We found Nandutu Ayati washing her clothes in the Sume river; the same river that swept away her home last year in October, when heavy rains led the river to burst its banks, washing away four villages, and killing over 50 people.
The youngest of her four children, who is only two years is strapped to her back while her eldest son, aged 9, sits right next to her, carrying his disabled sibling.
The other 7-year-old swims mischievously in the now tranquil river waters.
When Ayati sees us, she stops washing, her face lightening up with expectations.
Since the disaster happened in October 2018, Ayati has been living in a tent, put up a few meters from where her house used to stand.
She tells us her family has been depending on donations from government as well as other well-wishers to feed her four children, as she can no longer cultivate in the garden which is now covered with stones. Two of her children go to school, and she worries she might not be able find the school fees for them.
“My husband is a peasant, we used to get money from our coffee plantation and other small gardens. Those were washed away. I just want my children to go back to school” she says, her smile disappearing.
Matobondo Zakaria, another victim of the mudslides from the river outburst is also eager to tell his sad story.
He saw two of his neighbours’ houses being washed away with the occupants still inside. His family of four school-going children and his wife only survived because it was day time and they were able to run out of their kitchen before the floods took it.
They now live in the remaining part of the house, worried whether their house and themselves will survive the next mudslides that have become almost yearly.
He is unsure where he will get school fees for his own four children once they get back to school when the next term begins
“They have been providing us with some small food. However, I don’t know where I will get school fees because my garden was washed away. We were also told the people on top of the mountain slopes will be the first to be relocated, so we don’t know when we will be moved from this place”
Like many others living in the trading centre that is located at the river banks, the two victims and their families are unsure of what to do next since they are not beneficiaries of the government relocation project of the 7000 land slide victims, to the Bulambuli resettlement area.
According to Natono Scovia, a 20-year-old mother of one, whose house was also washed away a few minutes after she ran out, the officials who were registering the victims to be relocated to Bulambuli informed them that they will not be relocated because they were illegally occupying the land and violating the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) guidelines.
“We were told to move away from here but we don’t have anywhere to go. This is the only home we have” she said
The October mudslides disrupted over 11 villages in Bukaladi sub-county, Bududa District leaving hundreds of people misplaced
In 2010 and later in 2012, over 100 people were reported dead in the landslides in the same area.
According to Wilson Watira, the Chairman LCV Bududa District, most of the people living in the trading center along Sume River whose houses were washed away are not part of the 7000 victims from Bududa to be located because they were there wrongly in the first place.
“Those who had built in the protected zone of the river bank have been asked to move from there to other places because they were violating the (NEMA) guidelines. But most of them have other land where they can relocate to. They are only in the trading centre to do business,” he said in an interview.
According to the National Environment (Wetlands, River Banks and Lakeshores Management) Regulations under Section 107 of the National Environmental Act, big rivers and lakes have a protection zone of 200 meters from low water marks and 100 meters from highest water mark while small rivers have 100 meters and 30 meters respectively.
No economic activity or buildings are supposed to be within the protected zones.
However, it’s unclear why NEMA had never evacuated these people from this area before the calamity.
In an earlier interview at the Bududa District headquarters, Watira had revealed that due to high population pressure, encroachment of protected zones including Mt. Elgon national park was rampant, one of the reasons that have resulted into the frequent landslides in the area.
“We are working with the local government Environment Committee to ensure that the protected zones remain protected, we are going to plant trees but also sensitive people about the dangers of degrading the environment” he said
Currently Bududa has a population of about 300,000 living within 272 square miles, half of this land is covered by the national park.
“In the past years, mudslides would occur after a long period of time and only at night, now they happen almost every year and during day. People watch their loved ones being washed away. Although people had refused to move from their fertile lands, we have made them realise how dangerous this is and they are now willing to move” he said.
While launching the first phase of the Shs 39Billion Bulambuli resettlement project, the Prime Minister of Uganda Ruhakana Rugunda revealed that the relocation would start with the most vulnerable while the rest of the victims from Bududa and other high risk areas in Uganda would be considered later as more houses are built in the next ten years.
“This project will benefit over 100,000 Ugandans from risky areas from different parts of Uganda over the next ten years. However, this first phase will take in over 7000 from areas of Mt Elgon areas and Sebei because they are the most affected at the moment” he said.
Rugunda revealed that the relocated people from Bududa will surrender their land to the government to be restored into a forest so as to protect the area from more land slides
The first relocation is expected to take place two months from now, that is in march, after the 101 housing units that are under construction by UPDF and Uganda Prisons under Uganda police will be completed. Each family is expected to receive 2 and a half hectares of land of which 1 and a half will be used for modernized farming