When mountains moved
On June 25, two villages of Bunakasala and Bunamulembwa were buried when a part of the hill in Bududa district gave way in an afternoon downpour. Fifteen houses were buried and 8 people are now confirmed to have been killed by the landslide in the eastern district, which lies on the slopes of Mt.Elgon. The number could have been bigger had it not been a market day in the parish.
Almost two weeks later I visited the landslide scene with a colleague from the UgandaSpeaks project. We had gone to deliver relief items collected through organizing Ugandans on Twitter via #TweepsHelpBududa to help survivors of the landslides.
We took a van, which was generously availed by Aramex, full of clothes and blankets, basins and other things which Ugandans mostly in Kampala had brought together.
On Friday July 6, Javie Ssozi and I made it to Bududa. We made a call at the district headquarters to register our presence and items. Minutes after, we headed to Bududa on a bumpy non-tarmacked road.
At the site, we met the team from Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and Red Cross. Excavators continued to plough deep into the hilltop in hope of recovering the 4 remaining bodies. It is believed it is a woman and her 3 children still buried deep in the soil. The faces at the site are some of those that cant easily leave your head. A husband watching waiting to see if this will be the day they find his dead children and wife, an elderly woman whose house narrowly escaped – by few inches- the path of the land moving landmass, a young woman who literally ran out of harms way but her young son couldn’t make it.
Survivors come to the Red Cross tent for counseling and treatment where need be and the rest of people sit visibly worried because they know this is not the first or the last they will face this. We made sure we handed over blankets especially to women survivors who have young children. We left the rest for Red Cross and a couple of volunteers to hand over.
At the site I met with a gentleman from OPM who discussed the issues that many out here have been into since the landslide. He says they cannot forcibly evict or resettle people for there’s no such a law that gives them the powers. He however said many people have expressed willingness to leave the hills and be resettled.
The Chief Administration Officer had earlier informed us of their district resolution on resettlement but insisted the people wanted to be resettled within the same district. I spoke to one of the survivors about the calls to leave their home. She told me, yes they did know there was a crack in the hill for sometime but there weren’t many options for resettlement. She insists even those who were taken to Kiryandongo two years ago have not been given enough support.
Through translator a father tells “the politicians are playing a dangerous game and our MPs are leading in this.” I ask what game and he said “they are afraid if we are resettled elsewhere they will lose their votes and this is not about our survival but their survival in politics.”
He some leaders tell people not to move and in a situation where people don’t see a clear resettlement budget from the government, one can understand why these people risk their lives. But not many Ugandans would understand the dilemma here. Last week I saw results of a Trac Fm poll carried by Sanyu FM where up to 65 percent believe it was okay to think Bududa community members are responsible for the loss of lives due to irresponsible choices of living on slopes of Mount Elgon.
Resettling elsewhere whether it is because of war or a natural disaster is not a one-night decision. Moving away often means loss of land, culture and many other things and sometimes people take a leap of faith and stay on. And every day they hope that maybe, just may be the rains will spare them.
From the talks we had with residents it is clear that most people would like to move and it is easier choice to make when the memory of loss is still fresh but as many said even the resettlement of the 15 affected house holds may not happen soon. So we once the disaster teams have left and we have given enough support to the families, many of these organisations will pack and leave and the resettlement will not be raised much after that. We will wait to see another disaster and then no one will really come up to take a share of their responsibility in this lack of planning and negligence.
In the face of this disaster, the government announced a plan to relocate more than 400,000 people from the country’s mountainous areas to more suitable land. Like many plans we have seen, most remain in spoken word, usually from a ministerial statement and after all is done we can’t find even a piece of paper where the plan is laid.
In 2010 after the landslide that killed over 300 some of Bududa residents were relocated but whether these people were given more support beyond just a few acres of land am not sure.
Though our efforts of organizing Ugandans online and taking part in helping those in need went well, this can only be the beginning. There has to be continued discussion on environment and resettlement. Most of Uganda’s NGOs are in Kampala where they stay and only make a few trips to these vulnerable communities when donor audits are needed.
The issue of resettling vulnerable people in Uganda’s mountainous regions cannot only be left to those vulnerable, we have to make sure plans announced at such times are followed up and we don’t wait to see another Bududa in order to wake up to the realities of a high population, dwindling resources and climate change.
Thank you all who supported #TWEEPSHELPBUDUDA!