The Mbale area of Eastern Uganda has a long history of mudslides, largely due to human interaction with the environment (destruction of forest and poor farming methods). On June 25th 2012, a major slide occurred, burying at least three villages and displacing many families. The number of casualties is still being investigated. It took local people by surprise as it did not happen during a rainstorm as did most previous slides, but on a day when there was no rain.
Intervention by Food for the Hungry
FH/Uganda, which was already working in the area, has been helping 150 of the 400 families affected by the incident – both those directly affected and their host families (mainly relatives and friends). FH has distributed non-food supplies such as water containers and hygiene kits and offered psychosocial support, working with local churches and leaders. Local leaders were engaged in identifying those in genuine need. FH has been coordinating with other agencies to avoid duplication of efforts.
Other villages nearby are susceptible to the same fate and so FH is exploring sustainable solutions that would help stabilize the land (i.e. planting trees) and/or helping people find safer places to live. However, previous moves towards more permanent arrangements have been frustrated by people’s natural objection to being relocated away from their ancestral (and very fertile) lands.
Joseph has two wives and eight children. He lost his 7½ year-old son Kevin in the tragedy.
“At around 2pm I was at home with two of my children, Scovia and Kevin, feeding my animals. The rest of the children had gone to school and my wives were at the market. My daughter Scovia had come back for lunch but returned to school before the disaster hit,” he recalls. “I went to take a bath and immediately before I started bathing I heard a big bang which I thought was a gunshot; I heard people crying and went out of the bath shelter only to see the landslide had covered my neighbors’ houses.”
“I started running away, but after running about 10 meters I looked behind and the hut where my son Kevin was standing before I went bathing had been covered by a huge mass of soil; I called out his name three times but there was no response. I continued running and after a while I looked back and my house had been covered by the ground and everything had been swept away. It was then that I realized Kevin and all my neighbors had perished in the slide,” Joseph laments.
Apart from the tragedy of Kevin’s death, the family lost two cows, 25 chickens and their garden with crops of coffee, beans and maize. They are now homeless, landless and without means of livelihood. “Conditions are hard, the relief we get is not enough – especially food – and our children fall sick time and again,” Joseph explains. Similar concerns are held by others.
Jaril and his wife Sauda Hamuka have five children. He was born in Bunakasala village, which was also affected by the slide. He and his wife had gone to the market and the children were at school when the landslide occurred. “ I heard the news of the landslide at the market and immediately hired a motorcycle to get back home, only to find all the houses and family property had been swept away”. The family lost three cows, 28 chickens and all their gardens (bananas, coffee, trees and elephant grass).
“We hope to get help to secure land so that we can have a new beginning.” He makes a humble plea.
“We also hope to be supported with capital to start some small enterprises; otherwise, keeping our children in school without any income will be very hard for us’’, adds his wife.
A temporary camp is to be established by the government at the sub-county headquarters until land is secured for preventive resettlement. FH/Uganda continues to follow up possibilities for long-term intervention.
FH in Uganda
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