Kampala- More than 120,000 people are living in high-risk landslide areas in the Elgon ranges, according to Mr Hillary Onek, the minister in charge of Relief and Disaster Preparedness.
Mr Onek was on Thursday briefing journalists about the Tuesday night landslides in Bududa District where six people were killed, 17 injured and several others displaced in four sub-counties of Bududa District.
An unspecified number of animals cows, goats and dogs and poultry died.
The government has a 10- year plan to resettle at least 10,000 people annually.
However, according to senior officials in the Finance Ministry, a combination of corruption and inadequate funding has over the years hampered resettlement efforts.
Mr Onek said that the plan requires at least 30,000 acres of land for every 10,000 people.
The Elgon region especially Bududa District is prone to mudslides.
Bududa District has been prone to land and mudslides for generations. The worst happened on March 1, 2010 when more than 300 people were buried in Nametsi village.
In 2017, a similar mudslide buried three villages.
Some of the 2010 landslide survivors were relocated to Masindi District, now Kiryandongo District, while others refused to move.
Cabinet tasked the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to identify land in the lower areas of Bugisu to resettle people who had refused to leave their ancestral land but were still in harm’s way.
The government through the Office of the Prime Minister has since constructed some houses for the mudslide victims. In the first phase, 101 houses have so far been built, out of the planned 900.
This is, however, according to local leaders is “a drop in the ocean” since there are more than 120,000 living in harm’s way.
In the latest incident, four of the deaths occurred in Bunamwamba Parish, one in Bugobero parish both in Buwaali Sub-county, and another one for a seven year-old girl in Bunango Parish in Nalwanga Sub-County.
He said that the disaster that occurred at around 11pm saw other landslides in Bukalasi, Bubiita and Bumayoka Sub-counties but there were no fatalities recorded. There are no missing persons as everyone in the 50 households displaced has been accounted for.
Mr Onek said that OPM has sent relief items and a technical team to assess the situation revealed that many lives were saved because of the “Early Warning” system of advising people to leave the area at the start of the rainy season.
“Most of people at risk had earlier shifted to live with host communities in the safer areas following OPM house-to-house risk assessment done at the beginning of the rainy season. It is the reason why death occurred in only two sub-counties on Tuesday,” he said.
The latest disaster, Mr Onek said, occurred near the villages where OPM recently transferred and permanently settled 313 people in Bulambuli District.
Asked why government cannot secure a loan to resettle the most at risk people as it has been a norm for other priority projects, Mr Onek said it is also another option that they would look at while considering forceful relocation.
He said that the budget for relocation annually is Shs8 billion which can only cater for 1,000 people through the construction of a two bedroomed house for each household which is installed with water and electricity.
He blamed the resistance of the people to new resettlement areas on local politics where individuals continue to influence most at risk people not to leave their ancestral land because it would lead to loss of the Bamasaba culture.
“Our encumbrance has been some politicians who want to cash in on the challenges. The unfortunate challenge is they don’t want to settle far from the Elgon. But some of those we took to Kiryandongo (District) have settled because they can do their Imbalu (circumcision ritual) there and the culture can’t be lost,” Mr Onek said.
The Commissioner for Disaster Preparedness in the OPM, Mr Martin Owori said that the people who are being relocated to Bulambuli District have seen government provide each household with two and half acres for commercial agriculture on top of one acre where the homestead is built.
Mr Owori said the permanent solution to disaster-related deaths is to have all places earmarked on the satellite map are moved elsewhere and the area is afforested with deep rooted trees to avoid more danger.