By Vision Reporters
The desert-like temperatures experienced in most parts of the country for several weeks is giving way to lightning and thunderstorms, but most Ugandans will take long to forget the sweltering heat.
In northern Uganda, bush fires killed at least five people and burnt over 90 huts in four districts. The bush fires are often set by hunters to smoke out wild animals, farmers to clear areas for cultivation and cultivators to cause sprouting of tender grass.
In some cases, the fire starts spontaneously due to methane gas in the soil. Due to dryness of vegetation, the fires often become uncontrollable.
Balbina Acela, a 55-year-old resident of Loyoro village in Paloga sub-county, Lamwo, died a painful death as fire surrounded her while she harvested elephant grass for thatching her house. She had left her marital home due to domestic violence and was building a mud-and-wattle hut at her parents’ home.
The Paloga/Madi Opei Woman LC5 councillor, Sarah Adongkara said the incident occurred on February 26.
Earlier, two other people are said to have been killed by bush fires in Lamwo district, according to the Police.
The district Police commander, Seguya Kimera, said at least 60 huts in the district have been ruined by bush fires. In addition, Lamwo suffers from load-shedding because electric poles were burnt down by bush fires. Most of the bush fire suspects arrested by the Police are released due to lack of concrete evidence.
Bush fire in Agago district spread through villages leaving some people homeless after their huts were burnt down
Lamwo district chairman Mathew Akiya said the bush fires are hindering the resettlement of people displaced by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army a few years ago.
“Their huts have been destroyed and they are settling under trees. Even the grass they would use for building new huts has been burnt,” Akiya said.
In Wao Central village in Amida sub-county, Kitgum district, a 25-year-old, Grace Acayo, was taking a nap when a bush fire invaded her hut and burnt her to death. A minor who was with her in the hut escaped with some injuries. Acayo and the minor were both nodding disease victims. The incident occurred at about 2:00pm on February 24.
Authorities have often warned the public against bush burning, but the practice continues unabated. Across the northern region, grasslands have been left bare, making the land susceptible to erosion.
Patrick Onyanga, the Otuke district forestry officer, said shifting cultivators were unwittingly burning bushes to clear the land for the new season, yet the practice gets rid of some plant and animal species. He said even wetlands have been seriously affected by burning.
“Over 60% of the bush lands in the entire district here has been affected by burning. Though we are trying to sensitise them through community development, officers and other development partners like CARE International, the response is very low,” Onyanga said.
In Nwoya, the district Police commander, Moses Okello, said a five-year-old child was killed in a fire that burnt four huts in Anaka town council. Along the Karuma-Pakwach highway, an accident occurred as a result of smoke caused by a bush fire.
“We have also been able to prosecute two people who set fire but failed to control it in Alero sub-county,” said Okello.
In Gulu, the OC CID, James Asubu, reported that at least 10 huts were burnt down. He said one person has been arrested and prosecuted for setting fire and failing to control it.
In Tororo, farmers complain of damage to their crops. Max Mamai Odeke of Asinge village, Malaba town council said he injected about sh200,000 to prepare land and sow millet. Some little rain came in early February and the millet germinated, but the sprouting crop was scorched by the sun. Tororo has been one of the hottest districts in February.
Mary Nyaketcho of Nyakesi village in Rubongi sub-county, Tororo, explained that her entire one acre of potatoes has become rotten due to excessive heat.
Nyaketcho says as a result, food shortage is likely to hit her family. She adds that water has become scarce as some of the natural springs have dried up.
Remains of property which was burnt by bush fire in Agago district recently
Christiano Emoi of Asinge village in Malaba says he always travels five kilometers to River Malaba with his cattle in search of water, after the Nyalakot stream near his home dried up. His cows have also reduced their milk production due to shortage of water and pasture.
Business has also suffered. Beatrice Anya of Dot Spot Internet Café and Documentation Bureau said the dust turned away customers and increased the cost of maintaining computers.
However, Denis Adiye, a brick baker, was happy with the dry season, saying it enabled him to make more money.
In the Mt. Elgon region, coffee trees shed off their buds, struck down flowers and plants withered. Anna Grace Namono, a coffee farmer in Bubyangu sub-county in Mbale district, on Thursday said pests have also become more prevalent due to the dry season.
Hours after she spoke to Sunday Vision, the skies opened up.
Joseph Werikhe, the UCDA eastern regional co-ordinator confirmed that the drought had increased the existence of the antestia bug that attacks the coffee flowers causing flower abortion, a condition where flowers fail to progress to fruition.
Along the Tororo-Mbale-Soroti road that is undergoing construction, people residing along the route complain that the drought has increased the dust. The shops and persons residing along the route have been coated in brown, often spoiling merchandise.
In Karamoja, pasture and water have become scarce as wind, dust and extreme heat took control.
“Now animals have to be moved several kilometres to access grass and water,” says Kidon Onyang, an elder.
Herdsmen have migrated with their cattle to areas that have water and pasture.
In Bugiri, many families have to move for kilometres in search of usable water. Women spend hours queuing at boreholes. Some of the boreholes have dried up.
“You have to line up for a long time and when you get there, it takes 10 minutes to fill one jerrycan,” said Sumaya Nantale, a mother with two children strapped to her back. The nearest functional borehole is three kilometres from her home.
The mayor Bugiri, Saul Baliraine, said power fluctuation has worsened the water problem as the town council cannot afford to buy fuel for the generator at Bugondadala main water pump. He says electricity goes off for over 10 hours daily.
Finally, the skies have opened, but in some places, violent rains have brought tears. On Thursday afternoon, lightning struck dead a 15-year-old pupil of Makhayi Primary School in Busoba sub-county, Mbale district. The boy, Derrick Mujasi, was the son of James Mwaka, a resident of Nakisaka village, Bunambutye parish in Nyondo sub-county.
Elgon region Police spokesperson Diana Nandawula said two other pupils, Paul Wanzala and Enos Waniala who were together with the deceased, suffered minor injuries and received medical treatment at a nearby clinic before returning to their homes.
On the same day, lightning set ablaze a hostel at St. Peter Claver Secondary School in Muyembe, Bulambuli Town Council. According to Bulambuli district Police commander Johnson Bahimbise, at the time of the lightning strike, only one boy who was sick was in the hostel, but managed to escape as the fire gutted the building, reducing students’ property to ashes.
The incident occurred at about 2.30pm when the students were attending afternoon lessons.
In Bukomansimbi district, lighting struck dead a teacher at Kyabagoma Muslim Primary School and injured eight other people, including pupils.
In Hoima municipality, at least nine students and a teacher were injured when wind blew off a roof at Albert Senior Secondary school during a thunderstorm on Friday evening. Students of S2 and S4 were affected. The injured were rushed to Hoima Regional Referral Hospital. Some of them were still in the hospital’s emergency ward by 7:00pm.
The storm destroyed several other buildings in Hoima Municipality, including a residential building at the Police barracks and a library block at Hoima Nursing School.
Reporting by Wokorach Oboi, Bonney Odongo, Daniel Edyegu, Faustine Odeke, Cornes Lubangakene, Olandason Wanyama, Moses Bikala, Joseph wanzusi, Robert Atuhairwe and Dismus Buryegeya