By Mary Karooro Okurut
On Friday last week, I travelled to Bulambuli district, as part of the routine monitoring visits by the Office of The Prime Minister to the resettlement project in the area. The Bulambuli resettlement project is the long-term part of the Government's two-pronged strategy to permanently relocate and resettle communities in landslide and mudslide-prone areas in Bugisu sub-region.
The interim plan, following the disastrous landslides in Bududa district in 2010 that claimed over 150 lives and displaced over 5,000, was the resettling of the displaced persons in part of the land earmarked for refugees' settlement in Kiryandongo district. Indeed, 4,800 survivors of the 2010 landslides were relocated there, and have since increased to 10,300.
But the mudslides would not stop. In 2011, a mudslide in Bulambuli killed 28 people. A year later in March and June 2012, similar mudslides buried six and 18 people in Sironko and Bududa districts respectively, provoking another onslaught of Internally displaced persons in the area.
Consequently, a cabinet sub-committee headed by the First Deputy Prime Minister Moses Ali was set up to establish the size of the population at high risk of landslides, and after three weeks of field study, the committee recommended that close to 120,000 people from the districts of Bududa, Mbale, Manafwa, Sironko, Bulambuli, Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Kween be relocated to a safer place. Cabinet adopted the recommendations of the sub-committee, and A 10-year resettlement plan was drawn, that would see the Government purchase 31,250 acres of land on which it would resettle over 12,500 households, each on 2.5 acres. Unfortunately, a few biased local leaders would delay the implementation of the plan, misleading the local people into resisting the resettlement exercise, precipitating another disaster in November last year, when another 53 people in Bukalasi sub-county, Bududa district died in fresh landslides.
That tragedy was the game changer, prompting the President to put his foot on the ground to ensure that no more lives would in future be lost needlessly. As we speak, 2,876 acres of land have already been purchased in Bunambutye sub-county, Bulambuli district, on which the Bulambuli Resettlement Scheme now sits.
By its completion in June next year, the project is expected to be home to 7,200 people, in 900 houses. So far, in just six months, 241 houses have already been built, of which 101 are already occupied. I checked out some of them on my visit, and left a contented public servant. The units are made of concrete blocks, roofed with ironsheets of guage 28, and sit on an acre of land each. They consist of two bedrooms each, a living room and kitchen.
What's more, they have been jointly constructed by our security services — the UPDF's Engineering Brigade, the Police's Construction Unit and the Uganda Prison Service's mechanical unit. Each resettled family also has a tap of piped water in their compound, meaning that the days of trekking long distances for less-than clean water are long gone. With that, gone too are the associated risks of acquiring water-borne diseases, children missing school or dropping out altogether.
In fact, as construction of permanent school structures in the resettlement area begins this August, temporary learning centres have been set up, teachers attached, and over 1,250 primary school-going children have been given full scholastic materials to attend normal school routine.
Those attending secondary school - 52 of them, have been given a two-year full government scholarship and seconded to Masaba Senior Secondary School to compete their studies.
A health centre with 19 staff members is also in operation within the project area, and construction of a fully-fledged Health Centre III is slated to begin this September, by the Police's construction unit. Rural Electrification Agency is also already on site. It has already extended power to each compound, and connections to each house have begun.
In keeping with the President's Wealth Creation gospel, the beneficiaries have been encouraged to form 75 SACCOS groups of 10 families each, under which they will each group manage 20 acres of land. Here, they will farm together using mechanised equipment — tractors, irrigation equipment, mechanised harvesters and post-harvest handling stores to be provided by the Government.
For many of the beneficiaries, this intervention has been life-saving. I met Daphine Nambuya, a mother of 7. She served as the LC3 councilor for Fuume parish, Bukalasi sub-county, the setting of the last landslides in Bududa district last year. Two years earlier in 2016, mudslides had driven her out off her house, washed away her business kiosk and buried her piece of land. Last year, they (landslides) trapped her in her temporary house, until the sub-county chief came to her rescue.
"When he came and saw, he feared they (landslides) would this time take me, so he took me away. I was lucky my children were at school. I don't know what would have happened if they were around," she said, with fear in her eyes, before adding, now (in the resettlement area) we can plan for our lives because we feel safe. But there, we always feared we would one day be taken (by the floods).
The story and journey of survivors of Bududa landslides is a clear demonstration that when President Museveni and the NRM government promise, they deliver. Some of the promises may take time before coming to fruition because of resource envelope issues but eventually they ‘arrive'.
The writer is the Minister for General Duties, Office of the Prime Minister