New homes for 50,000 at risk from disasters

News and Press Release
Originally published

KIRYANDONGO , 11 April 2011 (IRIN) - Those affected by a devastating landslide [ ] in eastern Uganda in 2010 are among 10,000 people a year living in disaster-prone areas set to benefit from a five-year resettlement scheme due to start in 2012.

"We are going to resettle all people at risk in the mountainous areas," said John Martin Owor, commissioner for disaster preparedness and management.

Some 300 people were killed and 8,000 forced to abandon their homes in the mountainous villages of Nametsi, Kubehwo and Namangasa when landslides struck the eastern Bududa district in March 2010.

After numerous postponements, about 300 houses for some of those affected by the disaster are nearing completion on a specially allocated area of land in Kiryandongo district, 300km northwest of Bududa.

About 2,500 people from Bududa have moved with government assistance to Kiyriandongo since August 2010, mainly living in makeshift shelters or tents. Construction of another 300 houses there is due for completion at the end of 2012.

Asked about delays in funding the resettlement and construction, principal disaster management officer Cyprian Dhikusooka told IRIN: "There was nothing left in the treasury. The money that was there at the time [but] the priority was for the [February parliamentary and presidential] elections."

Shortly before the ballot, parliament approved a 602bn Ugandan shilling (US$256 million) supplementary budget to pay for the elections.

Dhikusooka explained that money was also required to feed those still displaced in Bududa.

"But elections couldn't wait, it's a legal requirement - elections had to take place at that time," he said.

Reluctant to relocate

The relocation to Kiryandongo, where there are another 180 one-hectare plots available, was also hampered by the reluctance of many in Bududa to move so far from their home areas and crops.

But Dhikusooka said attitudes were changing. "There are a number of people who remain in the mountains who up to now are even desperate to come - they keep on calling us, asking us when they are going back to register again," he said. "But we have to settle these ones before we can go back."

Kiryandongo boasts functioning boreholes, a primary school and a health centre, although this facility, like many across Uganda, often lacks adequate supplies of drugs.

"This place has been good," said landslide survivor Edison Muluwe, who has lived in the settlement with his wife and eight children, for the past six months. "There is no reason to go back."

"When it rained [in Bududa] we would all be scared," said Muluwe's wife, Jennifer Mutonyi, who lost five relatives in the mudslides. "My life is no longer in danger."

Environmental experts warn that the rainy season could bring another fatal natural disaster to Bududa residents and the rest of the Mt Elgon region.

Weather conditions and over-cultivation of the land have led to shifting boulders that put the lives of at least 30,000 people across five districts at risk, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

In March 2011, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) renewed warnings of a deepening crack on the mountain that runs 40km from River Lwakhakha on the Uganda-Kenya border through Manafwa, Bududa, Mbale, Sironko and Kapchorwa districts.

Owor said radio and information campaigns were running in high-risk areas, while teams were regularly deployed to update information of those who most urgently needed to resettle.

But rescue task-force commander at the original site who oversaw the recovery of bodies after the disaster, Lt. Col. Wilson Kabeera, said despite the government's campaign, residents remained in precarious areas.

"Some people take time to understand the danger. To them the issue [the landslide] was just an accident," he said.

Resettlement under way

Owor said the five-year resettlement scheme would first resettle some 40,000 at risk in Uganda's mountainous Elgon, Rwenzori, Muhabura ranges. Another 10,000 on flood plains in eastern Teso and Toro regions should follow, he said.

"Those are the two main categories who need permanent relocation," Owor said. "During the rainy season they get affected, it's not permanent, but because they get affected almost every year during that particular season, it keeps them permanently in poverty - therefore the best solution is to get them out of that area."

So far government says it has contributed 5bn shillings (about $2 million) to the disaster effort in Bududa. The same again will be allocated to resettlement each year over the plan's five-year span, Owor said.

Cabinet must first authorize emergency releases from the Ministry of Finance, which can take time, and coordinating districts on the ground have not always had sufficient resources to monitor ongoing threats.