UGANDA: Officials hope emergency will be avoided as rains subside

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Heavy rains have displaced thousands and damaged crops in eastern and northern Uganda, but officials are optimistic an emergency will be avoided as better weather is predicted.

"Some people have been affected by heavy rains with some displaced, but this does not mean that we shall see an emergency because the meteorological department has already told us that the rains are at their end," Musa Ecweru, state minister for disaster preparedness and refugees, said.

Crops in most affected areas, the minister said, had been destroyed, while roads had been degraded. "We think this flood situation will pass without causing the same destruction as last year," he told IRIN on 18 November.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said weather patterns were returning to normal.

"Two weeks of heavy rains in eastern Uganda saw some low-lying areas water-logged," Kristen Knutson, OCHA public information officer in Kampala, said.

"The region has suffered the usual effects of heavy rains - muddy roads that cannot be navigated [and] some crop fields have been water-logged," she told IRIN.

According to OCHA, poor road conditions resulting from heavy downpours had hampered humanitarian access to parts of northern Uganda and Karamoja.

For example, sections of the Lira–Kitgum and Pader–Puranga roads had drastically deteriorated, rendering them virtually impassable.

In Gulu and Amuru districts, food aid trucks have been stuck at several locations, while in Lotukei sub-county of Karamoja, some 4,500 people could not be reached for immunisation due to flooding.

Ugandan media quoted local leaders in the eastern Katakwi District as saying recent floods had cut off the Katakwi-Amuria road, affecting 6,222 households.

The district disaster management committee leader Kenneth Onyait said huts had collapsed, while crops such as sim-sim, cassava, sweet potatoes, groundnuts, maize and cowpeas had been destroyed. Roads had also been washed away and water sources contaminated, while some pit-latrines had collapsed.

Asked to comment on press reports that 15,000 people had been displaced by the floods, Ecweru said he would not be in a position to give precise figures until results came in from an assessment being carried out jointly with the UN.
In August, the government issued a flood alert, warning people in low-lying areas and on mountain slopes to prepare for heavy rains that could cause landslides.

"We are going to make an assessment and we shall definitely intervene in accordance with the magnitude of the problem," Ecweru added. "Currently, we are helping the people in eastern Uganda to build flood-resistant homes in Teso."

Food security levels

According to the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net), an estimated 2.15 million people are moderately to highly food-insecure in north-eastern, northern and eastern Uganda.

Populations in Karamoja are the most food-insecure due to a lack of food stocks and because widespread poverty and livestock diseases have depleted most of their coping capacity.

The 2007 flooding isolated 25 out of 80 districts and compelled President Yoweri Museveni to declare a state of emergency in northern and eastern Uganda - a first in his 20-year reign. About 1.7 million people were affected.