Natural disasters on the rise as Kisika village loses 16 people to mudslides

By Francis Musinguzi, KRC Uganda.

In the week hours (2.00 am) of Wednesday morning of 7th September 2022, the residents of Kisika Village, Rukoki Sub County in Kasese District awoke to the horror of mudslides that swept through Kisika Trading Centre, leaving 16 people dead and several others severely injured.

One, Mr. Baluku Solomon, the Headteacher of Good Hope Primary School, whose house stood in the way of the runoff, perished together with his wife and child. The extent of the damage could not be fathomed but it’s estimated that the lives and livelihoods of over 1,000 families in Kigoro-1 Parish were severely disrupted. Survivors of the mudslides were hosted within the homes of their extended families and friends.

A Disaster Management Coordination (DMC) meeting was organised by the Kasese District Local Government on the 8th September at the Council Hall, Rukoki Sub County and attended by a delegation from OPM, heads of security departments, the Resident District Commissioner, UN agencies, and civil society represented by Red Cross Uganda and KRC Uganda. Most key, the meeting deliberated on the preparedness of the local and central governments in delivering relief aid and the resettlement plan for the displaced families. It was also proposed that the survivors of the disaster be integrated into their extended families rather than resettle them in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) camps. It was feared that IDP camps rise unmanageable demands on the side of government. Mr. Bagonza John Kivete, the Vice Chairperson of Kisika Mudslide Disaster Committee castigated the capability of government to fully meet people’s needs while in the IDP camp. He recalls the ordeal of over 1,000 people who were displaced by the flooding of River Nyamwamba in May 2020. The survivors have since encamped at Muhokya IDP Camp in Muhokya Town Council, Kasese District, waiting in-vain for government resettlement promises.

The geographical risk of the affected area

The real epicentre of the disaster was at Kisika Trading Centre where the mudslide runoff caring huge boulders, debris and sand ripped through the homes and business of the residents, bringing life to a standstill. Kisika community lies within the greater Nyamwamba River basin, nestled within high rise steeps of the Rwenzori Mountain in Rukoki Sub County. From the outlook, the area poses unsuspecting threats of flood and landslide disasters. Following the mudslides, the threat is now greater than ever, in view of the erratic rainy season and the impending rise in water levels of River Nyamwamba.

Photo: Unplanned human settlements in Kisika, built in the valleys prone to flash floods and landslides

According to Dr. Clovis Kabaseke, an Agro-ecologist and Head of Department of Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism Department at Mountains of the Moon University, he argues that the Kisika incident was a disaster waiting to happen. Dr. Kabaseke draws his argument from what he describes as compromised and unplanned human settlements in the area. He adds that that incidents like this are dreadful regrets over what ought to be done, but is not being done.

According to elders of the area, the mudslides in Kisika was the first incident of the kind in their lifetime. Matsipa Paul who is almost 100 years and Muhinda Ibrahim Byahali who is 83 years do not recall such incidents happening in the area. Local knowledge however, needs to appreciate that overtime, human activities have altered the forest landscape as a result of massive destruction forest resources on the mountain slopes.

Photo: Steep terrain, vulnerable soils, degraded vegetation make large parts of the Rwenzori to landslides

KRC collaborative interventions

The Rwenzori region has become a recurrent hotspot for landslides and floods disasters, prompting localised studies and pilot interventions to find solutions.

  1. The Synergy Project

In 2015, following a climate vulnerability study conducted by KRC, a forest restoration campaign was launched through the SYNEGY PPROJECT to rebuild the forest landscape on slopes and on the farms in Kigoro-1 Parish, Rukoki Sub County. This project enabled farmers to massively plant trees and manage community tree nurseries.

From the ruins of the Kisika mudslide disaster lies evidence that forest restoration can help resolve many of our environmental concerns. It was evident that trees planted by the Synergy Project affirmed the role of trees and forests in the prevention of landslides and rehabilitation of landslide-affected areas.

  • Beyond Observing

In 2018, Mountains of the Moon University, KRC Uganda and KU Leuven University partnered to implement, collaborative research project on natural hazards and disasters, “Beyond Observing”, that introduced the model of the Geo-observers’ network for information and communication of disasters, aimed at enhancing wide dissemination and use of research data on hazards and disasters.

More practical work needs to be done, and the argument of Dr. Kabaseke of Mountains of the Moon University stands, that what ought to be done, but is not being done needs to be done. The physical planners of government should prevail over organisation of human settlements to avoid risky areas. Human activities on the slopes should also be regulated to promote forest regeneration.