It is a piping hot Saturday morning and I find myself treading through the hilly Bunanyuma village in Bushika sub county, Bududa District. There is not much semblance of human activity but the vestiges of an ominous landslide are clearly discernible. The landslide which occurred in June last year, left in its wake huge land fissures. The land fissures cover a surface area of about 35-45 metres. Huge swathes of rocks were swept downwards when the landslide struck. Â Homes, crops, water sources, eucalyptus trees and livestock were laid to waste. Many residents were however able to evacuate in time, partly in response to a distress call from a fellow resident at the pinnacle of the hill.
“There was a heavy downpour that night. The rain lasted over four hours. Rocks were coming down from the apex of the hill with a vicious force. That was a cue for us to flee and to evacuate. People’s homes, livestock, coffee trees and a family of 7 were swept away, never to be seen again. This area has a history of landslides and when it rains, it floods. That was the third time; landslides were ravaging the area. Geologists and a team from the office of the Prime Minister came here in 2014to access the situation. They advised us to relocate, noting that there was a contingency plan to deal with the situation. We told them we are ready to move but no course of action was taken. The landslide occurred in 2014 just a few days after they had left,” states 63 year old Wilson Manga, a resident of Bunanyuma.
Against that backdrop and with the rainy season now fast on the horizon, one would expect the residents to be making arrangements to leave. One would also expect the government to come to these people’s rescue. At the moment however, there is no sign that any of the above is happening.
The residents I managed to talk to are apathetic to say the least. Much as there is a mood of apprehension, many seem resigned to fate, reasoning that they rather stay than move to other areas, where their safety, freedom and health is not guaranteed.
“People are reluctant to move on account of the stories they have heard about the conditions in Kiryandongo and the nearby IDP camps in Bulucheke and Bukalasi. Acclimatizing to a new area far away from your home area is a tall order. We would move if the conditions in the camps are improved. Many people are also reluctant to move for cultural and ancestral reasons,” states Luwulendi Wakinya, an elder in Bunanyuma.
Similar sentiments are echoed by some residents of Bunakasala village, Bumwalukani parish Bulucheke subcounty Bunakasala bore the brunt of landslides on the 25th of June 2012. 12 people died and many remain unaccounted for. Unlike Bunanyuma, the landslide in Bunakasala occurred at day time.
Kuloba James, a resident of Bunakasala says his family escaped by a hair’s breadth.
“My house was grazed by huge stones as the landslide swept. Fortunately only one side of the house was destroyed. The kraal for my cattle and my banana and coffee plantations were completely destroyed however. I also lost chicken. It rained heavily but nobody ever imagined the damage the rain would cause. I and my family of 6 survived narrowly. A family of eight who were my immediate neighbors were all killed in the landslide and their bodies, like those of many other victims were never recovered even when the bull dozers and excavators were brought. The rains are imminent but I do not see myself moving to any other place. I would relocate again if conditions were favourable in the places where the government wants us to go and if there is compensation. I was in an internally displaced people’s camp only last year but the foods the government disbursed were few and far between. When the food rations ran short, many of us were compelled to leave. The pit latrines were inadequate; there was inadequate access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Water was hard to come by in the camps even with the gravity system,” Kuloba says.
In the same breath, water seems to be a problem in Bunakasala and Bunanyuma villages. All the water sources seem to be drying up or have dried up. Around the villages, young children can be seen queuing to fetch little drop of water from makeshift wells and water ponds that look far from clean.
Fresh water sources seem to be a real problem and the hilly terrain does not help matters. Families are hard pressed in going downhill to fetch water. Kuloba regrets that the promise made to them by the government to avail a gravity water supply system has not been redeemed. As such locals have to make do with the little unclean water at their availability.
Geologist Sam Owach says landslide losses can be avoided if the problem is recognised early. “Landslide susceptibility assessments need to be done at various spatial scales in Bunakasala, Namakansa, Bunanyuma, Namitsi and in all landslide prone areas around Mount Elgon. With the rainy seasons imminent, that needs to be fast tracked. Most landslides in the Bududa area are triggered by heavy rains and to larger extent by counterproductive human activities like digging in the hilly areas. By now, there should be contingencies in place to gauge the likely intensity and duration of the forthcoming rains, so as to avert any calamity. There should be continued assessment of soil depression and the land fissures like those in Bunakasala and Bunanyuma. If they are deemed dangerous as indeed they are, early preparations should be made to relocate the communities in those areas to safer zones. The residents of Bunakasala and Bunanyuma need to stop cultivating in areas around the cracks and in areas far up on the hills,” Owach says.