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Another Landslide Looms On Mt. Elgon

At
midday, the clouds over Bwandyambi Village in Manfawa District thickened, an
early warning of a downpour after an earlier morning one. However, this did not
deter Yusuf Wabomba a 40-year- old man from tilling his land, three km from the
forest boundary on Mt Elgon.



It is
his only source of livelihood to support his family of five. He grows bananas,
coffee and some legumes.



Wabomba
has done this for the past 15 years but today, he is not a happy man. His house
crumbled to the ground last year due to what he said was too much water
underneath and his yield is not the best too.



“My
house collapsed in February last year, there was a lot of water coming from
under it so I shifted downwards but the problem has continued and even worse
because small streams of water also flow into the new house,” Wabomba says.



It is
also in his piece of land that a crack in the rock was discovered last year by
the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the National Environment Management Authority
(Nema). The crack has since deepened by 30cm. It stretches 40km from River
Lwakhakha on the Uganda-Kenya border through Manafwa, Bududa, Mbale, Sironko to
Kapchorwa districts.



“I
have nothing to do, I don’t have enough money to buy land on another side of
the mountain and I cannot also go to the forest,” Wabomba says.

Another resident, Jesica Mayoka, a few metres from Wabomba has a huge crack in
the middle of her house.



“When
it rains, I open the door so that water passes through, water also comes from
underground, so I have to scoop it out whenever it collects,” Ms Mayoka
narrates.

And as the Environment Systems Specialist at Nema, Ms Mary Gorretti Kitutu explains
it is poor farming methods and overcultivation of land by residents on this
mountain that is weighing down on the rock.



“The
trees hold the soils together but when you over cultivate and not plant them,
it exhumes too much clay which when met with heavy rains, water infiltrates the
clay. When it reaches down, it stagnates and cause a slide and when layers move
from down, it creates tension which results in a crack on the rock,” Ms Kitutu
says.



“It
is a matter of heavy rain and time before these rocks start sliding. Already
there are boulders that are on their way down the mountain,” warns Ms Kitutu.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority estimates about 30,000 people are at risk of
being affected by the looming catastrophe, should the rocks come down.



The people
are cutting trees without planting news ones. They have also encroached on the
forest. The villagers have cultivated crops on Mt. Elgon slopes up to 200m
above sea level. The mountain slopes that used to have forest cover have now
been transformed into gardens.



At
the moment, only 12 per cent of the mountain cover is intact while about 250
hectares of Mt Elgon Forest land has been encroached on despite numerous
warnings from the authorities.



Ms
Kitutu attributes this to ignorance of the people and failure of the
authorities to educate people on the importance of forests. Last year, a
landslide in the neighbouring Bududa District claimed about 350 people, as a
result of environmentally unfriendly farming methods on the mountain slope.



In
Sironko, Bukwo, Bufumbira, it is reported that landslides have already killed
some people although in small numbers.



The
people here, however, say they have no alternative of survival except on the
mountain as they have to support their families with food and shelter.

“When we were growing up, we never cut down the trees, but now we are many we
have no where else to go and food is not enough so we are forced to extend our
gardens to the forest,” Mutere Ndoha, a resident of Matua Village, said.



As
per 2009, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics estimates that Manafwa District
population was about 153,000, with a density of about 339.2 people per square
kilometre.



Political
interference

During the just concluded general elections, politicians seemed to have used
the gift of the mountain to their advantage to woo voters from constituencies
around here.



And
as the Mt Elgon Conservation Manager Adonia Bintoora puts it, it has been hard
to enforce laws due to this sort of meddling.



“During
the campaigns, President Museveni, while in Bumbo, Mbale, told residents to
follow the 1993 boundaries. But the local politicians fuelled the issue,
resulting into the encroachment behind the boundaries in the inner forest
area,” said Mr Bintoora.



“The
Kenyan side of the mountain is intact because when laws are passed, they are
strictly followed. We had recovered all areas by 2009 but now with the
election, people were encouraged back to the forest,” Mr Bintoora says.

Some people have embraced tree planting. Already 11 families have started planting
trees.



However,
it is still hard to convince others to join as the chairman of the Budware
Honey Enhancement and Development Project, Wayiga Muzamiru explains.

“We so far have 11 families growing the trees, at first people thought that UWA
wanted to take away their land but these trees are ours. So more are likely to
plant,” Mr Muzamiru says.



As
the government struggles with the resettlement of the Bududa landslides
victims, UWA and Nema have appealed to the government to relocate some people
on the slopes of the mountain to at least 500m away.



“We
want the slopes of the mountain to be gazetted as a disaster area,” said Mr
Bintoora.



 

...
Product Id: 100063
Posted By: Mukhobeh Moses Khaukha
Country: Uganda
Category: Entertainment
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