Natural calamities especially floods and landslides, have been an annual characteristic for the Elgon and Rwenzori regions of Uganda.
These loathsome incidences often result in loss of lives and property, leaving behind many indescribable scars to the victims.
In a seemingly scripted response, the government always provides relief food and designs an urgent ‘paper tiger’ resettlement plan.
Once the situation subsides, the people resettle back to their original homes, and deplorably await for the next occurrence to experience a similar circus of knee-jerk reactions.
Whereas a resettlement plan is an undeniably good emergency solution for the people in the risk-prone areas, it should never be treated as the end in itself.
The formidable solution lies within our ability to advocate for a comprehensive environmental restoration agenda. It is absolutely necessary that as a country, we choose to develop resilient adaptation capacities for the prone regions as a way of managing and mitigating the impact of these calamities in the event of their occurrences.
This, we can do by embracing each of the following approaches: First and foremost, we need to develop regional forestry sector plans. Taking an example of the currently affected district, Mbale.
This beautiful area is home to two main forest reserves: Mbale and Namatale central forest reserves.
It also harbours the magnificent local forest reserve at Kolonyi. Unfortunately, despite the endowment of these forest resources in the region, only Namatale exists as a natural high forest. The rest of the forest reserves are dominated by non-native species such as eucalyptus and pine.
Moreover, even the few indigenous tree species that exist on private land are overly being threatened by the high demand for timber and fuel wood by the locals.
This gradual replacement of the indigenous forest ecosystems with eucalyptus based ones has ultimately reduced the multiple values of forested areas. Multiple studies have indicated how eucalyptus can worsen soil erosion as an indirect consequence of frequent soil disturbance from repeated harvesting. Therefore, if only we established a forestry sector plan, discussions as these, including the restoration of indigenous forested areas that offer long-term soil stabilising and watershed protection in conditions of heightened rainfalls would take a center stage.
More still, we need to modify the current agricultural practices in these regions. One of the recurrent causes of these flooding and landslides the loose soils. Loose soils are prone to soil erosion that find themselves downstream to water bodies raising their levels and then the consequent bursting. Besides agroforestry, the locals should be encouraged to venture into alternative cropping practices.
For example, we should promote integrated perennial cropping over annual cropping. This does not only reduce on the extent of tillage, but also, regardless of whether these crops survive a flood or not, their deep rooting structures strongly holds the soil over a long period of time.
In order to enforce these strategies, the local community and religious leaders should be directly integrated in the continuous mindset change as a way of building strong capacities to adapt to such catastrophic occurrences.
Derick Muloogi, Nawaikoke, Kaliro District.