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Floods return, find an unprepared govt

By Melina Platas

After the floods of 2007 that affected over one million Ugandans, there was a flurry of activity as NGOs and government officials raced around to ensure that such a scale of destruction and death would not occur again. In January 2008 over 60 people from over 30 organizations met in Soroti for a Uganda Floods Lessons Learnt Workshop. Then in March 2008 another 50 people from over 25 organizations met in Kampala for a Disaster Preparedness Workshop. Out of these various meetings came a slew of reports, presentations, speeches and plans.

In fact you can find most of them on the Uganda Clusters website at http://www.ugandaclusters.ug/disaster.htm. The rains have been considerably more mild this season, but we are once again faced with heavy flooding in West Nile and eastern Uganda that has again affected thousands of people, destroying homes, infrastructure and food crops. For all of the meetings held and for all of the money spent, is Uganda really prepared for disaster?

Under the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, or the Ministry of Disaster Unpreparedness as some like to call it, is supposed to serve as the lead actor on disaster preparedness in Uganda. Whenever a crisis occurs, you will find the Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Musa Ecweru, dashing here and there to consult with technicians and local politicians of the affected areas, and begging for money from NGOs, donors and charities around the world to help solve whatever problem has arisen.

This time around is no different. According to Ecweru, UNICEF, UNOCHA, UNHCR, WFP, FAO, WHO and Uganda Red Cross, are the major actors on the ground. The minister explains that in the flood-affected regions, gardens were flooded and crops that had just recovered from last years floods were once again destroyed. That is going to create a problem of food security, Ecweru says.

Katakwi district LC5 chairman Robert Ekongot says that, apart from loss of crops, there is a lot that districts hit by last years floods have to recover from. According to UNOCHA, educational and health sectors have been hardest hit in Katakwi. Deterioration of roads, especially feeder roads, has also been problematic in the flooded regions. Amuria district chairman, Julius Ochen says, The roads are still in very bad condition, and we are yet to see what funds mobilized during flood appeals have done for our people.

As usual, the ministrys plan of action is to run for help. We are going to mobilize more money. My ministry may have to launch an appeal to the UN, donors and charities. One year after catastrophic flooding in this country, homes have again collapsed, bridges have again been swept away, and crops have again been destroyed so what happened to all the planning? What happened to all the preparedness?

According to Ecweru, the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness took its draft Uganda Disaster Preparedness Plan, which was created during one of the workshops in early 2008, to cabinet in September. Cabinet was touched by what we highlighted, he says. But they ultimately requested that the ministry go enrich it self by comparing notes with best practice countries for disaster preparedness before the plan is implemented. We are supposed to have done that now, says Ecweru, But the mood now in Europe is for Christmas we may not get the attention we need. But it was not Christmastime two months ago when they were advised to travel, so why did they wait until now, when the rainy season is almost over? There are logistical implications, says Ecweru, Few resources and stuff like that. And what resources, exactly, are needed? Dont worry, Ecweru responds, as government we are going.

The minister of state does not seem particularly fond of prodding or specific questions, and his minister in cabinet, Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, does not seem keen on listening to any hints of criticism either. After Fungaroo Kaps Hassan, MP for Obongi county in Moyo district, a region hard-hit by this years floods, spoke out in the media in November, Kabwegyere wrote him a note which was read aloud on Kfms Hot Seat radio show last week, saying: Honourable Fungaroo, I read your contribution to flooding relief in the newspapers today, in future we would share the problems by finding solutions before addressing the world. Dont find faults, find solutions. The problem of flooding is going to be with us with global warming which you can hardly control.

But finding solutions does not seem to be the problem  key actors have spent hours and days and dollars discussing solutions. Implementing solutions, however, is the far greater challenge, and one that the ministry has yet to live up to.

But all told, just how much money is currently being spent to respond, if not prepare, for disasters in Uganda? Ecweru doesnt know. I really dont handle issues of finances, he says. That is a matter for his technical people.

Ecweru was preparing to fly off to West Nile this week, with a camera to take photos, he added. But it is not clear how this trip, or hundreds of others like it, is providing any service to the people desperately in need of assistance. Lets hope the technical people know what they are doing.

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