Bududa Mudslides: The Tragedy that Keeps Recurring

Residents of Bududa District were on Tuesday June 6, 2019 thrown into pandemonium as fresh landslides hit their area washing away villages and leaving five people dead, 17 injured and more than 400 homeless.

The latest Bududa landslip brought the number of deadly mudslides to have hit the Eastern Uganda town to five in a space of 10 years.

The other devasting mudslides to have hit Bududa, a district that surrounds Mt. Elgon, occurred in 2010, 2011, 2012 and October 2018.

More than 500 people have lost their lives in these natural disasters and thousands have been internally displaced.

A recent report by the International Displacement Unit (IDU) placed the number of internally displaced people as a result of natural disasters in Uganda now at 95,000.

According to the unit, Uganda has East Africa’s highest number of people who live as internal refugees due to natural disasters followed by South Sudan with 75,000people while Kenya sits third with 35,000 people.

At 1,900, Tanzania has the lowest number of people displaced by disasters, which experts say, has everything to do with the country’s favorable terrain, a vast forest cover and lower population density when compared to the other East African states.

Rwanda on the other hand, with 5,000, has the second-lowest number of people internally displaced by disasters.

Rwanda has the highest population density in the region and it also occupies a part of East Africa that is prone to landslides like those that continue to hammer Bududa and other areas surrounding Mt Elgon.

Just like the areas that surround Mt. Elgon, Rwanda’s terrain is hilly and volcanic too.

Francis Ogwang, a soil scientist and lecturer in the department of Forestry at Makerere University, attributes the incessant Bududa mudslides to the loose soil type around here.

“Loose volcanic soil and high population density, lead to overuse of the land for agriculture,” he said. “This makes the soil weak and therefore prone to landslides.”

But Alphonse Hishamunda, Rwanda’s acting director of risk reduction and preparedness, says his government has been able to work around the problems and reduced the number of people affected by these kinds of natural disasters.

One method employed by Rwanda is the relocation of the survivors and potential victims of natural disasters.

Mr Hashimunda says that in the 2018/2019 financial year, Rwanda allocated RFW6 billion ($ 6.7 million) to the process of relocating people affected by rain fall last year.

In May 2018, heavy rains triggered landslides in the Muhabura ranges, displacing 30 people in Rwanda and destroying parts of the road from Kigali to Gatuna border and Katuna to Kabale town in Uganda.

This money will also be used on a plan to relocate all people currently living in landslide prone areas.

By 2024, Mr. Hashimunda says that Rwanda will have relocated all people living in natural disaster-prone areas to model villages under their integrated development project.

Uganda has and continues to also employ the strategy of relocating survivors and people in landslide prone areas.

Relocation efforts

Relocation of people from Bududa commenced on May 21, 2019.

The exercise started with 10 families in Bukalasi Sub County.

Some of the survivors could not hold back their tears as their names were read out to board waiting vans availed by the office of the Prime Minister of Uganda.

According to Mugera Issac, the Communications Officer in the office of the Prime Minister, they started with the relocation of families living in extremely dangerous areas.

Mugera said that they plan to construct over 900 houses in Bulambuli for the displaced families. They have so far completed 101 houses.

Relocation is being determined by the level of risk,” he added. “We have families that lost their houses and those whose homes are at risk of being damaged by overhanging rocks.”

The three-bed roomed houses, according to Mugera, have electricity, piped water and a kitchen among other amenities.

Each family will also receive three acres of land and will be fed by the government for at least a year.

Despite these relocation efforts by government, experts maintain that it will be of great help if keen attention is paid to initiatives to improve the stability of soils in these landslide areas.

A case of preventing rather than waiting to cure.

Restoration of eco-systems

In 2010, the government of Uganda received a Sustainable Land Management (SLM) loan $245million (approximately Shs900billion) to facilitate the restoration of ecosystems in different parts of the country, especially in areas around mount Elgon and the Muhabura mountain range.

But the Bududa district chairman Mr Wilson Watira told Wild Kanda that Implementation of the SLM program in his area has been ineffective.

They have only launched the program in a paltry four of the district’s 377 villages.

Even where it was implemented, Kalema Solomon, spokesman of the Ministry of Agriculture which was implementing the program, says it had minimal impact.

Mr Kalema, however, said that the SLM program was most effective in areas around the Muhabura ranges, because people there had been terracing their land. So reintroduction to this practice, which is also common across the border in Rwanda, was easier.

According to Dr Vettes Kato, who implemented SLM in the Muhabura ranges, terracing and growing appropriate trees in terrace boundaries reduce the occurrence of landslide.

Wild Kanda is also investigating allegations of corruption in the SLM program in Uganda.

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