Danger of landslides in eastern Uganda
by Kisaka Robinson
In March 2010 Uganda started to experience massive landslides. That year over 100 people died and survivors were displaced to new areas which were more stable. Since then people have been silently going back and settling in areas from which the government had moved them.
In June this year the country again experienced another massive landslide with over 20 people dead, 9 critically injured, 80 still missing and 448 people at risk as a result of torrential rain that pounded the area of Mount Elgon according to the Uganda Red Cross secretary, Michael Nataka, and the metrology department.
However the question still stands, is this a natural or a human disaster? There is a physical explanation to a landslide but there might also be element of human responsibility.
On the southern slope of Mount Elgon population densities are extremely high and the area has so many people that it seems urban while being rural. This mean there is no land left for cultivation, even park lands are also encroached. People also settle more densely when they are removed from the forest reserves. The fertility of volcanic soil favors the growth of crops in such specific areas, generally located on higher ground and steep slopes. People here are not custodians and they know that at any time they might be vacated from the land. Because of this they cut down trees, they plant annual plants and do not tend to the land bearing in mind long term sustainability. They cut trees due to economic pressure to grow crops. When trees were killed, during the first few years nothing happened: the roots were still in place and acted to keep the soil from flowing downwards. But very rapidly they started to rot and nothing is left to hold the soil! Without any form of Agro-forestry or terrace, the steep slopes cannot be sustainably cultivated. This means security of tenure and also economic investment are not always at hand for impoverished communities, though re-planting of trees and inter-cropping can also be done through individual effort.
In my opinion the government of Uganda and Kenya should come out clearly and displace villages to a new location in order to avoid future death and environmental sustainability of other natural resources like game animals.
Opinion Piece by Kisaka Samuel Robinson, Kampala.