Uganda: Let's hedge better against disasters

News and Press Release
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An estimated 15,000 people have been displaced from their homes in several parts of the country by floods caused by unusually-heavy rainfall. In some parts of the country, the floods have swept away bridges, cutting off villages and entire communities.

Fortunately, the damage from the floods has not been as bad as that of last year which claimed 47 lives and left thousands of people depending on emergency food aid - in comparison, only two deaths have been reported so far this year. This, however, is small comfort to the thousands of Ugandans who find themselves without food and shelter.

These floods and those that came last year continue to expose the inadequacy of our disaster management ministry and its ability to come to the rescue of those in emergency need of food, shelter and treatment.

Unlike last year's floods which apparently took the country by surprise, this year's disaster was predicted as early as August when Disaster Preparedness Minister Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere warned of flooding in several parts of the country.

While the warning was commendable, the follow-through, in terms of helping vulnerable communities prepare for emergency shelter, food and medical help when the floods came, was simply disastrous.

It is clear that we have not learnt the lessons from last year's floods, including the need to help affected communities rebuild their houses and replant their gardens long after the flood waters have gone.

While it takes a few days of heavy rainfall to flood an area and bring entire communities to their knees, it takes a much longer time and a more sustained effort to help those communities back to their feet.

The Ministry of Disaster Preparedness has done well in trying to set up an early warning system for some of the predictable disasters. That, however, is the easy part.

The toughest job is during the disaster itself when the government should do all to try and preserve lives and property, and after the disaster, when it should help repair the damage and keep entire communities from barrelling down the road to destitution.

The government should create a Disaster Fund to help affected communities rebuild their lives. Poorer people are often more vulnerable to natural disasters; they need the most help to protect themselves and their families.

The post-disaster recovery efforts should not be left in the hands of NGOs and aid agencies; after all, government's first obligation to all Ugandans is to preserve their lives and property.