Uganda: Living Dangerously - the Plight of Ntoroko Flood-Affected Families

More than 150 families, part of the 10,000 people who were displaced by the floods two years ago after water levels in Lake Albert rose, are living in a dire condition.

The lives of many locals who have gathered in Kanara Sub-county, Ntoroko District near Lake Albert, are being threatened since the temporal houses erected in water are on the verge of collapsing. The families are also in dire need of food and other essential basic needs.

The unstable houses, made of iron sheets, and reeds are being held by timber poles erected in water, some of which are rotting away and can no longer hold their weight.

Mr Justice Kabagambe,46, a resident of Kamuga Village in Kanara Sub-county, Ntoroko District, one of the affected people, in April last year erected a temporary house above the water after his house that is a few metres away from the shores of Lake Albert, was submerged by floods.

Following the incident, he joined another family whose house was submerged days later. "I decided to build a temporary four-room house where I am staying with my family," he said.

"The family is not sure of a single meal in a day but we get support from friends and well-wishers. My house is not stable and it shakes whenever it gets windy, especially at night, we fear it may collapse," Mr Kabagambe added.

Mr Kabagambe's house is surrounded by 40 others in the same condition. The houses are hard to access and one has to use a boat as a means of transport to visit friends and family members settled away from the flooded area. Similarly, food and other requirements are transported by boat from the dry areas. The operators of the few available boats demand a fee for their services.

There are a few makeshift shops built above the flooded areas. Mr Kabagambe's family is forced to keep indoors since they have no compound.

The communities also lack clean water for domestic use and are forced to draw contaminated water from the lake.

The families lack toilets too and are forced to defecate in the water. "We use the same water to ease ourselves since our toilets and tap stands were submerged," Mr Kabagambe said.

His plight is shared by more than 150 families who have found shelter above the water.

The sub-counties that are mostly affected include Kamuga, Kachwakumu and Rwangara. The affected families are, however, holding on to hope that the government will come to their rescue.

Those who were displaced in 2019 and later in 2020, were first sheltered in nearby schools of Umoja, Rwangara and Kachwakumu, which were later submerged. The floods left homes, shops, schools, gardens and health facilities submerged.

Last year when the State minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Mr Musa Ecweru, and other officials visited the area, local leaders requested government to relocate them to Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve.

Current situation

The chairperson of Kachwakumu Village, Mr Rwaheru Byaruhanga, said while some people sought refuge with friends and family, others have nowhere to go.

He said more than 200,000 houses are still submerged and only rooftops are seen floating on top of water. "People spend days indoors and school-going children have not reported to school because their schools were submerged. Our people have also risked their lives because any time, these makeshift houses may collapse. They will also contract disease because they use contaminated water," Mr Byaruhanga said.

Lack of food

Ntoroko District's main economic activity is fishing and cattle keeping. The livelihood of locals was greatly hit since the floods affected livestock farming.

Accessing health centres is also a big challenge and they have to hire boats to reach Butungama or Rwebisengo sub-county for medical service. The nearby Rwangara Health Centre III was submerged.

Dr James Kato, the officer-in-charge of Rwebisengo Health Centre III, said they have to travel long distances to pick drugs.

Mr Byaruhanga said since 2019, they have been requesting the government to relocate them to Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve.

The chairperson of Kanara Sub-county, Mr Friday Mugiisa, said they have never received any relief food.

"People who are stuck in floods have no food to eat and they have been depending on fish. Last month, the UPDF fishing unit on Lake Albert destroyed all boats after accusing our people of illegal fishing," Ms Mugiisa said.

The Ntoroko County Member of Parliament, Mr Gerald Rwemurikya Ibanda, last year told Daily Monitor that the government had promised to relocate the displaced people and settle them at Tooro Semliki Wildlife Reserve. This has not been fulfilled.

"The acres they are talking about are not enough, but sadly, they haven't been availed to the people," he said.

The acting chairperson of Ntoroko District, Mr Ben Muthahinga, said they recently received some relief items such as beans, posho and blankets from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), which they want to distribute to displaced people.

He said last week, the Minister for Tourism, Mr Tom Butiime, was in the area to discuss the relocation plan.

Mr Butiime confirmed that he visited Rwebisengo Town Council and held a meeting with local leaders and they agreed that Uganda Wildlife Authority reduces the restrictions on cattle keepers so that they can graze their animals in certain parts of the park.

He said the restrictions will only be applicable for farmers who have cattle but not for people who want to construct shelters in the park.

The Tourism boss also said the affected locals are being registered by the sub-county chief and they will soon be allowed to graze in the park.

Mr Julius Muchunguzi, the head of communications at the OPM, said: "The government is in the process of identifying land where the affected people can be relocated to. We have been supporting them with relief food."

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