Mt Elgon residents now use ash to chase away mudslides

Mt Elgon residents now use ash to chase away mudslides

David Mafabi

Bududa- Ms Norah Nakamola, 63, stood still in her compound Nabusasi village in Bumayoka sub-county in Bududa district pondering her next move.

She looked at the sky and was able to deduce that it would pour heavily that day but remained unbothered about the cracks that could be seen visibly on the ground at her home.
That afternoon she had expected sunshine to give her a rest from the threats of mudslides that have killed several people and buried crops.

And across in the neighbouring ridges she could see people moving swiftly to remove everything they had spread to dry as others moved slowly through the remains of their gardens.   She then moved back into her kitchen, got some ash on an old traditional mud plate [Luzo] then looked at the sky and pronounced; “Tsya, tsya, ukhakhupa hano tta” loosely meaning [go, go don’t rain here] as she spread the ash in the atmosphere.

Then, she bent down at the cracks that are aparently spread everywhere across Bumwalukani ridge and covered then with ash such that there was no crack clearly seen from above.

And satisfied that everything was covered, she the evoked her traditional god “Wele Matsaka, yikha ukhuwe ifula indayi, ukhonekhisa bilya taa, ukhakwira ta, bimbakho babana bo. Nukhuyete,” loosely meaning god of Matsaka, come down, give us good rains that will not destroy our food, our crops, it should not kill us, protect your children]

When Daily Monitor approaches her she says “ We shall not move away but the mudslides will move away, our grand parents lived here and they never died of mudslides because they used ash, spread into the air and they never occurred,” said Ms Nakomola.

More typically, however, the Mt Elgon residents-of whom there are over 80, 000 residents at risk of mudslides anytime, say that they are usually safe from mudslides whenever ash is spread in the air and the names of their ancestors is evoked to save them.

Ms Nakomola is not alone, there are over 1000 residents across Mt Elgon in Bugisu sub-region [Mbale, Bududa, Manafwa, Sironko and Bulambuli] who have refused to leave because she believes that ash and constant covering of the cracks will save them from impending mudslides.

Mr Gershome Busolo, 74 who lives at the slopes of Mt Elgon in Bulambuli district says the ash and the evoking of ancestors has got great part to protect the residents of Mt Elgon against the mudslides that have killed several people at the slopes of Mt Elgon.

“Our ancestors lived at Mt Elgon and they were protected from the mudslides. Those who have died, have only died vasically because they don’t observe what our elders did in the old times. What about those who have survived? We just need besides planting trees to evoke our ancestors and use ash as the traditional way of chasing away destructive rains,” said Mr Busolo.

Mr Vicent Woboya who lead a team from the prime minister’s office to register people living at the dangerous slopes of Mt Elgon prone to mudslides says that although they registered about 1934 people in Bududa Mt Elgon hills to be relocated, they found difficulty in convincing people to register for relocation.

“Mt Elgon areas prone to mudslides have been mapped  as dangerous to live in due to the 40 Km crack that runs across the mountain but there are people who are not willing to register to move away because they think they can tame mudslides using ash,” said Mr Woboya.

But the Uganda Red Cross Society insist that rather than look to superstitions, the residents of Mt Elgpn must start relocating to safer areas to be safe from mudslides.

“The reports of impending mudslides coupled with big cracks across Mt Elgon are not good news for the people.  The people must rethink, relocate to safer areas, plant tress across the mountain as a mitigation measure to be safe from mudslides,” said Mr Richard Nataka, the secretary  general of URCS.

The Multi-ministerial team that comprises ministry of works, Lands, Internal affairs, trade and industry, local government and officials from prime minister’s office mapped the areas prone to mudslides in June 2012 and started registering the residents to relocate them to other safe areas but they are yet to announce the relocation plans.

The residents claim that the efforts are aimed at grabbing their ancestral land and not to save their lives from mudslides.

National Environment and Management Authority [NEMA] and Uganda Wildlife Authority [UWA] have warned small mud flows observed on Mt Elgon with many water openings are an indication that the rocks are under tension and that some small cracks formed due bad farming practices, foot paths as well as road construction on the slopes make Mt Elgon prone to mudslides. 

According to Dr Gorretti Kitutu, the environment systems specialist at NEMA because of the ever increasing population, people have encroached on the forest cover on the mountain for settlement and economic activities making soil on the mountain loose and posing a threat of mudslides.

“Nobody can control mudslides traditionally or using ash, people must move away for safety because the entire mountain is a risky place,” said Dr Kitutu.

Local reports from Uganda Wildlife Authority indicate that the 40KM crack discovered on Mt Elgon three years ago which has now deepened from 19.2cm to 30cms, putting the lives of about 80,000 people at risk.

The Mt Elgon warden in charge of conservation Mr Richard Matanda says there is no way ash and evoking of ancestors or any god is going to save the people from mudslides until they decide to obey government order to move away.

“People must move to safe areas otherwise they risk being buried by mudslides because the cracks indicate great trouble in the waiting for our people and we must stop tempting death by using ash. We must stop encroachment and accept to be moved away from the Mt Elgon,” said Mr Matanda. Ends

Disasters at Mt Elgon Three disasters have occurred at Mt Elgon area. In March 2010, landslides hit Nametsi village in Bududa District killing 350 people and displacing thousands, most of whom are now resettled in Kiryandongo District. In 2011 there was another mudslide in Bulambuli that killed about 28 people, in March this year mudslides killed six people in Sironko District and in June there was another mudslide that buried 18 people in Bududa District.

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