By Agnes Ndaaba
The rainy season in Uganda brings mixed feelings and reactions. To some, it is welcome while to others, it spells doom and awakens very bad memories. In April, Buyende District was at the receiving end of Mother Nature following heavy rain and the resultant floods led to many people losing their lives and several properties destroyed.
But perhaps the most affected area by heavy rain is Bududa District in eastern Uganda. In 2010, it was reported that about 100 people lost their lives following a mudslide resulting from heavy rain. In 2018 again in Bududa District, it was reported that a number of people were killed in a mudslide after heavy rain. Then early this month, Bududa was back in the news again for the same reason.
I visited Bududa in April and spoke to a number of residents. Children and adults expressed similar concerns – fearing that the rainy season was about to start and they were most likely to witness another mudslide. Memories of their friends, family and property that were lost to the mudslides in Bukalasi were still fresh in their mind.
I saw very large boulders, some seemingly still firmly grounded, but hanging so dangerously; coffee and banana plantations on the steep slopes and not so strong buildings belonging to residents. It even started raining when I was still there and I couldn’t stop imagining the boulders and everything else tumbling down, and it was a scary thought.
I was curious to know why these people, very aware of the dangers they co-habit with, would not relocate to safer areas during rainy seasons and return later. Among the responses they gave was that Bukalasi is extremely fertile for crop growing, and evidently so. Besides, these people have ancestral and cultural attachments from which they do not want to be divorced. A more fascinating disclosure was that a number of them that get resettled eventually return to their homes. This makes the resettlement efforts by the Office of the Prime Minister quite ineffective.
While I have dwelt much on mudslides and landslides, Uganda faces other disasters, including, but not limited to refugee influx, civil strife, famine as a result of drought specially in the north-eastern parts of the country.
Others are earthquakes, armed conflict, disease epidemics, and terrorism, all of which increase vulnerability of Ugandans by the day. Currently, Uganda is grappling with a possible Ebola outbreak with a few reported positive cases at the border with the DR Congo.
One would rightly argue that Uganda has had more than enough triggers to provoke an expedited development of a comprehensive legislative framework on disaster risk management.
One that among others assigns authorities and responsibilities to individuals and/or institutions, but sadly, there is none. The closest there is being the National Policy on Disaster Preparedness and Management (2011), whose goal is to “establish institutions and mechanisms that will reduce the vulnerability of people, plants and wildlife to disasters in Uganda.”
However, policies are not binding and we, therefore, see continued reliance on several sectoral laws, which however, are lacking in a number of aspects. The problems that usually arise out of disaster are very complex and require a comprehensive and coordinated management policy and legislation, and the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) notes that “without a comprehensive and binding legal directive that obliges actors and agencies to take action, the natural inertia of bureaucracies means that non-specified essential tasks are unlikely to be undertaken.”
A cursory look at the four priority areas of the Sendai Framework for DRR (2015-2030) under which Uganda operates reveals that Uganda has made significant progress on the four priorities of the framework, having put in place National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, functional Disaster Management Committees at district level, and a functional National Emergency Coordination and Operations Centre (NECOC), but there is need for a legislation, to further strengthen the established institutions and to increase accountability.
The checklist for Disaster Risk Reduction legislation developed jointly by the International Federation of the Red Cross and the UNDP calls for a legislation that prioritises risk reduction; establishes clear roles and responsibilities related to risk reduction for all relevant institutions from national to local level; and ensures that sufficient resources are budgeted for disaster risk reduction.
Also establishes clear procedures and responsibilities for risk assessments; establishes clear procedures and responsibilities for early warning; requires education, training and awareness-raising to promote a ‘whole of society approach’ to DRR; ensures the engagement of all relevant stakeholders in risk reduction decisions and activities; addresses gender concerns and the special needs of particularly vulnerable categories of persons; and puts in place adequate mechanisms to ensure that responsibilities are fulfilled and rights are protected. It goes without saying that the lack of a disaster risk management legislation by the government fails Ugandans on all the foregoing fronts.
Three years down the road, the Office of the Prime Minister is still in the process of formulating a national disaster management Bill. It is about time probably that a motion to introduce a Private Members Bill on DRR was brought to and debated in Parliament.
Ms Ndaaba is a Disaster Law Project manager/In-House Legal Counsel, Uganda Red Cross Society. firstname.lastname@example.org