Battling floods and rebuilding hope in the Kasese District

[quotes quotes_style=”bquotes” quotes_pos=”center”]In Kasese District, Uganda, we discover the challenges the community faces as they strive to recover from the devastating impact of heavy rainfall. This is the seventh of the “Voices from the Frontline (Phase III)” stories by GRP and ICCCAD supported by Irish Aid.[/quotes]

Growing up as a schoolboy in the 80s and living in the Kilembe valley, a former Canadian Copper Mining area, I could tell how modern the area was, especially in the Kasese District. Until 2015, the Kilembe Valley provided basic services and amenities for the local community, including schools, hospitals, markets, domestic water systems, and electricity. At 17, I felt that I would make the Kilembe Valley my permanent home once I graduated with a bachelor’s degree because it was indeed spectacular to stay in this modern city in Uganda. It had beautiful and calm rivers, about 13 of which flowed quietly from Mt. Rwenzori, also referred to as The Mountain of the Moon, and poured into lake George and Edward.

The impact of excessive rainfall in the Kasese District

However, in recent years, Mt Rwenzori has been experiencing an excessive amount of heavy rainfall. Twenty years ago, such rainfall would have been seen as a cause for celebration and welcomed for its positive impact on harvests, especially of the Rwenzori yam (Ekinyangwa). The rains would have brought joy to the households residing on the mountain slopes, as it ensured food security and nutrition. However, the recent torrential rains have caused devastating floods, resulting in erosion along riverbanks. Tragically, landslides and mudslides have claimed lives and caused significant destruction, including vital infrastructure, food supplies, and livestock.

I still have fresh memories of my good friend Paddy Karusu, who had lived in Kilembe for the last 20 years. He could not survive when the river Nyamwamba flooded on 1 May 2013. He was not the only one who was taken away by the mighty river surges as many were affected as well. According to the 2013 Kasese District Disaster Report, there was massive flooding of 13 rivers in a span of two weeks from 1-15 May 2013. During this period, the district recorded losses of 14 schools, 15 bridges, two hydropower facilities, and three health facilities. Additionally, 1633 acres of annual and seasonal perennial food and cash crops, 44 fish ponds, livestock, and poultry were also lost. This calamity led to the displacement of 1820 households, greatly impacting the entire Kasese community, which heavily relied on these vital services. Even as of December 2022, Uganda continues to face severe weather-related events.

Photo: Kasese District Local Government – Republic of Uganda

Challenges in responding to flooding 

For several years now, since 2013, the Government of Uganda, NGOs and community leaders have responded to support the most affected people living in Internally Displaced People’s camps (IDPs). However, responses have not been completely effective as they have not addressed the root causes of flooding. An example of a solution is to reinforce the riverbanks, which are consistently eroded by the forceful running water, with stone rubble.

The rehabilitation of destroyed and important infrastructure has only been partially addressed, this is because of the lack of sufficient government financing and other forms of donor funds. The district local government of Kasese has the willingness to take action but is struggling due to lack of funding. Kilembe Hospital has been providing important medical services to thousands of women and children. However, after the 2013 floods, it had to be relocated, about 10 kilometers away from its original location. As a result, women and children have to walk approximately 15 kilometers in search of medical services.

Due to floods destroying the schools, learners have been accommodated in temporary tents. The construction of new schools in safer locations has not started yet as there are no finances allocated for these constructions. The rehabilitation and rebuilding of damaged infrastructure has presented a significant challenge for the government, as climate change-induced disasters persistently impact the nation. This situation further exacerbates the inequalities communities residing along the slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains in Kasese, Bundibugyo, Bunyangabo, and Ntoroko face.

Interviewer’s perspective:

This is the era where the impacts of climate change are real. The climate crisis is largely impacting communities with very poor economic livelihoods and many of these are in the Global South and Uganda is no exception. We are paying a price for something which we barely contributed to. It is thus the responsibility of countries in the Global North, which have achieved substantial development at the cost of the global climate, to support developing countries to address losses and damages caused by climate change.