Bundibugyo floods push families into suffering
UNICEF and partners strengthen capacities in disaster-prone districts to build resilience of communities
One of the religions in Uganda teaches the faithful to have more sympathy for a person who was rich and became poor than one who was always poor. That teaching comes to mind when touring settlements in Ntotoro sub county in Bundibugyo District which were laid to waste by recent floods that swept hilly areas in western Uganda.
In Kirumya trading centre on the highway between Fort Portal and Kampala, we encounter an elderly lady whose miserable conditions do not completely obscure traces of her previous living standards. At 66 years, Evarket Kabonesa’s face is covered with pain, but in her eyes, you can see more embarrassment than physical pain at what she has been reduced to.
The compound she is sitting in is behind a building complex which used to house shops, a clinic, stores and good living quarters, before all were covered under flood water which for several days remained above the window level, at two metres. Some of the businesses belonged to her children: the clinic and drug shop was for ‘Musawo’ Agnes – a daughter who is a paramedic; a beauty parlour was being run by her second daughter, Harriet; and the hair salon with modern machines belonged to another daughter, Anne. A fully stocked retail shop was for her son Stephen.
Everything was destroyed and the matriarch returned with her children and grandchildren from the high ground where they had taken refuge to start a new life of poverty in a society that modern insurance against disasters hasn’t yet penetrated, thankful that no life had been lost in the large family. All her children are there around her, having nothing to do. There are grandchildren as well. One granddaughter, Janet Muhundo, completed O’level and cannot wait for the re-opening of education institutions so she can return to Kampala where she has spent most of her life. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that her family’s capacity to keep her in city schools and hostels has been impaired.
UNICEF builds capacities of districts to better respond to disasters and resilience of communities
But some people are not waiting for insurance to arrive in Ntotoro; they have opted to build resilience for the communities so that people do not have to suffer so much because of natural and manmade disasters. Leaders and administrators from Ntotoro have joined their counterparts from Bundibugyo District’s other sub counties for a week’s training in preparedness for emergencies, at the end of which they will make a comprehensive plan for incorporation in the district’s five-year development plan and for funding the annual budgets. The process, which is supported by UNICEF and executed by Uganda Red Cross Society for the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) is funded by the Government of Japan and is also taking place in several other disaster prone districts of Uganda – Kasese, Obongi, Koboko, Nakapiripirit and Karenga.
According to Francis Senyondo, the Bundibugyo Town Clerk and convener of the District Disaster Management Committee on behalf of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), the sessions are also a Training of Trainers exercise, and the participants’ first business on returning to their sub counties is to train their teams in disaster preparedness, planning and management.
One young man, however, seems to be in a bigger hurry to handle Bundibugyo’s emergencies than most other leaders. At 23 years of age, Onesmus Bagonza is already the Speaker of Ntotoro Sub County Council. He had just completed his O’level at the time of the first COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 and his people of Ntotoro quickly noticed him during the emergencies that befell them following the heavy rains.
At Kirumya trading centre, Bagonza organized teams that dug trenches to channel flood water into Kirumya stream. Near one trading building complex which is operational even today, his team discovered a culvert under the highway which they unblocked, and the building was quickly unflooded.
Many houses in the centre were destroyed, their brick walls swept away. The centre, incidentally, is adjacent to the Semliki game and forest reserve. According to Speaker Bagonza, there is no time to rest. He walks through all the wasted settlements and markets, encouraging and helping people to clean the debris and get back to work. Bagonza wants to know when the UNICEF-supported disaster management trainings at the sub county level will be starting. He cannot wait to participate and attain knowledge that will help him better support and respond to disasters in his community.