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Homeless, hungry and waiting

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Bududa landslide victims destined for Kiryandongo after six months in IDP camps

James Mangu lost more than his home in the Bududa landslides on March 1, 2010. Seated amongst hovering houseflies and half-naked children running wildly through the parade of tents that dot Bulucheke Internally Displaced Camp (IDP), Mangu, 48, and a father of ten, explains that he has also lost his pride.

I can no longer till the land to provide for my family, says the former Nametsi resident despondently. I wait for the 30kg of posho from the Office of the Prime Minister that lasts for three weeks. How I wish we could be relocated today so that I can live a new life from wherever they want to resettle us.

Mangu is just one of over 8,000 people that were left homeless as a result of the mudslides. 89 people were killed and more than 300 are still missing in the Mount Elgon village of Nametsi. They are now presumably dead as well.

At least 8,177 IDPs live in Bulucheke camp, which lies east of the foot of Mount Elgon and is semi circled by Manafwa stream. The camp constitutes 1400 households grouped in crowded tents that have been donated by various organizations. The small tents are meant for individual household; the larger tents, called community tents, house up to seven households.

Bulucheke is plagued by bad sanitary conditions and rampant illness; malaria is taking its toll on children, women are forced to give birth without the proper resources and the first aid clinic in the camp and at Bukighi Health Centre III, located two kilometers from the camp, are constantly without drugs. The only other option is Bududa Hospital but its located 15 km from the camp. Students at the school inside the camp are drawn from three primary schools Nametsi, Tunwatsi and Kitsatsa in classes where there is only one teacher for every 400 students. The Uganda Red Cross Society is operating a trauma counseling centre in the camp, but executive secretary Michael Nateka admits that it is becoming increasingly difficult to look after the victims without a specific timeframe for resettlement.

Julius Weleka, the Bulucheke IDP camp chairman, told The Independent that people are tired of the deplorable camp conditions. In camps all basic needs are not available, he said. We need to be in a place where we can begin growing crops as government continues to feed us for some time.

Dison Kuloba, a 70-year-old farmer, broke his ribs and both his legs when he was buried in the landslides. He narrowly survived after his son heard him wailing and came to his rescue. Kuloba was discharged from Bududa Hospital on Aug 3 after five months. He can no longer walk without support and his right leg is broken and still healing from the wounds he sustained. On account of his age, Kuloba relies on the help of his grandchildren who now have to divide their time between school and caring for their grandfather.

I wish my government would give me a monthly allowance to take care of myself since I no longer have the strength to dig to survive, says Kuloba.

On March 3, President Museveni arrived in Bududa district by helicopter and promised shelter for the displaced. He directed that all those living in other landslide-prone neighbouring villages of Tunwatsi, Mulwere and Kubewo be relocated to Bulecheke, Bubiita and Bududa district headquarters. The president said this was to be a temporary measure until the government could secure land for permanent resettlement. The Prime Minister’s Office, which oversees the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, announced they would allocate Shs10 billion for the resettlement.

A month after the president’s visit, Minister for General Duties, Janat Mukwaya, had a meeting with the eastern regional leaders in Mbale. Together they proceeded to Bududa and announced to the landslide victims that the government had already secured the required funds and the displaced would be resettled no later than May 2010.

On August 14, the urgency of relocating Bududa survivors became even more pressing following mud slides that killed five more people in Bukibokolo sub-county. Bukibokolo was not among the areas slated for evacuations, yet this confirmed the call of sub-county leaders of Bumayoka and Bukalasi and internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Bulucheke, for inclusion of 14 more landslide prone villages.

Political intrigues at the district in the Prime Minister’s Office and President’s Office to share part of the resettlement cash has hampered the resettlement exercise. According to Bududa District Chairman Wilson Watira, during the meeting with Minister Mukwaya, both the district and local leaders wanted the victims to be relocated to the neighbouring Sironko district. However, area MPs David Wakikona and Oliver Wonekha opposed the decision, initiating a stalemate in the resettlement exercise.

Meanwhile, in an April 15 petition to the Prime Minister, residents of Bulucheke camp alleged they had never been consulted by district leaders on matters of resettlement but rather learnt of the arrangements through the media. The survivors in turn wrote at least four petitions to the Prime Minister on the matter. They argued that being resettled in Bunambutye was unacceptable on account of the harsh climatic conditions, a lack of abundant water resources, clinics and schools, and ongoing insecurity from Karamajong cattle rustlers.

There has been constant conflict between the Bagisu and Sabiny of Kapchorwa and the Karamajong over the said land, reads the letter. Therefore we are not sure of their cooperation with us.

Bududa District Woman MP, Oliver Wonekha says the cattle rustling by the Karamajong and the swampy land created fear in people regarding the land in Sironko. She added the land was also experiencing floods and crops like cassava were rotting. You cant move people from landslides to floods and thats why the people rejected the land in Sironko.

Instead, the survivors proposed being resettled in Kayunga, Buikwe or within Bududa. However, according to Watira, when the district officials and representatives of the victims went to Kayunga, they were instead shown a forest reserve, devoid of private resettable land. The area, moreover, was unsuitable because tension from the September 2009 riots, occasioned by the Banyala who sought to culturally secede from Buganda kingdom, still hangs in the air; the attitude of the indigenous Baganda towards outsiders is still unfriendly.

On Aug 6 when President Museveni was launching the Imbalu (circumcision) season in Mbale, the people asked him about the resettlement. The president told them flatly that government will not resettle people in Sironko because of the land conflicts between the Bagisu and the Sabiny there. He said the government was looking for public land in Bugisu, Bunyoro and Buganda.

The latest information on this matter indicates that Kiryandongo has been identified as the final resettlement place for the Bududa landslides victims. On Aug 25, a team from the Office of the Prime Minister visited the IDPs at Bulucheke asking for representatives to tour Kiryandongo on September 1. Resettlement exercise is planned to start approximately two weeks after completion of the tour.

State Minister for Disaster Preparedness, Musa Ecweru, says the resettlement will be an ongoing process. Ecweru told The Independent that Kiryandonga was chosen because it is government land and private land owners in areas such as Kayunga outrageously overpriced their land. Kiryandongo also reportedly has a mix of ethnicities, which makes the Bududa people difficult to single out in case of ethnic tensions. Other victims will be resettled to areas like Kyangwanzi and other government owned land. Ecweru said the government is looking to resettle other areas affected by floods such as Butaleja and Teso as well.

According to Ecweru, the government will continue giving the Bududa victims relief food for six months until they open up sufficient to have food security. The minister says Kiryandongo has fertile soils and supports the growing of such staple food for the Bududa people as beans, maize, and cassava. The government also intends to construct simple houses for the victims using hydro foam machines to make the area a model for resettlement.  The first phase of resettlement begins in September, and will see 3000 IDPs transferred to Kiryandongo near the refugee camp.

Ecweru will also have to address the bureaucratic manner in which government conducted its business; Shs10 billion was put aside to handle the resettlement of the IDPs but as of now only Shs5 billion has been made available.

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