Can There Be A Lasting Solution to Mount Elgon Landslides? Top story

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In short
This article has been updated and republished.

As the search continues for the victims of the latest landslides in Mount Elgon area, questions still linger on whether there will ever be a permanent solution to this disaster.
Over 41 people were killed after Suume river in Bukalasi sub county burst its banks, sending a torrent of mud and rocks rolling into into homes.As as the search and burial of the victim of the disaster continues, we republish this article published in August 2017 following a an August 2017 mudslide in Sironko district. Th August 2017 in Bufupa parish, Masaba sub county in Sironko district killed at least seven people.

In Bududa, a district prone to landslides almost every year,  it experienced another mudslide  in three villages in Bulucheke Sub-County displacing forty families whose houses were razed and livestock buried deep in the mud.
 
The region has experienced deadly landslides almost every rainy season, with the most destructive one recorded in Bududa district in March 2010 in which at least 150 people perished and thousands were displaced.
 
Another 30 people died in Sironko district in the 2011 mudslides while eight more died about a year later in Bududa.
 
Whenever mudslides have occurred in the Elgon region, especially in Bududa district, government and aid agencies rush there with relief items and other non-permanent interventions.
 
State Minister for Environment, Dr. Gorreti Kitutu, says there is need for a more sustainable solution or else people will continue to suffer as the government and agencies continue spending billions of shillings on emergency response. 
 
In an interview with URN, Dr. Kitutu says that a lasting solution to the landslides requires proper planning for that area so that steep areas are covered with forests.
 
She says forests will hold the water as opposed to the current situation where it rains on bare soils. Dr. Kitutu suggests that 60% of Mount Elgon must be under forest cover if people have to continue living in that area.
 
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She says there is evidence of less mudslides on the Kenyan side of Mount Elgon compared to districts like Bududa, Bulambuli, and Sironko that have entered too much in the catchment area of the mountain.
 
The Kenyan authorities turned their side into a national park in 1968. The mountain has been under strict management with human settlement allowed further down the slopes with minimal human interference with the catchment area. 
 
The Kenyan Mt. Elgon ecosystem was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2003, in recognition of its importance as a water tower. Kenya Wildlife Services has strict enforcement measures aimed at protecting watershed and catchment area values for projects like the 106 MW Turkwel power generation dam and Nzoia catchment of Lake Victoria.
 
Minister Kitutu was formerly an Environment Management System specialist with National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) before she joined politics.
 
She conducted a study covering the catchments of six rivers on Mount Elgon running all the way from Bukwo District to Lwakhakha in Manafa District. She says the sensitive area of the catchment covering over 1,090 square kilometres should have been gazetted as a national park and protected.
 
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As the government continues to seek a lasting solution to the mudslides in Bududa and other parts of Mount Elgon, some experts have suggested that government should help communities to cut terraces into the slopes and then construct cement bench drains in sensitive areas to channel water down the hills.
 
They suggest that open trenches should be filled with gravel to make sure that water is being diverted to drain and not to neighbouring properties.
 
Kitutu, however, says much as that may have worked somewhere in the country or other mudslide- areas outside Uganda, it may not offer a solution to the Mount Elgon situation.
 
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She says the people in Mount Elgon especially in Bududa would only till the land on the top when it was dry. But currently, with population pressure on the little land available, the practice has changed.
 
Kitutu suggests that even the current regulations on managing mountains, hills and valleys may not work for Mount Elgon catchment area. She says some of what is being recommended as control measures is instead responsible for water infiltration leading to landslides.
 
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Kitutu says the other plan is to have all the people compensated so that the few that remain should be practising agro-forestry in order to manage the water cycle properly. Mudslides like floods and droughts are indications that the water cycle is not being managed well.