by Staff Writers
Kampala (AFP) March 8, 2010
Uganda plans to resettle at least 500,000 people living in mountainous areas over fears that last week's deadly landslide could happen again, a minister said Monday.
"The total population at risk of landslides and floods is estimated to be 500,000," State Minister for Disaster Preparedness Musa Ecweru told reporters.
"We plan to resettle the population from these very high risk locations, once emergency operations of the current situation end."
The 500,000 figure refers to 300,000 people living around Mount Elgon and another 200,000 living on similar terrain in western Uganda.
Following a visit to Bududa district, the region hit last week by the mudslides that killed an estimated 350 people, Ecweru said he believes much of the Elgon region is too dangerous to be lived in.
"The Elgon region has been invaded up to very dangerous slopes and if we don't relocate these people we are likely to witness a repeat of what we have witnessed," he said. "To me, this is a wake-up call."
He added that Uganda has begun work on a programme to relocate all people currently living in the Mount Elgon region.
Ecweru also said that since several weather reports predict that Uganda will continue to see heavy rainfall for several weeks, people living in mountainous areas should be concerned.
The spokesman of the Uganda Land Alliance, a non-governmental organisation working on land distribution and property ownership issues, voiced doubts over the feasibility of Ecweru's plans for the relocation of half a million people.
"I think in the Uganda of today it is very difficult to find land that is not owned, so this is going to pose a challenge for government," Deo Tumusiime told AFP.
"They may also be rejected by the existing communities. This is a multi-cultural country, and every district has its distinct customs and traditions," he added.
Relief efforts continued in Bududa on Monday, with government, UN and other agencies distributing food and non-food items to those affected by the mudslide.
Local officials previously told AFP that the community intended to stop digging for the remains of the dead on Saturday and to declare the site a mass grave, but Ecweru said Monday that the government has decided the digging should continue.
"Search of bodies will continue until such a time when we feel all bodies have been recovered," he explained, citing the desire to ensure that humans are not buried alongside the animals killed in the slide