Floods continue to ravage Uganda
By Anthony Mwangi Of Kenya Red Cross, In Katakwi, Uganda, Supporting Uganda Red Cross
As floods continue to ravage parts of Uganda, a number of areas are experiencing severe effects of floods that have displaced upto 300,000 people. According to the Uganda Meteorological Department, above normal heavy rains are expected to continue in the coming weeks across the country. The worst affected areas are in the Northern and Eastern parts of Uganda include the districts of Mbale, Manafwa, Bukeda, Budadu, Kumi, Soroti, Katakwi, Amuria, Lira, Pader, Kitgum, Nebbi, Gulu and scattered areas of central Uganda.
A number of key bridges and roads have been washed away across the country making transportation a nightmare for commuters, students and humanitarian agencies attempting to deliver relief supplies. The most viable and fastest means for relief agencies is the use of helicopters, as badly needed relief aid remains far from the needy.
Three days of incessant rainfall has caused misery among the communities living in Katakwi District. The district has a population of 143,000 people and is among the worst affected by the floods. "Komoro bridge, which is the only access link between Katakwi and Moroto districts to the rest of Uganda, has been cut off in a number of sections complicating the accessibility between the two districts," said Mr. Ochara Nicholas Muron, the Katakwi Chief Administrative Officer. A number of vehicles are already trapped in the middle and cannot be retrieved.
The water levels are constantly rising and posing a threat to people trying to wade through the hazardous waters to reach their homes. "People now have to travel 200 kms instead of a distance of 10 kms to access the other side," Mr. Muron decried. Crops, such as cassava and ground nuts, have been destroyed and are beginning to rot in four out of eight sub counties of Katakwi. About 36,000 people are without food and this is posing a food security challenge. The prices of essential goods are soaring due to high transport costs and inaccessibility.
"Water has been contaminated due to the collapse of 663 latrines, while about 5,000 houses have collapsed," said Mr. Muron, adding that people were using unsafe water out of desperation. Malaria is on the increase in Ongora camp and some IDPs are beginning to develop skin diseases. Medical staff in health centres are overworked as hundreds of patients wait to be treated. "We have drugs in Soroti, but cannot move it without helicopters. We are now soliciting for assistance in form of boats to take essential relief items across to the people marooned," said Mr. Muron.
"This is the only alternative means we have across to the other side of Katakwi, as the water currents are so high and the water is moving rapidly," said Irene Amuron, of the Katakwi Branch of Uganda Red Cross, as she conducted an assessment of the cut off bridge while on a leased canoe. "Many of the community members could not afford the canoe fee of Ush 2,000 to Ush 3,000 and had to risk their lives crossing neck-deep in the high currents of the flooded sections, many of other carrying their children on their heads," she noted. The disastrous section is now being manned by police to prevent people from crossing the heavy flowing water. Uganda Red Cross personnel countrywide have been rescuing the affected, as well as stepped up relief assistance to thousands of people.
"My house was destroyed and so I had to move to find a place to stay with my relative. On my way, I saw two women and one youth being rescued from the floods," said Simon Peter who resides in Magoro village in Katakwi. "Now that the road has been cut off, I have no idea how I shall get to my relative's house," he lamented. Some of the rescuers also attempted to rescue those trying to cross the flooded sections. They too were carried by the waters but later rescued. "Our houses collapsed and now we also have shortage of food," said Mrs. Akello Josephine, who is putting up at a school with other IDPs.
Uganda Red Cross launched a Ush4.2b ($2.4m, Ksh 124m) appeal to assist 150,000 people in the flood affected regions. Following this appeal, Kenya Red Cross responded, out of an invitation from Uganda Red Cross, by sending non-food items for 10,000 families (approx. 60,000 people), two water purification plants and one basic health care unit worth Ksh 39 million (approx. CHF 696,428).
"In addition, we have also deployed a large logistics team, 10 trucks and technical personnel with extensive experience in emergency response - WatSan, Public Health, Relief and Information - to assist Uganda Red Cross in coordinating the disaster," said Dr. James Kisia, Deputy Secretary General of Kenya Red Cross.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an International Appeal on behalf of Uganda Red Cross for US$ 7.2 million (CHF 8.4). An International Federation Fact Team has already conducted its first assessment. Humanitarian agencies have come to assist, among them Danish Red Cross, European Commission, UN agencies and the corporate sector. The UN released a Flash Appeal for US$ 40,844,801. Support, though not yet sufficient, is being channelled through to Uganda Red Cross.
This is the first time that Uganda is experiencing this unprecedented flooding in over two decades. Approximately 17 countries have also been affected in West, Central and East Africa. Some of the worst affected countries include Ghana, Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda, which according to officials, have together approximately one million people affected.