Daily monitor says only 80 bodies so far found and quotes The Uganda Red Cross Society reporting that at least 350 people had been buried alive.
The newspaper also takes an important question of how this disaster could have been avoided.
Landslides have always been a problem in eastern Uganda but what has been put in place to lessen the risk of many in these villages being buried whenever it rains. There are estimated 50,000 people, some occupying the immediate precincts of the extinct volcano, who are regularly exposed to the threat from landslides.
Every rainy season there are deaths in this part of Uganda but the only approach has been that of conservation of the national park to relocate people.
There has been no government effort to really try to find other ways to persuade these people and find them alternative livelihoods. In a place where many people depend on farming relocating from the fertile volcanic soils is difficult decision. So they live one day at a time and hope they survive the next rainy season.
While the Mbale LC5 chairman Bernard Mujjasi has a point in saying relocation is not the only solution, it should be part of the solution. The planting of trees that he’s proposing is not enough to prevent deaths in the coming rainy season. It takes years for the trees to grow and become of use when heavy rains come. And the pressure on the limited land can’t be avoided. There can’t be one solution to this disaster.
Mujjasi might argue the Bagisu don’t want to re-locate because “they value their graves, their traditions and attachment to their ancestors” but when faced with being buried alive in the place of your ancestors and living somewhere else, I don’t think many would choose that cruel death.
Relocation should not necessarily mean people should lose ownership of their land. But given the history of land conflicts in the country, I can understand where Mujjasi is coming from.
We only hope this doesn’t become another political game where district leaders and central government give lip service and don’t fully evaluate the situation to find solutions especially for those at the highest risk.