By Joel Kaguta
Deforoza Muhindo’s worry is how her son is going to suffer in acquiring education.
Francis Bwambale aged 7 is a resident of Bukangara village in Nyakiyumbu Sub County in Kasese district, Uganda. On 9th December 2021, Bwambale woke up happily full of hopes that the day would end well as usual.
The little Bwambale spent part of the day having fun with his age mates not knowing that something strange to change his life would befall him.
At around noon in Bukonzo West Constituency where his rural village of Bukangara is found registered some heavy downpours which lasted for four hours.
When Bwambale noticed that the weather condition was slumping, he and his friends scampered to shelter in their homes. This is common in Uganda that people stay communally and children find it easy to freely mix with their age mates within the neighborhood.
Bwambale was welcomed by his mother Deforoza Muhindo aged 29.
Now, Muhindo narrates that after just five minutes, it started drizzling. She kept the door open to observe the happenings.
At around 4pm, she saw volumes of water flowing towards the house. The panicky Muhindo picked two of her three children and escaped with them leaving behind her eldest son, Bwambale. When Bwambale tried to follow his mother, the roaring flash floods swept him away.
Mr. Julius Kathambisa was among several onlookers at the safe roadside staring at the deluge flowing into people’s homes.
He narrated that they saw a person being swept away by floods of Bukangara River in Nyakiyumbu Sub County.
They assumed that the victim was already dead until he suddenly rose and attempted to cling onto a tree.
“I undressed and dived into the dirty waters to rescue the little boy. When I reached near him, he was crying, traumatized and grabbing the tree, I lifted him and took him to the road-side”, Kathimabisa said.
Bwambale’s mother narrated that after seeing that her house had been submerged, she conclusively confirmed that she had been killed by the floods. Emotionally, she started crying knowing that her son had died.
After a period of 30 minutes, Mbambu heard some people coming towards her direction shouting that someone had been swept away by floods and this broke her down confirming that indeed her son was dead.
However, Muhindo regained her strength after one of the locals called from the roadside and informed her that the child had been found alive.
“As I was crying for the loss of my son and all the belongings, someone called my name telling me to stop crying because my son had been found alive. I was thrilled and happy although many of our belongings had been destroyed”, Muhindo said.
Asked why the child was left behind, Muhindo stated that she carried the youngest child and held the other one by hand thinking that Bwambale would follow them.
She added that when Bwambale reached outside the compound, he saw volumes of water and decided to return back to the house for safety, little knowing that the house would also get submerged.
Over 40 families in the same locality registered huge losses as five permanent buildings were destroyed and other five partially damaged.
Muhindo thought she had only lost food, beddings, utensils and livestock but recently, she noticed something strange with her eldest son.
Bwambale had developed hearing impairment. “My son started with just staring at me while calling him to offer assistance on domestic chores, I suspected something strange, after three days, I held his hands and called him while nearby he could not respond, I realized he was getting deaf”, said the mother.
Her son is no longer responsive when he is called. She suspects that his ears might have been damaged by the flood waters.
Today, the family finds it difficult to communicate with Bwambale. Those who attempt to talk to him using sign language also can’t communicate with him because he doesn’t understand it.
Muhindo notes that her son only responds after being signaled closely, thus the family is considering having someone to teach him sign language.
Attempts by the family to take Bwambale for medical check-ups have been hampered by lack of money due to poverty.
Muhindo is now appealing to the good Samaritans for support for Bwambale to undergo a medical checkup so that they can ascertain the cause of his deafness.
Muhindo was left with nothing after spending the little money she had on medical bills of her nine-month baby who was diagnosed with malaria.
Muhindo narrated that she has started getting worried because of her son’s health.
She hoped to get some money from selling her stocked sunflower but it all submerged. Muhindo is among 400 households that lost their produce.
“I have ended up working in people’s gardens in order to get food for my family, actually we have all turned into beggars because of the floods that hit the area”, Muhindo said.
Muhindo noted that her husband hired two acres of land to grow sunflowers. The season had been good but whatever they harvested was swept away.
However, amidst all the challenges, Mathew Masereka aged 33 says that he has not abandoned his family like some men in his village when overwhelmed.
“Whenever life becomes hard, men in this area abandon their families but for me I have to toil for my family”, Masereka said.
Other sub counties of Kitholhu, Karambi, Ihabdiro, Isango, Bwera, and Mpondwe-Lhubiriha Town Council all close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo were not spared by the floods.
It was similar situation among, Kitabu, Kyarumba Kyondo, Maliba, Bugoye, Ibanda-Kyanya Town Council, Mubuku, Mahango and Kisinga communities.
The area Vice Local Council chairperson for Nyamatunga I village, Mr. Matiya Anderson stated that it was challenging to drain water that had filled many peoples’ houses.
Matiya noted that since 2001, the area had never experienced floods like they did in December last year. He attributes the situation to the real effects of climate change.
Matiya disclosed that the 1968 floods were the most destructive as narrated to them by the elders then the recent 2021 floods where they submerged the entire Katoho trading center. Since 2013, over 40 people have died due to environmental disasters.
Health Expert say
An Otolaryngologist, a special doctor treating diseases of the ear, nose and throat at Kagando Hospital in Kisinga Town Council, Bukonzo East Constituency, Dr. Eluid Mumbere demanded the little boy to be taken to the facility for his ear-drum to be examined.
Still the needy family lamented about transport to the facility. “I can’t know what is causing this little boy to develop hearing impairments, it is not easy”, Dr. Mumbere said.
Origin of floods in Kasese
The Rwenzori sub region in south western Uganda was hit with devastating floods in May 2013 which spanned a peak period of five days. This unusual flood was caused by heavy rains that led to the outburst of the banks of rivers streaming from the mount Rwenzori, thus affecting Kasese district.
Since 2013, the floods have been happening periodically. The latest incident that left at least 12,000 people displaced occurred in July 2021. This was about seven years since the incident of May 2013.
The major rivers in Kasese district originate from the Rwenzori Mountains and empty their waters into Lake George and Edward.
However, government’s immediate interventions have been witnessed especially when major rivers burst their banks leading to flooding while being slow to act when strong windstorms befell several areas within the district.
Lives and property have always been lost, businesses and livelihoods disrupted.
Some families have been asked to be relocated to safe grounds, while others have sought temporary shelter with relatives living away from risky flooded areas.
The National Environment Management Authority which is charged with monitoring environmental related activities has attributed flooding to both naturally occurring and harmful human activities. Kasese district has suffered the brunt of these flood disasters.
Possible solutions from the district
Kasese district is the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains and the hilly and gentle sloping areas are bare with no vegetation that could hold soil and reduce the speed of water run-offs.
Now, the Kasese district chairperson, Eliphaz Muhindi Bukombi says the district has a program of tree planting but it has been hampered by lack of funds.
Also, the river banks of major rivers streaming from the Rwenzori Mountains have been tampered with by farmers through harmful farming activities, therefore any increase in rivers leads to floods especially to the adjacent areas.
But, Muhindi says that all is not lost since the government has promised to stem the major and sturborn Rivers by conducting hydrological studies.
“Government is committed to address the issues of floods but also the community needs to support us so that we solve these natural disasters”, Mr. Muhindi said.
However, worse to note is that the locals living in the district have started importing food-stuffs from neighboring districts like bunyangabu, Kyenjojo and Rubirizi because the produce doesn’t sustain the population due to disasters.
But, Muhindi explained that promoting tree planting, disasters like floods, landslides and droughts will reduce and farmers will eventually reap much.
“We are trying to promote tree planting. We have established nursery beds for bamboo seedlings under the arrangement of the district and government and we will start giving them out to the locals so that we green the bare hills to control soil erosion”, he added.
Meanwhile, the District Environment Officer, Augustine Kooli says much effort by the locals is needed to conserve the environment.
He said it was time the water catchment area was conserved. “Human activities should be done in an environmentally friendly way so that effects of climate change are eliminated”, Mr. Kooli said.
Dr. Callist Tindimugaya, the Commissioner for Water Resources, Planning and Regulation says the government through the ministry of water and Environment received 31 Billion from World Bank to implement the cost of integrated water management and development project.
Tindimugaya confirmed that part of the funds will be used for the preparations of a water resource development and management plan for Nyamughasana and Nyamwamba catchment areas.
The two catchment areas have been periodically flooding leading to the destruction of property.