By John B. Thawite
A multi-sectoral surveillance team has been set up to constantly monitor and immediately send alerts on the weather patterns in the Rwenzori Mountains.
The team, led by Kasese District Police Commander, Michael Sabila Musani, comprises the Uganda Wildlife Authority, (UWA), the army and top district technical and political authorities.
“UWA operatives are stationed in the Rwenzori Mountains from where they keep on sending us alert messages about the situation of the rivers,” Godfrey Kabyanga, Mayor Kasese Municipal Council and member of the team, said.
He said the arrangement was used to alert the residents in the district, especially along the major floods rivers Nyamwamba, Nyamugasani, Lhubiriha and Rwimi to keep away and move to higher areas.
“We urge the residents to keep their radios on 24 hours for any updates from our surveillance team,” he said.
The DPC said police was using the Police tactical command centre of the District Disaster Technical Committee to implement the operation.
Kasese has been hit by a wave of floods, the worst being those of the first week of May last year and those of 8th this month in which a total of 15 people have died, hundreds displaced and property, including infrastructure, crops and livestock worth billions of shillings, has been lost.
A deserted ward at Kilembe Hospital after fears that River Nyamwamba would overflow again. Photo by John Thawite
Floods waters flow beneath the newly repaired Katiri Bridge in Kilembe. Photo by John Thawite
Seven people died and about 700 households (with about 5,000 people) displaced when rivers Nyamwamba, Nyamughasani, Lubiriha, Mubuku and Rwimi burst their banks following heavy rains in the Rwenzori Mountains.
Kasese 'bombed', President Museveni
Commenting on the trail of destruction along River Nyamwamba valley in Kilembe and downstream during his assessment tour to the area, on May 14, President Museveni compared it to the destruction caused by a bomb.
“It is as if a foreign military aircraft came and dropped bombs on Kilembe valley,” the President said while addressing a public rally at Bulembia Division headquarters in Kasese Municipality.
The President blamed the recurrent floods on interference with River Nyamwamba by the former Kilembe Mines managers and poor land use by the residents, likening the neighbouring mountains to shaved heads which cannot hold water.
Kilembe Mines Ltd was started in the late 1950s by Canadian companies, Frobisher and Falconbridge of Africa decided to construct offices, workshops, housing estates and other infrastructure within this vast Nyamwamba valley while they carried out economic mining at Kilembe.
President Museveni inspected the damage caused by the floods after River Nyamwamba burst its banks leaving scores displaced. PPU Photo
“When they diverted it, they created an artificial bank. And because of the confusion in governance that Uganda had at that time, the company went away. It seems when the company went away, it didn’t properly hand over to the ministry which has been looking after Kilembe.
Consequently that ministry has not been marinating the artificial bank which was built by that company,” he said.
Pledging to have the destroyed infrastructure repaired and the river tames, the president directed the Works and Environment ministries to write a detailed report on the requirements.
But he also challenged the residents to play their role in protecting the Rwenzori by rehabilitating the environment which they have destroyed, saying, “but this (floods) should serve as a warning to all of us.”
Two newborn babies aged two and four days respectively, a 77-year-old all admitted at Kilembe hospital at the on-set of the current floods, died during a stampede as health workers, patients and their caretakers were evacuating the hospital.
Little Matthias Bwambale fled the floods saying he did not know where his parents had gone. Photo by John Thawite
A resident of Kanyaruboga village in Kilembe attempts to escape after water surrounded his house. Photo by John Thawite
Later at St Paul’s Health Centre IV where some of the patients had been relocated, a 7 month pregnant mother died.
On Friday May 15, another patient, who had been evacuated to the health centre in critical condition but was referred to Kilembe after the hospital re-opened, died on arrival there.
A resident of Masule village in Kilembe, drowned in a river in the area while another man in Maliba on hearing that Kilembe Hospital was flooding again, died of shock.
Kilembe Mines Ltd suffered a second blow when the fresh floods felled nearly all the company’s infrastructure and destroyed vital records and equipment as well as the water and electricity supply.
Relief trickles in
Since the floods temporarily subsided the district disaster team has borrowed excavators to clear the heavy boulders and other debris that have chocked River Nyamwamba and re-direct it to its original course.
Stranded residents ponder their next move after their homes were flooded. Photo by John Thawite
Kilembe Hospital administrator Sister Teopista looks dejected oustide the hospital after the floods struck. Photo by John Thawite
“Various well-wishers, including Mukwano Group of Companies, Unicef, the Office of the Prime Minister, Kasese Municipal Council, Hima Cement Factory, have donated assorted food and non-food items,” Wilson Asaaba, the Assistant Chief Administrative Officer and disaster focal person, told the media Friday.
Other relief aid, Asaaba said, has also come from the Chinese-owned Tibet Hima Mining Company Ltd, the Uganda Red Cross Society and Kasese Nail and Wood Industries.
But as Alex Kwatampora, a mining engineering geologist and project manager of Tibet-Hima Mining Company as well as Speaker of Kasese Municipal Council, warns that unless the floods in the Rwenzori region are handled strategically, many efforts and resources might continue running down the drain.
“Good Geo-environmental management practices must be effected and the local governments should not underestimate the devastating effects that may arise due to further floods, excessive soil erosions, earthquake occurrences and landslides,” he says.
Causes of River Nyamambwa floods
Sand mining poses risk to Kasese’s largest river
Works on Nyamwamba river start after flood disaster