By Baluku Alex
National Environment Management Authority inspectors are in southwestern Uganda for an inspection to assess the underlying causes, impacts and possible long term solutions to the floods and landslides in the region specifically in Bundibugyo, Kasese and Isingiro districts
Lives and property have been lost, businesses and livelihoods disrupted, some families have asked to be relocated, while others have sought temporary shelter with relatives living away from the disaster hit areas.
Preliminary observations indicate that whereas some of these events are naturally occurring, in some instances human activities have catalyzed or triggered these events.
Kasese district has suffered the brunt of these occurrences. The latest incident happened on May 10th, 2020, which is about seven years after the first incident that occurred in May 2013. In the most recent incident, a total of five rivers namely; Nyamwamba, Mobuku, Lhuburiba, Nyamugasani and Sebwe burst their banks affecting a total of eleven sub-counties and 3 divisions in Kasese district.
River Nyamwamba’s flash floods, hit parts of Kasese Municipal Council and Bulembia Division sweeping away the Kyanjuki-Katiri bridge. The boulders destroyed Kilembe Mines Hospital, rendering the facility inoperable.
The sub-counties of Kitholhu, Karambi and Lhubirirha town council were not spared; just like the communities in Kyarumba, Kyondo, Maliba,Bugogye, Ibanda-Kyanya, Mobuku and Kisinga where buildings, gardens, businesses and property was destroyed.
A total of 15 schools were destroyed, roads both tarmac and gravel have been destroyed while Nyamwamba small hydro-power project camp was shattered. Numerous domestic water supply systems such as boreholes, protected springs and water treatment plants were destroyed. Pit latrines and hand washing facilities were washed away which is a recipe for public health disasters.
The major rivers in Kasese originate from the Rwenzori Mountains and empty their waters into Lake George and Lake Edward. Numerous socio-economic activities have been taking place in the catchment areas of these rivers including; subsistence agriculture, mining and mini hydro-power generation among others.
Notable threats to the watersheds include the impacts of an increasing population and its demands from the environment including land for settlement, degradation and encroachment on fragile ecosystems, specifically the critically sensitive mountain slopes and river banks. Underlying cross cutting issues such as climate change that manifests in variable climatic extremes also need to be addressed.
A number of other concerns have been documented; River Nyamwamba was diverted from its natural course to create space to construct supporting infrastructure for Kilembe mines in the Kilembe Valley. Therefore, whenever there is an increase in the volumes of water from the mountains, the artificial channel cannot accommodate it forcing the river to gravitate towards its original path and subsequently destroying weaker points such as the Kyanzuki bridge.
Secondly, due to cumulative debris deposition (Channel Aggradation) the rivers are shallow in their old stages, and therefore, an increase in the volume of waters from the source will cause the rivers to flood. And, the destruction of riparian plants along the river banks has weakened the river banks and slope stability.
In inference, there is need to respect the hydrological processes of all river systems.