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How Mbale floods exposed Mbale’s physical planning department

Pictures and videos of the scenes at Nabuyonga River showed terrified people squirming for safety as water levels rose in Mbale City suburbs of Maluku, Namatala, Busajjabwankuba, Nkoma, Bugema, toppling houses and felling banana trees.

The heavy rains that caused Mbale City’s Rivers to burst their banks and submerge buildings have exposed the poor City’s planning department.

Many buildings built along the Banks of Nabuyonga and Namatala Rivers and in wetlands were submerged as a result of poor construction policies and builders not following the physical plan of the town.

Pictures and videos of the scenes at Nabuyonga River showed terrified people squirming for safety as water levels rose in Mbale City suburbs of Maluku, Namatala, Busajjabwankuba, Nkoma, Bugema, toppling houses and felling banana trees.

Any visitor to Mbale will notice that the physical plan of the City has been grossly mismanaged with buildings haphazardly erected on road reserves, sewerage lines, in wetlands, street alleys, and river banks, all in total disregard of the urban authorities’ laws and regulations.

The Minister of internal affairs, Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, once said of Mbale City authorities as lacking in capacity to effectively handle the City’s physical planning and development after he discovered that gazetted spaces such as nursery beds, rugby grounds, Uhuru parks, public open areas and wetlands had been fraudulently allocated to developers by politicians as physical planning technical staff looked on.

Yesterday, scenes of houses/ buildings in the City, a primary school [IUIU primary school] being submerged and destroyed by the floods should have reminded the City’s physical planning department that all is not well.

The Uganda Minister of Uganda Ms Robinah Nabanja who responded to the disaster immediately on 31 July [Sunday] described the situation as caused by environmental degradation and encroachment on wetlands in the City.

“How many people are going to die like this, we must respect nature, we must protect our environment?” said Ms Nabanja.

Mr Paul Magimbi, a retired Physical Planning Consultant says although the physical planning process and practice instituted by the British colonialists and later adopted by the post-independence governments remain in place, the actual land use and urban development on the ground has little or no relevance at all.

He revealed that urban centres countrywide like Mbale comprise a wide range of largely rural and informal neighborhoods, also known as slums and that settlement patterns and land uses are completely mixed and sometimes it is difficult to separate the land uses.

Mr Richard Masaba, the former mayor of Mbale municipality said planning cities to cope with extreme rainfall events is critically important to minimise property loss, reduce danger to lives, and reduce any negative effects on the natural environment.

“We must do research as a City on how to find environmental-friendly solutions for long-term sustainability and part of this is how our cities can be better designed, not to prevent floods, but to cope with flood events in a way that causes minimal damage or losses,” said Mr Masaba.

Mr Nathan Kiisa, a city opinion leader said the city has created Mbale physical planning department to enforce planning and bring orderly settlement but that the department is not playing its role just because of corruption.

“People just build anyhow and anywhere without approved plans, look at the primary school in the wetland where rice is grown and where fishponds are, some group of leaders put up this school against reports that this was a wetland but our physical planning department is doing nothing about it. Suppose our children had been there?,” said Mr. Kissa.

Mr. Fred Nambafu, the City’s physical planning department head said they have written a number of correspondences, held sensitisation meetings with the people, and even warned them to vacate the River banks and wetlands but that they have paid a deaf ear.

“We have done our part, we have warned and sensitised these people but none of them was willing to vacate the banks of rivers, Wetlands and road reserves,” said Mr Nambafu.

He explained that physical Planning is not only a function but also possibly the main element, under any land tenure system, which enables governments, different communities and individuals to determine in advance the direction and rate of progress of all land sector activities, the people do not respect this.

“Climate Change is real, we must look for ways of restoring our City environment to save our people from floods in the City, people must leave wetlands, must leave River banks, must build only with an approved plan from the physical department of the City,” added Mr. Nambafu

The Mbale City environment Officer Ms. Rhoda Nyaribi said everybody who has built in the wetland and along the banks of the rivers has been told to vacate and that these floods acted as another warning in advance before they forcefully evict them.

“We have held sensitisation workshops, we have warned people but none of them has responded and now nature has acted harshly maybe this will send them away,” said Ms Nyaribi

“It is so very clear that we need to shift our ways and change our interaction with nature,” she added.

She explained the importance of both conservation of remaining wetlands and other natural habitats, and that for the need of restoration: “we must take the restoration agenda in order to save our the city settlers from another catastrophe, people must leave the Rivers banks and get out of Wetlands and I want to insist Nobody will build in a wetland and those who are there must leave,”

Death toll Elgon floods rises as more bodies recovered

Meanwhile the number of people killed after River Nabuyonga burst its banks, sending a torrent of mud barreling into homes has risen to 21, Red Cross said.

A super custom that plunged into River Nabuyonga with about ten people on Board has been retieved and the bodies removed from the vehicle

And a team of Red cross workers and local people armed with sticks and ropes are continuing picking through the rubble early on Monday, in search of more victims of the floods which took place on Sunday 31 July in Mbale City.

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