By Carolyne Muyama
On Thursday, October 11, landslides buried people in Bukalasi sub-County in Bududa district after heavy rains. By evening, over 30 people were confirmed dead, but the search is still on. Continuous heavy rains caused the flooding of River Suume, which swept away people and destroyed homes and property.
Bududa has always experienced landslides, but the most severe one happened in March, 2010 in Nametsi. Over 300 people were buried under the soil and many bodies weren't recovered from the rabble despite all the efforts by the Government and other players. Many term this Nametsi area a mass grave because of the bodies that lie buried under the soil.
In an effort to avoid a similar occurrence the Government relocated the people from landslide prone areas of Bududa to Kiryandongo district. Surprisingly, some stubbornly refused to relocate saying they would rather die in their homes. It is not surprising that some that went came back claiming the land in Kiryandongo isn't as fertile as theirs in Bududa.
Landslides are a natural phenomenon that occurs predominantly in mountainous areas. According to a Geological Survey of Finland 2014 Report, landslides are normally triggered by long lasting rainfalls and unfavourable conditions such as high slope angles, loss of vegetation cover, unfavourable geological structures, rock types or soil types.
Mt. Elgon slopes have been deforested for agriculture; therefore, slopes are no longer stable. In Uganda, landslides prone districts are Kabale, Mbarara, Rukungiri, Kasese, Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Bushenyi, Kanungu, Kapchwora, Sironko and Mbale and indeed they experience landslides time and again although not as frequently and as severe as Bududa does.
Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) announced mid-September as the onset of seasonal rainfall and indeed the rains are here. This month is the peak of the rainfall and the rains end in November or around early December. Areas announced to receive excess rainfall are Bududa, Bulambuli, Bundibudyo, Kasese, Kabale, Rubanda and Kisoro, which are mountainous areas and landslide prone.
There is a fully fledged regional and international climate forum of scientists concerned with reviewing the prevailing and expected state of the global climate systems and their implications on the performance of seasonal rainfall over east African region. This forum works in collaboration with international fora like the World Meteorological Organisation based in Geneva. This forum is called the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum and is co-ordinated by Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.
The fiftieth Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF50) met in Kigali Rwanda in August to provide consensus seasonal climate outlook for the months of October, November and December (OND) for guidance to reduce climate-related risks in support of key socioeconomic sectors and resilience building for sustainable development and provide a regional interaction platform for decision makers, climate scientists, research scientists as well as users of climate information.
Uganda, as a member of CHACOF, participated fully and gained from a wealth of ideas and good practices shared at the forum. And indeed shortly after this forum, a detailed weather forecast was compiled by Uganda National Meteorological Authority and shared with the media.
The UNMA called upon district authorities to update their contingency plans for better co-ordination in case of any weather and climate disaster that might occur during this season. Areas of
Teso always suffers floods that destroy crops and property and some cases lives are lost.
Communities were advised to construct proper drainage, open drainage channels to avoid flash floods and water logging and local leaders to mobilise communities to clear the possible water drainage areas and encourage tree planting along riverbanks and clear water pathways to avoid silting.
All these suggestions are welcome, but can the people afford these mitigations? Who is following up to ensure that the contingency plans are in place and updated? What channels are these messages being passed through, who do they target?
The Government should keenly monitor and evaluate some of these programmes and how they are handled. Coming up with these smart suggestions is not enough when they are not yielding desired results.
For the case of Bududa, warnings are always issued and the people know when danger is coming and yet they continue to die in big numbers while the Government continues to send relief to the affected communities and the same repeats every other season. The Government needs to take a firm decision to forcefully relocate all the people in affected areas or more lives will be lost.
This is an issue that needs to be handled carefully yet firmly otherwise people will continue to die, if we continue to do things in the same way.