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Bududa, It Will Take Years To Heal The Wounds - Govt

The Office of the Prime Minister is not taking the looming
natural disaster at Mt. Elgon lightly. Mr John Martin Owor, the
commissioner for Disaster Preparedness and Management, says the ministry
is making full use of its annual Shs5b budget. Efforts such as radio
and information campaigns are already running in high-risk areas across
the country, and deployed teams are keeping informed of those who most
urgently need to resettle.

“We have a duty of making
sure there is no person that is left to die,” he said. The rainy season
has brought renewed warnings of degraded soils and cracked foundations
in the eastern mountainous region.

Environmental
experts say these factors could easily lead to a repeat of last year’s
landslide in Bududa that killed more than 300 people. Environment
Systems Specialist at the National Environment Management Authority
(NEMA), Ms Mary Gorretti Kitutu, said last month that it is only a
matter of time, and heavier downpours before the precarious natural
balance in the region collapses once again.

The Uganda
Wildlife Authority (UWA) has confirmed that boulders have already
started shifting, and say the ever-deepening crack that runs 40km from
River Lwakhakha on the Uganda-Kenya border through Manafwa, Bududa,
Mbale, Sironko to Kapchorwa districts, threatens the lives of at least
30,000 people.

But while Mr Owor says the government
has succeeded in making everyone aware of the real danger at hand, many
have chosen to ignore the warnings and stay in their homes.

Cultural attachments
Lt.
Col. Wilson Kabera, rescue task force commander at the original Bududa
landslide site, says many have deep cultural attachments to the area and
accept the risks - despite the danger at hand.

He concedes, however, that many may not be fully aware of just how immediate that danger is.
“I think they should be forced out, otherwise we’ll have another catastrophe like we did last year,” he said.
Mr Owor says an evacuation is not yet necessary.

“It is not that the whole mountain is at risk – one home here is at risk, the next home is not,” he explains.
“If you see your house is at risk when it’s coming to rain – you move to the next home, which may not be at risk.”

Mr
Owor acknowledges this to be a short-term solution, and that the
longer-term plan will require mass resettlements across the country.
“We have developed a five-year plan for resettlement… we can call it
depopulating the mountainous area,” he said.

“We plan
to resettle from the beginning of next year 10,000 people every year –
so that will take us to 50,000 (by the end of the five-year plan)”.

Kiryandongo
Though
government last month began construction of permanent homes for the 602
families that have been successfully moved to Kiryandongo, they do not
expect to complete the project until the end of next year.
Mr Cyprian
Dhikusooka, the principal disaster management officer at Kiryandongo
settlement, says despite the 180 empty plots still available, “you can’t
bring a burden when you have not solved what is existing”.

He
says the priority of the initial registration was to close Bulucheke
Camp in Bududa, and insists the October exercise successfully relocated
everyone interested at the time. But the timeline on relocation
promises has faced significant delays since the initial plan was hatched
after the tragedy last year.

An August 17, 2010
petition filed to Parliament from 119 Bududa survivors complained that
the government had breached an earlier promise, which should have seen
everyone moved by May. The petition also stated a preference for
available land in Kayunga but Mr Dhikusooka says the signees were
influenced by self-interested landlords there looking to profit from
government.

Since, he says the Bududa community has
been consulted and was fully behind the decision to move to Kiryandongo.
Though some 2,500 have now been moved, they represent less than half of
the estimated more than 8,000 displaced by the landslide.

Changing attitudes
Mr
Dhikusooka says the attitudes in Bududa are changing, and that more and
more people are realising the government will in fact fulfill their
promise to award the families a 2.5-acre plot of land and permanent
home at Kiryandongo.

“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. Ms Jennifer Mutonyi, a mother of eight and one of the
first expected to have her home complete, says she is happy at the
settlement.

“I feel my life is no longer in danger,” she said. “When it rained (in Bududa) we would all be scared.”
Commissioner
Owor says a new registration exercise to remove more people immediately
in danger from the Mt. Elgon region is imminent - but says it will
likely take years before everyone affected can be moved, as new
relocation settlements must be identified and prepared first.

As
of now, he says there is no other resettlement with the same
infrastructure to host internally displaced people like there is at
Kiryandongo. “We are putting money into the budget so that we can buy
land, and land is available in all parts of the country,” he said.
“We only have government land which are not very many... where money is involved, we can get land anywhere in the country.”

...
Product Id: 100079
Posted By: Mukhobeh Moses Khaukha
Country: Uganda
Category: Business
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