead.

The lack of funds for relocation has intensified the community's feeling of alienation, as government's unpreparedness is now interpreted as disregard.

Cabinet approved a new policy for Disaster Management and Preparedness in April 2011, in line with Article 249 of the constitution, which demands action to end intolerable and persistent loss of life, suffering and disruption of economic activity by disasters.

Yet, the policy has not translated into preparedness. On average more than 200,000 Ugandans are affected every year by disasters including landslides, floods and drought, particularly in the Karamoja region.

In 2008, drought affected over 750,000. In 2010, landslides were experienced in districts including Bududa, Kabarole, Kisoro, and some villages in Katteebwa Sub-county, Bunyangabo County, on the slopes of Mt. Rwenzori. In Bududa, the landslides killed at least 90 people and over 300 were reported to be missing.

As the rains intensify, up to 400,000 people are likely to be displaced in the Mt. Elgon area. Bududa, Mbale, Sironko, Manafwa, Kapchorwa, Bukwo, all on the slopes of Mt. Elgon, are at risk. Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Kasese, Kyenjojo, areas of Mt. Rwenzori, Kisoro, Kabale, Kanungu, Ntungamo and Rukungiri are also at risk.

Nambeshe hopes that government can find money to move his people to safer places before the next landslide rolls down the slope.

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