The mudslides in the East will have long-term effects on many people. I was able to be part of the second phase team of PC volunteers volunteering in the camps a few weeks ago. While I am back at site now there are volunteers that continue to rotate in and out of Bududa doing whatever relief work is needed. Initially we were involved in setting up the camps, doing food and non-food distributions, digging latrines and garbage pits, and anything else the Red Cross asked us to do. Now, they have moved on and are addressing the education needs. A primary school is being set up and health education seminars are taking place. Recovery and reintegration will be a long process.
For more information on the landslides and PC's initial involvement the following has been written:
Peace Corps Uganda Responds to Help Victims of the Bududa Landslides
On the same day the global media outlets were mustering resources to cover spoiled super-model Naomi Campbell’s back-seat assault of her chauffeur, over 300 people lost their lives in a horrific landslide in a remote coffee growing region of eastern Uganda . More than 1000 people were displaced from their homes. As government officials chastised the survivors for settling on a flood plain and over-farming and deforesting the steep, lush slopes of Mount Elgon , Peace Corps Volunteer Nicole Fiol Molina made her way to the site to dig with her hands in search of victims and survivors in the now mass grave. As recovery efforts ended Ms. Molina distributed water and storage containers at the make-shift camp for displaced residents.
The next day Nicole was joined by three other Peace Corps volunteers who had registered with the Uganda Red Cross (URC) in the district capital of Mbale. They were able to hitch a ride with the URC rescue workers, to the end of a 45 kilometer dirt road. Leaving their vehicle, they hiked up the mountain for nearly two hours and then took turns digging in the mud-plastered slopes of the tragedy. By that evening, the Peace Corps country director and eight more volunteers had arrived bringing blankets, water purification tablets and shovels along with strong backs.
The first displaced persons camp set up in Bukaliso by the Ugandan military was fraught with problems. Too little open, flat land meant too few shelters. Sanitation deteriorated rapidly as the local supply of clean water was quickly overwhelmed. Large scale transport to the area remained difficult; food was scarce and the homeless had no way to prepare what little they had. When food did arrive, local leaders wanted it distributed to all the community not just to the displaced. The URC and UNICEF declined to allow such intervention as the effort intensified and so decided to focus on their second camp in the lower village of Bulucheke .
On Saturday, March 6, four days after the mudslide, the URC, UNICEF and Peace Corps Uganda coordinated their efforts to set up facilities in Bulucheke to shelter, feed and distribute supplies to over 500 people. URC District Relief Manager Kevin Matsumbe, a soft spoken woman of abundant patience and tenacity, provided overall direction. While the Ugandan Peace and Defense Force (UPDF) aided by regionally stationed US troops focused on the recovery effort, the three civilian agencies worked on the Bulucheke camp.
With remarkable quickness UNICEF responded with container truck loads of tents, storage cans, household supplies and food. As hundreds of hungry and injured watched in the rain, the trucks managed to get within only 200 meters of the areas designated to erect the storage and distribution tents. Peace Corps and URC quickly organized unloading supply lines as UNICEF and Peace Corps Volunteers helped erect the storage and distribution shelters. In less than one hour, two large tents protected supplies and workers from the steady rain. Next, the food, including maize flour, beans and nutritional supplements, along with bottled water were off-loaded and moved to the shelter. The URC asked the Peace Corps volunteers to organize the names of the displaced onto lists. From these lists, cards were distributed to assure those in most need received assistance. Distribution began by late afternoon and well before dark over 550 people received food for their families.
The following day, Peace Corps, URC and UNICEF once again teamed to off-load a large truck stranded in the thick, ubiquitous mud and pitched 34 temporary homes each measuring 24 square meters. UNICEF completed the construction of five multi-stall latrines that day, and water stations were established at the periphery of the camp.
Over the next week, the URC with Peace Corps and UNICEF will focus on the daily operations of the camp and the establishment of a second camp. Flooding and the potential for additional landslides are constant concerns for the people working the banana, coffee and cassava farms in the district. The URC is urging people of those communities to move temporarily from flood plains and from anywhere visible fissures in the mountain sides portend more disasters. This will likely mean larger, more long-term camps.
URC’s Kevin Matsumbe was thrilled with the unsolicited show of support and work from Peace Corps. “You came and did such strong work,” she told the PC country director. “And all so coordinated and organized. You helped us do in two days what would have taken four or more otherwise. I’m sure that alone helped us save more lives.”