Following unusually heavy torrential rains, several parts of the country have been ravaged by floods, Teso region being the worst-hit. The New Visionâ€™s Els De Temmerman, interviewed the State Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Musa Ecweru, on the Governmentâ€™s response
QUESTION: Which areas have been the most affected by the floods?
ANSWER: The epicenter is in Teso region, particularly the districts of Katakwi and Amuria. The River Kirik, which is called River Moroto once it enters Lango region and River Aswa in Acholiland, has burst its banks. This has caused bridges to be washed away and roads to be submerged all over eastern and northern Uganda.
QUESTION: Why is Teso the worst hit?
ANSWER: Whereas the other areas have been cut off from markets and services, the Teso region has experienced real flooding. The sub-counties in Katakwi that border Karamoja-Magoro, Ngariam and Ongongoja-are the worst. The two access roads there have flooded, leaving them cut off from the rest of the country. In addition, most people there are still displaced. So the floods found them in the camps. In Amuria district, the worst affected sub-counties are Acowa, Kapelebyong, Obalanga, Wera and Abarilela. Two of them, Acowa and Kapelebyong, can only be accessed by air or boat. Malera and Kolir sub-counties in Bukedea district are also flooded. A mother and her child were washed away there by the running water a few days ago. All in all, 300,000 people have been displaced in the Teso region alone.
QUESTION: What is the situation in Karamoja?
ANSWER: The Muyembe Bridge was the first to give way when River Kirik burst, rendering Nakapiripirit district inaccessible. To reach the area, you have to make a huge detour via Teso. In Moroto, all the small bridges have been submerged. But the worst affected place is the new Kabong district. Before the rains, there was already a community, called the Ike, in dire need of food aid as a result of crop failure. As we were preparing to bring relief, the roads flooded. This has left the Ike without any food.
QUESTION: What about the Lango region?
ANSWER: The Lango region experienced three hours of torrential rain, including a hail storm last Saturday. As a result, Olilim in Otuke county and Omoro in Moroto county have now also been cut off. Relief cannot reach them. Even those who can afford to buy food cannot reach the markets.
QUESTION: How badly has Acholiland been affected?
ANSWER: Districts in Acholi have not yet experienced flooding. However, all the major bridges have been washed away, paralysing the road network and making the region inaccessible. Aswa Bridge between Gulu and Pader districts has been submerged. The bridge at Puranga, linking Lira to Pader, has also flooded, as has the bridge between Pader and Abim.
The torrential rains caught us while we were distributing return rations to the displaced of the LRA war, who were going back to their villages. This relief operation had to be halted.
QUESTION: What are the problems in the Elgon region?
ANSWER: The Elgon region has been mainly hit by landslides. The residents of Bukwo district have been trapped for two weeks because mudslides blocked the road to Kapchorwa, while the bridge linking Bukwo to Kenya has been washed away.
The communities outside Kapchorwa cannot be reached because all the valleys are flooded and the road network is gone. Manafwa and Bududa districts are also badly hit. People there have built their homes at the foot of the mountains.
The soil has already started to come down. If it continues to rain for the next two weeks, we must prepare to relocate those people to drier grounds, possibly in Mbale.
All in all, we estimate that 120,000 people are affected in the Elgon region.
QUESTION: Which other regions have been affected?
ANSWER: The river Ora in Nebbi has burst its banks, submerging Wadelai sub-country, which is one of the most fertile sub-counties. Ragem Prison, too, has flooded, requiring us to relocate prisoners and staff.
QUESTION: How many lives have the floods claimed?
ANSWER: A truck in Abim was washed away as it tried to cross a flooded road last week, killing the driver and seven passengers. Four children died in Kapelebyong in Amuria district due to bloody diarrhea, two drowned in Kolir sub-county in Bukedea and two in Katakwi. Another five deaths were registered in the Elgon region as a result of rolling boulders.
QUESTION: What major challenges does this disaster pose?
ANSWER: At least 70,000 households are in need of food assistance; their crops and livestock have perished due to floods, soil erosion, landslides and rolling stones. Some tried to harvest prematurely but the wet ground makes it difficult to dry and preserve the harvested food. Bringing relief in time to the cut-off areas will be the major challenge.
Roads and bridges have been destroyed and no repairs can be done as long as the area is submerged. The World Food Programme has agreed to bring in helicopters and boats to airlift relief to the isolated areas. The army, too, has been called in. Clean water is another challenge. Spring wells and other water sources have been damaged and contaminated. Latrines in Teso, especially in Katakwi and Amuria, have collapsed and are overflowing. As a result, 6 million people are at risk of catching water-related diseases like dysentery, malaria and cholera. Malaria has already risen by 220% and diarrhea by 150%. The number of pneumonia-like cases is also going up due to poor shelter, loss of clothing and lack of blankets.
QUESTION: How have the floods affected the start of the new school term?
ANSWER: Classrooms and teachersâ€™ houses have been destroyed in the most affected districts. Structures have collapsed, while others have developed huge cracks. A good number of schools have been displaced because of flooded premises. There is no safe water for most of the schools.
The majority of latrines are filled up and many have collapsed. Access roads to schools have also been damaged and rendered impassable.
In total 174 schools in eight districts have been affected: 46 schools in Amuria, 32 in Katakwi, three in Sironko, four in Kapchorwa, 38 in Manafwa, 10 in Bududa, 30 in Bukedea and 11 schools in Kumi.
QUESTION: What is the Government going to do about this?
ANSWER: The education ministry, in partnership with UNICEF, is providing tents for teachersâ€™ accommodation and classrooms in 50 of the affected schools. UNICEF has also pledged to provide UNEB with tents from where to conduct Primary Leaving Examinations. In addition, the Government is providing over 100 mobilet latrines and additional tents for emergency class rooms. Primary 5 to 7 may be allowed to open first in the affected schools, leaving out those in lower classes.
QUESTION: The Government has been criticised for not doing enough.
ANSWER: The Government is being unfairly criticised. The Prime Ministerâ€™s office and the relevant ministries are working around the clock to contain the situation. That a major epidemic has not yet broken out is thanks to the massive response from the Government and the development partners. Emergency drugs were delivered to the 11 most affected sub-counties in Teso. Water testing kits have been sent and water testing is ongoing. Food distribution, too, is being carried out. The Prime Ministerâ€™s Office has so far distributed 1,860 bags of maize flour and 460 bags of beans. The World Food Programme is committed to feed 300,000 people in Teso and 15,000 people in Lira. UNICEF and the Government have provided 5,000 families with mosquito nets and shelter materials, and another 1,000 with water treatment tablets. In addition, over 17,000 households in Lira, Teso and Elgon regions have received standard family kits, including blankets, tarpaulin, soap and household items.
QUESTION: What is needed?
ANSWER: The rains are going to continue up to November and in some parts of the country up to December. The peak season is between September and October. This means that the floods have not yet reached the peak. The situation is, therefore, likely to worsen. Plastic sheeting, tents and food are badly needed, as well as antibiotics and first-line drugs against malaria and diarrhea.
Helicopters and boats, too, would help to reach the villages and communities that are trapped by the floods.
Floods have not yet reached their peak, warns minister Ecweru