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Health fears follow deadly mudslides

People displaced by landslides receive bottled water and biscuits from local leaders
People displaced by landslides in Uganda receive bottled water and biscuits from local leaders (Vincent Mayanja/IRIN)

Rose Nakhayetse is lucky to be alive, but her ordeal is far from over. Having narrowly escaped last week’s deadly landslides in eastern Uganda, she and thousands of others are facing fresh dangers.

The 24-year-old and her nine-month-old baby were saved from a muddy avalanche by the wall of her house. “I heard cracks and sounds of explosion but when it persisted, I went outside, only to discover that the earth was moving towards us,” she told IRIN.

“Things were happening so fast, so I decided to run with my baby. That is how I survived. Thank God the moving mud stopped just behind our house, but my two other boys were in the neighbourhood and I have not seen them since. Maybe they are among those who died, but we have not found their bodies,” she said.

Ninety-two bodies have been recovered from the scene of the disaster, and some 367 people are still missing, according to Ugandan officials.

Nakhayetse is one of more than 1,000 people camping in the grounds and four classrooms of a primary school in the village of Bukalasi, where relief efforts have yet to meet the many needs of the displaced. There is a single pit latrine for all of them.

“The numbers here are too big and we do not have enough toilets, so that is making this place dirty,” she said.

Sanitary crisis

“A sanitary epidemic is in the offing [in Bukalasi],” warned David Mulele, a medical worker in the local health centre.

“We have recorded up to 100 cases of diarrhoea and vomiting among children and some adults. The health centre had drug stocks, but now all essential drugs for such ailments, like oral rehydration salts, Flagyl and other such drugs have all run out and we are just improvising to keep these people going,” Mulele told IRIN.

“We have the skills, but we lack the tools.”

Some of the displaced crammed in a class room at Bukalasi Primary School

Some of the displaced in a classroom at Bukalasi Primary School
Vincent Mayanja/IRIN
Some of the displaced crammed in a class room at Bukalasi Primary School
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Health fears follow deadly mudslides
Some of the displaced crammed in a class room at Bukalasi Primary School

Photo: Vincent Mayanja/IRIN
Some of the displaced in a classroom at Bukalasi Primary School

Among the immediate humanitarian needs are “safe drinking water, water storage containers, water purification/chlorination tablets, latrines and soap”, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Other urgent needs include: trucking of water to the affected populations; drilling of boreholes and rehabilitation of water springs; completion and extension of a gravity water flow scheme in Bulucheke; water quality surveillance; and provision of mobile and Ecosan toilets,” OCHA said in a report.

Also required is specific assistance for some of the children who came to the camp without their parents, who are among the missing or dead.

“We have no arrangements yet for these unaccompanied minors,” said Kevin Nabutuwa of the Uganda Red Cross Society.

Patrick Tibet, a community development worker in Bukalasi, said the displaced were in dire need of shelter and clothing as many had run away from their homes with only the clothes they had on.

Nabutuwa said tents had been secured from the government and would be distributed.

Rain risk continues

Heavy rainfall is set to continue in parts of Uganda for several weeks, prompting the government to consider permanently relocating up to half a million people living in mountainous regions.

"A total population of about 500,000 is at risk of landslides and floods. We plan to resettle this population from these very high-risk locations both in the east and west of the country, once emergency operations for the current situation end," Junior Minister for Disaster Preparedness Musa Ecweru told IRIN by phone.

The rains have flooded many villages near Bukalasi. According to OCHA, many crops and infrastructure, such as roads and schools, in the low-lying Butaleja district are under water.

“In the sub-counties of Budumba, Busaba, Nawanju, Busolwe, Busabi and Busolwe Town Council, thousands of acres of paddy rice fields, cassava, sweet potatoes, maize, sorghum, millet and vegetables – the major source of livelihood – have been affected by water, translating into an-as-yet undetermined loss of crop yield,” according to the OCHA report.

“In total, as many as 20,000 households may have been affected by the disaster with 1,000 households (6,000 people) of immediate concern,” it said.

OCHA warned that some 15,000 households risked waterborne diseases because of submerged pit latrines. “Additionally, Doho Health Centre II in Mazimasa sub-county and Namulo Health Centre II in Himutu sub-county are surrounded by water and have been rendered inaccessible,” the report said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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