Landslides have overtaken Uganda's disaster preparedness response model

Tuesday June 25 2019


By Raymond Mugisha

Environmental risks have continued to gain global prominence in recent years and by 2018, they account for 40 percent of the world’s ten biggest threats. Landslides, which have become a major problem for Uganda, fall in this category of environmental risks. This year the country experienced yet another scenario of landslides in Bududa, following the one of October last year.

In both instances lives have been lost and property destroyed. Earlier in 2010 and 2012, the same region had suffered the same misfortune, with similarly devastating results. Government of Uganda has begun active relocation of people from the landslide prone areas to resettle them in safer areas.

There are several response options to choose from while addressing risk or threat exposures, whether the exposures are environmental, technological, economic or any other category that an entity or country faces. Risk response choices made to manage threats are guided by two factors; probability that a threat will materialize, and the extent of damage or impact that the threat would inflict if it crystalized. The relevant decision matrix is composed of four combinations of the two factors above.

One instance relates to low probability-low impact events which are normally considered as undeserving of special action and generally accepted and lived with. Then there are high probability-low impact events such as the potential to make erroneous mispostings in a high transaction volume environment when human beings are entering records in computer systems. Such are considered as house cleaning issues which are solvable by commonplace internal controls. Low probability-high impact events such as natural calamities usually require what is referred to as contingency planning.

A contingency plan is a crisis response strategy designed to take care of possible future events. It is not feasible to maintain fulltime engaged resources assigned to address issues that are highly unlikely to materialize and yet such issues must be prepared for by virtue of the huge cost, both financial and otherwise, that would come with their materialization.

Contingency planning is the appropriate measure to take care of such events for which chances of occurrence are slim but which would have adverse consequences if they happened. Disaster preparedness is a form of contingency planning. The last category relates to high probability-high impact events. These are considered as critical issues and demand drastic mitigation measures when they are detected. Partly, such issues may demand a total reengineering of operating processes and a complete overhaul of the measures already in place to contain threats.

Landslides are, typically, regarded in the category of low probability-high impact or rare events and are managed through disaster preparedness responses or contingency planning. Strategies are laid down regarding how entities or countries will react when such events manifest and these strategies normally cater for financial and human resource requirements along with other provisions that will be called upon to handle challenges that such events will bring along, with the aim to minimize accompanying damage.

Within the framework of such strategies, detailed procedural guidelines are put in place and they define roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders that would participate in the disaster response action plan.

However, when occurrence of a calamity becomes frequent, the above approach is no longer appropriate to address it. Such a calamity ceases to belong to the low probability category and effectively graduates to the very critical, high probability-high impact phase. It then demands an in-building of responses that have to be ingrained within the routine operating style of an entity or country.

Now that we have registered landslides in consecutive years as well as in closely recent years, this is a highly likely event in our national risk profile. It requires an approach which is operationalized within the day-to-day national working framework, in the landslide prone region.

Relocation of exposed persons to safe areas, undertaken by government, is a good step towards the above shift. To it should be added other measures that incorporate landslide control measures as part of the conventional working arrangements of various government units and other agencies working in this region.

For example, agricultural extension services in the Bududa area should include landslide control as a major element of their performance deliverables to guide the population about farming practices that mitigate the threat. Researches that have been undertaken about the challenge and its underlying causes should be formed into operating documents that facilitate implementation of scientific methods to mitigate recurrences. Such documents should form part of routine working manuals of relevant government departments and ministries as well as civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders operating in the area.

Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant