Bagungu elders, one of the indigenous communities at the Lake Albert water’s edge are using the 1962 flood experience to warn the younger generation and immigrant communities against hesitating to relocate to other areas amidst the growing risk of life and loss of properties.
They sound the warning as some families adamantly remain in areas threatened by floods in anticipation that the situation will normalise in a little while.
Speaking to Kazi-njema News, Mr Barnabas Kakuru Bagadira says the devastating 1962-1964 Lake Albert floods submerged a trading centre that can only be remembered by those aged above 65 years old.
Finger pointing at the water about 500 metres away, Mr Bagadira said once there lived a rich man who built a state-of-the-art house of the time at that place called ‘Kampyo’ but was submerged by the floods.
“As elders, we know because we saw. That place was called ‘Kampyo’ derived from a Lugungu word ‘mpyo’ for a crocodile because there were many crocodiles there. It’s the immigrants who named it ‘Songa’ that you hear now. Until now, that area was never re-occupied because water remained there,” said Mr Bagadira.
He recalls a rich man called Erukana who had built a tile-roofed house.
Like water is currently continuing to burst the shores, the 1960s’ water also continued flooding forcing people who were living at Mubakuru-a landing site not far from Wanseko town to flee.
The adjacent Katala landing site was also submerged, thus, attracting the attention of former President Dr Apollo Milton Obote leading Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) government officials to visit the affected people.
“The UPC Secretary General, Mr John Kakonge, who also served as Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, Cooperatives and Marketing came here. He supplied relief aid and set the ball rolling to see how the affected persons could survive,” he says.
“[Mr] Kakonge came with other ministers and reached here. They drew a plan to relocate the affected persons and plots were distributed in areas of Wanseko,” he continues.
According to Mr Bagadira, since then, the indigenous Bagungu knew the uninhabitable water areas but unfortunately the immigrants and government leaders have not been minding about the ideas the elders gave them while establishing settlements.
He says there are all signs that even those not yet affected will be affected because the speed at which the water is submerging the area this round is higher than that of 1962.
Mr Bagadira reveals to this website that all the first victims of floods have either been immigrants from West Nile and the Democratic Republic of Congo or Bagungu and other Ugandans from other areas.
“The Alur migrants started calling us fools when they saw us avoiding these areas now submerging. They used to say ‘Magungu mii’ loosely meaning ‘Bagungu are fools’ because we failed to build houses there. I’m sorry that they are now homeless,” Mr Bagadira says.
However, the elder expresses concern that the government is not taking a serious intervention to rescue and look for a durable solution to this recurring problem.
The Buliisa County parliamentary representative, Mr Steven Biraahwa Mukitale, has been promising more support from the central government after it delivered a batch of maize flour, jerry cans and few tarpaulins before the hitch prolonged.
Urging academicians to pick interest in documenting the events on Lake Albert floods such that they can guide the future, Mr Mukitale says he is pushing the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to look into a comprehensive resettlement plan for the growing number of homeless persons.
Mr Wilson Kiiza, the Executive Director for Bugungu Heritage and Information Centre, says the effects of these floods are becoming widespread and might affect the settlement pattern forever, threaten land security and also sabotage oil production efforts since some oil wells are submerged and the planned feeder pipeline route land is being settled on by those fleeing the floods.
Floods have affected not only Lake Albert but also Lakes Kyoga and Victoria and those on low laying areas of Ruwenzori region and the banks of the Nile River in Pakwach, Nwoya and Yumbe districts flowing through South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.
The situation is not likely to become better any time soon as warned through radio spot messages run by the Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED) supported by Avocas Sans Frontier (ASF) since May this year.
According to the Ministry of Water and Environment report accessed by Kazi-njema News, floods have melted records in the documented history of floods in Uganda.
As of May 19, 2020, the water level on Lake Victoria had risen to 14.48 metres compared to 14 metres –the highest of the 1964 memorable floods.
Lake Kyoga recorded 14.4 metres which was a metre above the 1964 highest record.
Meanwhile, on Lake Albert, water had risen to 14.6 metres above the 1964 floods by 0.4 metres.
As of November this year, the ministry noted a 0.3 metre-water level drop on Lake Victoria only attributed to a reduction of rains in the neighbouring Rwanda and Tanzania.
Analysts have been attributing the water reduction there to the deliberate release of water at the Owen Falls Dam that saved rich business men on the lake at the expense of the poor majority of Lakes Albert and Kyoga.
An official from the ministry who preferred anonymity says if they had not done that to save Owen Falls Dam from breakdown first, the impact of the floods would affect all services including the critical health sector and the manufacturing industry that rely on hydro electricity power.
As for Lake Albert, water is constantly increasing and in general, the water level might continue to rise as the March and April rains pour next year.
People are advised to vacate the shorelines.
The actual number of thousands of people displaced by floods in the country is hard to estimate since there are no clear government records as it has been pre-occupied with the Covid-19 pandemic and the fight against desert locusts and now political campaigns that have captured the attention of the would be planners in response to floods.
Mr Moses Semahunge of Bulindi Chimpanzee and Conservation Project says the impact on human activities and settlements could have even been minimal if the government laboured to take the 1964 flood records seriously and invested more in research for conservation.
People would even know where to construct their houses.
Environmentalists have attributed the increasing difference of floods compared to the 1964 ones to the degradation of wetlands and forests that store water during rains and release it during the dry season.
It means water just has to flow to the major water bodies.
It should be noted that a lot of public infrastructures including the multi-billion Panyimur market, roads and Butyaba Health Centre 3 have been taken over by water meaning the government itself has fallen a victim of this disaster.
No alert messages were heard by the lake dwellers to vacate before and when the water level started rising in November 2019.
The alarm was heard after the effects started spreading to major investments like beaches at Ggaba on Lake Victoria in March 2020.
Kazi-njema News reporter hopes this should generate lessons.