Why landslide victims dragged govt to court

A man walks past an animal carcass at the site of mudslides in Bushika Sub-county, Bududa District, in 2019. PHOTO | FRED WAMBEDE

What you need to know:

A section of landslide survivors in Bushika Sub-county in Bududa District have dragged the government to court over failure to protect them from the disaster.

The hearing of the case was supposed to have been May 26 but it was postponed to July 12 by Justice Godfrey Namundi, the Senior Resident Judge of Mbale High Court.

The 48 survivors filed the lawsuit last month. 

More than 20 people were reportedly killed and hundreds others displaced after multiple landslides occurred in various villages on December 3, 2019.

The survivors aver that their right to life, as guaranteed under Article 22(1) of the Constitution of Uganda, 1995, was infringed on when landslides occurred in the sub-county. 

They state in the petition that the state has a duty under the international law to protect its citizens.

“The respondents have obligations under the international law to put in place an effective machinery for dealing with natural disasters such as landslides; to protect the right to property, the right to life, the right to a clean and healthy environment, and the right to physical and mental health,” the petition reads in part.

Those sued are the Attorney General, National Environment Management Authority as the second respondent and Bududa local government council.

Mr Vincent Nabende, 29, a survivor and one of the applicants, who lost his wife, Betty Nambuya, 24,  said government failed to protect life and properties of its citizens.

“I lost several properties as a result of the landslides, including a house, a shop that has a stock of about Shs1.5m and livestock,” he said.

Mr Nabende, a resident of Namasa Village, said the landslide incidents still traumatise her.

Ms Ester Namere, 23, a resident of Bunamasa Village, Bufutsa Parish in Bushika Sub-county, Manjiya County,  who also lost three family members, said there was no early warning system before the landslides occurred.

“There was no warning system put in place by government,” she said.

Mr John Weanga, 60, a resident of Bunamasa Village, and an applicant, who lost four of his family members, said the government should compensate them.

Among his family members included his son Moses Wanyela and three grandchildren Joram Fungo, Micheal Mututa, and a one Watsemwa, who was six months old at the time.

“We have been neglected by the government. We are being treated as if we were strangers in our own country,” Mr Wanyela said.  Mr William Tsama, a resident of Naposhi Village, said the government has failed to resettle them as it had earlier promised.

“The government promised to relocate and resettle my family but up to now, it has failed to fulfil its promise,” he said.

Relocation initiative

The government has so far relocated close to 241 families, comprising more than 4,000 people out of the 100,000 from different landslide prone-districts in Bugisu Sub-region to Bunambutye resettlement camp in Bulambuli District.

The victims were resettled in two phases between 2019 and 2020. The first batch was resettled in May 2019 and another in February 2020.

Mr Vincent Yiga, a lecturer at the Department of Life and Physical Sciences, School of Natural Sciences in Bugema University, and also an applicant, in his affidavit said government failed to implement the various measures to mitigate the threat of landslides.

“That the respondents knew that Bududa District is vulnerable to landslides, and the very same district has previously been affected by landslides on multiple occasions, and yet the respondents still failed to put in place effective measures to safeguard the applicants…,” he said.

The government spokesperson, Mr Ofwono Opondo, could not be reached for comment by press time, but the assistant chief administrative officer for Bududu, Mr Samson Natsambwa, said government is not to blame for the disasters.  

“In the first place, it is not the government that settled them in that area and landslides are a natural phenomenon,” he said.

Mr Natsambwa said as government, they have sensitised the people to relocate from such areas but in vain.

He added that whereas government is resettling people, it has resource constraints.

“We have also earmarked the hotspots but some people are still defiant to leave their homes,” he said.

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Water and Environment, Mr Alfred Okot Okidi, recently said Bugisu is vulnerable to landslides due to environmental degradation.

“This is one of the fragile regions. Whenever it rains, we register numerous catastrophes,” Mr Okidi said.

He said as part of the mitigation factors, people should embrace tree planting to restore the forest cover, which has been reduced to 12. 4 per cent.

Landslides cases

Daily Monitor investigations in 2019 established that at least 1,000 people have reportedly been killed by landslides in Bugisu Sub-region in the past 10 years, an average of 100 people killed every month. Out of the 1,000 deaths, 70 per cent were registered in Bududa. 

In 2010 for instance, more than 100 people were confirmed dead in Nametsi landslide in Bududa and 350 are still feared dead. They have not been accounted for to date. In June 2012, another landslide hit Namaga and Bunakasala villages in Bumwalukani Sub-county in Bududa, leaving about 450 people reportedly dead and property destroyed.

In October 2018, 42 people were reportedly killed and more than 500 others displaced in Suume Village in Bukalasi Sub-county, Bududa District.

In August 2017, a landslide occured in Bufupa Parish, Masaba Sub-county in Sironko District, killing seven people and displacing hundreds of others.