What to do if your property is at risk from natural disasters
What you need to know:
Increasingly, we have built farther and farther in the undeveloped lands. So the farther we push toward the undeveloped lands, the more houses are going to be at risk.
As our population grows, we find that more land is being reclaimed for residential purposes. Due to its location, the land might be prone to natural disasters such as storms, floods and heavy winds which cause damage to both life and property.
Unfortunately, it appears that natural disasters will not be slowing down any time soon. It is therefore imperative that homeowners are well equipped to deal with such disasters in order to mitigate risks.
Last year, Edris Munyaneza, bought a plot of land in Kabingo Town Council in Isingiro District at Shs15m. Munyaneza thought his worries of renting would soon be a thing of the past as he planned to construct his own home.
But as the season went from dry to rainy, Munyaneza lost hope as his plot of land got submerged under water and flooded for months.
“I feel as if I was defrauded because I cannot recognise the plot of land I bought. When I consulted a structural engineer about the possibility of salvaging the land, he said it would cost me more than Shs100m to build a foundation that would withstand future flooding. I do not have that kind of money, so I have given up on the land,” says Munyaneza.
Flooding is a major challenge in most Ugandan cities and causes extensive physical damage to communities. Property and livelihoods are lost in the disaster and economic development is often stunted, particularly during the rainy season.
Herbert Tushabe, the operations manager at Amity Realtors says one way to protect yourself from such situations is to carry out private research on the land before buying the land.
“Before buying land, first find out whether the area is disaster prone. Ask about the history of hazards in the area and their previous impact. These can help you make informed decisions and also prepare your for what you might need in the future to protect your property,” says Tushabe.
In case one is unable to carry out the research themselves, Tushabe urges them to retain the services of a trusted and qualified real estate agent who can easily get this information.
“Do not just rush to buy land because you have money. Make sure you are taken through a land acquisition process that includes processes such as environment and zoning regulations. If you have concerns about what you discover, it is better to look for another property,” Tushabe suggest.
Consult a professional
Amos Kusingura, a civil engineer from Mbarara City notes that in situations where someone could have been hoodwinked into buying land in a disaster prone area, they should first consult professionals such as engineers and architects before either giving up on the property or embarking on a potentially disastrous construction project.
“Constructing in disaster prone areas might even be double the cost of a normal site. Engage professionals to review the extent of your building vulnerability and how to go about it. for example if is prone to flooding, you may have your building elevated and the foundation strong enough or equipped with flood vents to allow water enter and exit easily,” he advises.
The quality of the construction is usually the first line of defense against a natural disaster. So it is advisable to ascertain the extreme weather events your area might be most at risk to determine what you can do to protect your property from such a situation.
Another way of protecting your investment is getting it the right insurance policy. There are various insurance policies that cover such disasters and getting one in place will not necessarily prevent damage, but it means you will be compensated in case disaster strikes.
According to Faith Ekudu, the public relations officer of the Uganda Insurers’ Association, one can insure their residential and commercial properties and contents therein such as furniture, fitting, fixtures and machinery among others against fire or other causes of fire such as explosions, lightning, malicious damage, riots and strikes, floods, earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions among others.
She adds, “It also covers escape of water which causes damage to buildings, damage to buildings by animals that do not belong to the policy holder and damage to buildings by objects failing from aeroplanes.”
William Tashobya, an environmentalist from Mbarara City, notes that in situations where you find you are already in a disaster prone area you may also require an action plan.
“You might need a reputable rescue team to help in evacuation, where to shelter and evacuation routes that can be help and a team that can clean up the mess or fix issues after the event,” says Tashobya.
He adds that the evacuation plan should be shared among family members for easy and convenient evacuation during a disaster. He also advises residents in disaster prone areas to get emergency kits such water proof clothing and boats, tarpaulins, first aid and medical supplies.
Tashobya cautions communities in disaster prone areas to always watch out for warning signs before disaster strikes.
“In some areas disasters show signs like increase in water volumes, cracks in mountains but people still remain unbothered. In the past disasters were there but communities could sound whistles and drums to alert other members and the risks would be minimal,” he adds.
Tashobya also urges the government to take more interest in addressing disasters.
“Communities should be trained on predicting signs and occurrences of disasters, put in place disaster management committees at local levels to monitor and give information on disasters regularly but also have local emergency disaster preparedness and evacuation plans,” adds Tashobya.
From an environmental standpoint, Tashobya notes that Ugandans continue to build in the wrong places and get away with it.
“We know people are focused on finding an affordable place to live, so if such a place was provided in suitable albeit peripheral areas to the urban areas, it is possible that people would move. These areas will offer the double benefits of safety and affordability,” says Tashobya.