Is Uganda ready to handle disasters?

The rains that swept across Uganda Monday afternoon left devastating effects. While the press showed images of the flooded capital, Kampala, more chilling pictures emerged of the mudslides in Bududa, a region in eastern Uganda. Located on the slopes of Mount Elgon along the Uganda-Kenya border, Bududa is a fertile area, but vulnerable to disaster. ...

© Contributor/IRIN
© Contributor/IRIN
© Contributor/IRIN

The rains that swept across Uganda Monday afternoon left devastating effects. While the press showed images of the flooded capital, Kampala, more chilling pictures emerged of the mudslides in Bududa, a region in eastern Uganda.

Located on the slopes of Mount Elgon along the Uganda-Kenya border, Bududa is a fertile area, but vulnerable to disaster. Extensive pressure on the environment from human encroachment is manifesting negative results: Mudslides occur whenever there are heavy rains. The area first made news with the landslides of 2010, when over 350 people died and many others were injured and displaced.

While the government estimated that half a million people would be relocated following the 2010 disaster, only 3,500 residents were transferred to Kiryandongo in western Uganda, more famously known for refugee settlement camps. Some migrated but many refused to leave the area, citing it is their ancestral land as well as a very fertile area.

The rains that swept across Uganda Monday afternoon left devastating effects. While the press showed images of the flooded capital, Kampala, more chilling pictures emerged of the mudslides in Bududa, a region in eastern Uganda.

Located on the slopes of Mount Elgon along the Uganda-Kenya border, Bududa is a fertile area, but vulnerable to disaster. Extensive pressure on the environment from human encroachment is manifesting negative results: Mudslides occur whenever there are heavy rains. The area first made news with the landslides of 2010, when over 350 people died and many others were injured and displaced.

While the government estimated that half a million people would be relocated following the 2010 disaster, only 3,500 residents were transferred to Kiryandongo in western Uganda, more famously known for refugee settlement camps. Some migrated but many refused to leave the area, citing it is their ancestral land as well as a very fertile area.

Mudslides have claimed high casualties in the past two years. We have seen them before, and the government has had enough time to seriously put in place a strategy to handle this type of disaster. So why is the scale of destruction repeated? Why is there no strategy to limit the impeding disasters, rather than simply responding to them? Why is there no early warning system in place?

Ugandan netizens have started a campaign to raise funds for these displaced people. How long will the private sector be obliged to intervene in what should be the responsibility of the government? There is a ministry to handle  disasters, but how capable is it?

A local paper reports that the government did not heed warnings of the impending disaster.

"The mudslides were always an accident waiting to happen. Last month, Mount Elgon Conservation Manager, Adonio Bintora, warned of an impending disaster after he discovered that a crack on the mountain slopes stretching 40km had become 40km longer and widened from 30cm to 35cm.

It runs from Lwakhakha River at the Kenyan border in Manafwa district to Bennet in Kween district. Its depth of five metres also meant that the lives of the three million people that dot the Elgon zone area were endangered.

Bintora said the renewed encroachment of the Mount Elgon forest reserve was to blame for the lengthening and widening of the crack. He urged the government to declare the Elgon slopes high-risk disaster spots. The steepness of the area makes the area not tenable for human habitation. The government yesterday seemed to heed Bintora’s advice, albeit belatedly."

We need to think beyond emergency response. Perhaps ICT students come up with a mobile app that can warn residents of impending disasters…

You can follow Jackee on Twitter at @jackeebatanda.

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