By Edwin Muhumuza
Last week, while attending the “7th African Conference on Climate Change and Development in Africa” in Nairobi – Kenya, organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and African Union Commission, I was saddened after watching a news clip on CNN about the deadly landslides had again killed an unknown number of people in Uganda.
That 42 bodies had been recovered and more than 800 people displaced with a total of 144 houses buried or washed away by the mass moving mud in several villages in Bukalasi, Bubiita and Buwali sub-counties, Bududa district. I got to understand further that, the landslide triggered boulders (huge rocks) into River Tsuume, which carried them to Bukalasi trading centre. The boulders blocked the river channel causing the river to burst its banks. This ill-fated news made me feel concerned about lives and property lost.
In Africa, countries that have experienced such severe landslides in recent years include Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa, DRC, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda. Over 4,000 people have died in the past 10 years and millions of dollars of resources lost because of landslides each year in Africa.
Globally, Asia suffered 220 landslides in the past century by far the most of any world region, but those in North, Central and South America have caused the most deaths and injuries (25,000+) while Europe’s are the most expensive causing average damage of almost $23m per landslide. Experts have warned that climate change-related disasters increases in number and intensity of typhoons and hurricanes will produce in tandem a rising danger of landslides in future. Among natural disasters, landslides are the seventh ranked killer, after windstorms, floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcano and extreme temperature, claiming 800 to 1,000 lives on average in each of the last 20 years. On average, 940 people are killed annually by landslides in the decade 1993 to 2002, most of those victims from Asia.
The term “landslide” is used to describe a wide variety of processes that result in the perceptible downward and outward movement of soil, rock and vegetation under gravitational influence. Although landslides are primarily associated with steep slopes, they also can occur in areas of generally low relief.
Landslides can be triggered by natural or man-induced changes in the environment. The geologic history of an area, as well as activities associated with human occupation, directly determines, or contributes to the conditions that lead to slope failure. For instance, the lower part of Mount Elgon is made up of a series of benches separated by prominent cliffs often up to 305m in height. This characteristic terrain is the product of differential weathering of the various volcanic materials resulting in a rugged landscape with cliffs and masses. The rainfall in the Mount Elgon area ranges from 1000 to 2500 mm per year. However, there are many possible solutions to prevent landslides and the solutions can be in four aspects. These are economic, social aspect, environmental and infrastructure.
In terms of economic aspects, the government needs to sensitise the community more with the information regarding the landslide. The locals need to know things about landslides and how to deal with it. In term of social aspects, the locals need to understand and apply their knowledge about the occurrence of landslide. The Government should provide knowledge about landslide. The locals should be cautious about their property. Communities need to learn about the emergency-response and evacuation plans if landslide occurs. For instance, the victims should know where to evacuate, whether they have to stay with their families or not.
In term of environmental aspects, more research should be carried out about the influence of vegetation and what type of vegetation is suitable. For example the Cordia Africana an indigenous tree in the Mount Elgon area has been singled out by communities to prevent landslides on slopes. But given the small sizes of farmlands its agro-forestry potential should be well researched. Countries like China and India have used the Vetiver grass to stabilize slopes from landslides. This may also be an area where more research is needed. Locals should know about the rock types or soil profile. Soils with such low nutrients can be hazardous for buildings.
In term of infrastructure aspects, the Government should provide relief centers for the victims. For instance, if the victims cannot find any places to live, government should give the privilege to stay at the relief centers. Another solution is the technology; early warning systems such as satellite images from the methodological station can be used for warning the locals about the weather especially during the intense rainfall. Then, with the media's help, they can inform the locals regarding the weathers.
Much as it was a good gesture for President Museveni to visit the mudslide survivors and victims’ families and ordered for immediate relocation and resettlement of people to safer places, in my opinion, Uganda should move very fast to invest in long-term strategies in order to minimize or reduce the adverse effects of climate change (Mitigation and Adaptation programmes).
The writer is the C.E.O – Youth Go Green Uganda & Climate activist