Human activity caused Kasese floods- Experts
By Hope Mafaranga
At the first sight, my eyes were charmed by the white beautiful well shaped stones, little did I know that the stones I was admiring, left people dead and others displaced. The cause was simple, the stones were forced from the mountains by man who interrupted with nature hence destroyed the environment and causing the floods in the western Uganda district of Kasese.
Rebecca Nanjara the UNDP Climate Change Coordinator confirmed that human activities are responsible for most of the loss in biodiversity throughout the world. She was on 2nd July 2013, presenting results of the Kasese floods that left 8 people dead in May this year.
Nanjara said that many people are yet to suffer from disasters if human activities are not stopped from digging on the slopes of the mountains like Mt Elgon and Mt Rwenzori which are prone to landslide and has a number of rivers that are likely to continue flooding.
Nanjara said that such disasters can rarely naturally occur but the moment they find other things like human activities, the situation gets worse.
“What we have just witnessed in Kasese is the beginning of a long term disasters if we don’t stop human activities in protected area. Digging in the slopes, clearing of natural vegetation, cutting of trees, all these are human activities that increase the disasters,” she said.
The community must vacate
The National Coordinator of Emergency in the Prime Minister’s office Maj. Gen. Julius Oketta said that the community living along the river banks must vacate if country is to avoid more deaths.
“If we are to avoid more deaths from such disasters, people living along the river banks and slopes of the mountains must vacate and comply with the environmental programs. Every river bank must not be touched by 100 meters and people should not cultivate along the river. But now we are finding people digging up the river. We must stop interfering with the edges of the river completely,” he said.
He noted that people have over interfered with river, causing soil erosion, hence broking the original water route which also contributed greatly to the effect of the floods.
“The rivers here had a natural flow which was interfered with by the Kilembe Mines. They diverted the river from its natural flow to their own line. So now this time when the river came it was trying to go back to its former original flow,” he said
Gen Oketta appealed to people to stop destroying trees on top of the mountains in order to gain its tropical natural forests.
“In order for us to live a good life and have a secured future we must have a good environmental management to by planting trees, avoid interfering with the nature, this will enable us to stay away from such disasters which we have largely created as human beings,” he added.
Kasese district experienced its third floods on 1st May 2013, when River Nyamwamba busted its banks leaving eight people dead and more that 50,000 displaced.
The Kasese district LCV chairperson Col Mawa Muhindo said that the they are doing every possible to sensitize the people about disaster preparedness and the dangers of destroying the environment.
Snow caps melting
A source at National Environment Management Authority ( NEMA) who preferred anonymity said that looking at the snows on Mt Rwenzori from the DR Congo side, the snows are interact and the area’s vegetation and tropical forests have not been destroyed like in Uganda.
“Looking at the snows from the Congo side, the snows are beautiful and interact. But when you come to Ugandan side , there is almost nothing to see , the entire area is too degraded and the snows are not appetizing in fact they are melting off and soon disappearing,” the source said.
But Dr. Gorret Kitutu the NEMA environment information management specialist said he said that it the snow caps on Uganda side are not melting, and therefore was not responsible for the floods.
“It is not true that the snow caps are melting and they are not responsible for the floods that hit Kasese at the begging of May. The main cause of the floods was extreme highly rain flow fall, and we sometime experience this kind of abnormal rains,” she said.
Dr. Kitutu also attributed to the Nyamwamba river blast to the fire that burnt the park in 2011.
“We also suspect that the fire that burnt the park in 2011, the area that was burnt was River Nyamwamba’s catchment area and it has not recovered so when water came there was nothing to hold it which also escalated the problem that affected the people on low land,” she added.
Machi Muranga an elder in the area who witnessed the 1963 floods, was not surprised by the that history have repeated itself.
He said that the first disaster happened in 1963 and 1965, adding that it is at this time when the Canadian team came to start mining and diverted the river flow and they knew that the flooding problem will still occur and they had special machine which they used to de-silt the water from time to time and that’s why people were not having this problem. The rocks have been depositing in the river for more than 30 years.
“Since Iddi Amin chased away the Canadian, the rocks have never been removed. So many pieces of rocks have deposited reducing the depth of the river making it shallow. So any increase of the water even if it’s just one meter, it will definitely flow on the surface of the land,” he said.
He added said that all people who died during the flood, were living on the of river and when it came it had no choice but to take them.
“The people who died were interfering with the natural flow of water. They were living on the path of the river where it used to pass. When you in a space of 100 meters, and the flow come, it will not attack human being, but now human has come to the flow line, definitely when there is an overflow it will land on human habitation,” he said.
Gen Oketta said that the government and the Kasese district and municipality authorities need to plan to re-direct the water flow to the Queen Elizabeth National Park to Lake George but if they do not do that, Kasese will keep flooding until Jesus comes back.
Originally before the white man came to Africa, Kasese was called Kisesa which means a swamp or an area that normally floods.
The 2002 national census put the population of the district at approximately population at 533,000. Booker Ajuoga of ADRA Uganda said that Kasese district has a population growth rate of 3.6 percent per year, calling it a challenge to natural resources.
“The population is growing a terrible spread and if not controlled will continue to mount a huge pressure on the environment. With an increasing population, we are consuming more and more natural resources,” he said.
Ajuoga said that in 1963, when the area was seriously hit by floods, the impact was not felt like it did now because the population was still low. He added that due to population pressure, Nyamwamba, Lubiriha, Nyamughani and Mubuku rivers banks have been tapped with.
“People have opened ways for improper irrigation of their crops which they have cultivated at the banks of the rivers. These are the same routes the floods used to devastate the area,” he added.
A blessing in Disguise
The floods came as a blessing as many people are making money from sand that came with the floods. Along Kasese – Fort Portal, it’s a normal business for the ages groups who are taking part in mining the sand to make quick money.
Young children as young as 7 years, the youth , women and men are visibly excited mining sand and sell a trip of sand at sh 20,000.
Madina Biira a mother of 5 says that the floods came as a blessing because she is now able to make between sh 160,000 to sh 200,000 every day from sand.
“I wish the rains becomes too much so that floods can bring more sand to the low land for me to mine and make money, she said.
Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Uganda a humanitarian agency has donated relief items to Kasese flood victims worth US 25,000.
Booker Ajuoga, the ADRA Uganda spokesperson told the New Vision that the relief items are meant to assist over 500 affected families. The items included sacks of maize flour, beans, saucepans, salt, soap, as well as water purification tablets.
He said that registration of the affected families started on Monday by the end of Wednesday people were already receiving the relief at Kasese Primary school camp while at Buyoge Camp people were already receiving the aid.
At least 8 people were confirmed to have been killed by the floods that hit Kasese district on at the begging of this month after River Nyamwamba burst its banks following heavy rains.