By Wandera Stephen Ouma
KAMPALA – Ugandans living in prone disaster areas have been told to relocate to avoid future natural calamities that have cost lives and destroyed properties in various parts of the country. Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) says such tragedies can be reduced if the public follow precautionary measures issued by government.
According to Mr James Collins Dombo, the Acting Permanent Secretary, OPM, most disasters are caused by human errors that can be mitigated if the public collaborate with the authorities.
“Previously, we have had disasters in Bududa, Mt Elgon due to deforestation. In Kasese people settled in water path. We have experienced people’ homes submerged by floods around Lake Victoria and Kyoga shores. This should have been avoided if people did not settle in these areas,” he told Manifesto Magazine 2021.
Dombo further explained, “Some of the disasters are due to actions of people against mother nature. People have settled along water path. Like in Bundibugyo, heavy stones came down clearing everything along its way.” Adding, “We also had some natural disaster like the recent earth quakes in Rakai. We also had rains blowing of roofs of homes and schools as well as lightening in different parts of the country. I appeal to people in affected areas to follow guidance from OPM and other relevant offices. We should not be losing lifes in such scenarios”
As a remedy government embarked on a Shs8 billion resettlement of the affected communities in 2013, an initiative that was however not welcome by some members of the community.
“Resettling people from Bududa to Kirandongo and Bulambuli was initially resisted because they wanted to stay at their ancestral places. In a meeting I attended in Bududa, President Museveni explained and people understood. We have already relocated some families to houses built by government. Some are now impatiently asking when they are being transferred. There are more people who want to move but the houses not yet available,” said Dombo who is the substantive Under Secretary and Senior Private Secretary to the Prime Minister.
He however did not have details of the resettlement and referred to Ms Rose Nakabugo, Acting Commissioner Disaster.
By press time, the information was not available.
Asked how OPM responds to disaster, Ddombo said with help of other government ministries, department and agencies they act swiftly.
“We have a specific department for disaster a commissioners and various staff at technical level. At a political level, there is a Minister and Minister of State for Refugees. We also have a collaborative mechanism with other government ministries, department and agencies to deal with disasters as they occur. Yes we have the mechanism to deal with disasters,” he said. Adding, “Some cases we anticipate the disasters and we are always on ground with our staff to assess the situation. We also have had assistance from partners like Uganda Red Cross (URC) and UNHCR who have done a commendable job.”
He described his team as competent and very prompt. “We have handled many disasters over time and we have built capacity. We have a team that swings into action when disasters occur. As you have had before our ministers go with our staff on ground in time. Uganda Peoples Defence (UPDF) officer Brigadier Oluka is assigned to OPM for emergency operations by security agencies. The team moves in immediately to make on spot assessment.”
Domdo said after the assessment, “We work on the collaborative mechanism. That is when we get all these institutions to together and find what should be done for immediate response like provision of material like tents, beddings and food among others and also plan for a long term interventions like resettlement.”
Like most other government agencies, he says, the biggest challenge is insufficient resources and manpower.
“There are times when disasters are too many but you have to deal with them. You find that we do not have adequate resources, equipment and personnel. We have worked with partners in government like different ministries, department and agencies to contribute budgets. We have also dealt with non-government institutions like Uganda Red Cross, UN Agencies among others to work together,” Dombo added.
As a way forward, he said OPM has agreed with National Management Environment Authority (NEMA) and National Forest Authority (NFA) to plant trees in the disaster prone areas to avoid future catastrophes.
“We have planned to plant more trees to hold the soils to minimize future landslides. There has been political will, thanks to President Yoweri Museveni and Prime Minister but we need more resources to adequately manage these disasters.”
Some of the disasters and responses in the last 12 months