Tuesday, 30 August 2011

2011 Bulambuli Landslide, Eastern Uganda

A major landslide has affected the slopes of Mount Elgon in the Bulambuli District of Eastern Uganda. The landslide has been attributed to heavy rains in the region which is prone to large landslides. In a region hit by drought, with many requiring food aid following the lack of April-May rain, these torrential rains, flooding and landslides are a further blow for local communities. 

The landslide in Bulambuli is believed to have killed at least 24 people, including many children. An entire village is reported to have been buried in mud - which suggests that the death toll could rise as the rescue process continues. Sources suggest that further landslides are possible as heavy rains continue and one report suggested that experts had identified a 40km crack along the slopes of Mount Elgon that could put over 8000 people at risk from major landslides. It is believed that these observations were made by researchers at the University of Makerere in Uganda.

In March I wrote a report of a major landslide that had occurred a year earlier (March 2010) in Bududa, Eastern Uganda. The article highlighted the series of problems that led to the landslide occurring and made some recommendations in order to reduce the risk of future disasters. The article called for:

1) RELOCATION: A thorough and detailed examination of the Mount Elgon area to determine the areas at greatest risk of landslides. Those at greatest risk should be relocated. The Governments plans to relocate over half a million people have proved to be slow and unrealistic (as I suggested in March), but some relocation must occur to avoid further serious tragedy.

2) INCREASED SUSTAINABLE FARMING: Working with communities to encourage a more sustainable farming method in the region, reducing deforestation, undercutting of slopes and increasing natural drainage. There are significant concerns that over-farming on these slopes is increasing soil erosion, reducing natural anchorage and thus continually increasing the vulnerability of these slopes.

3) ENGINEERING SOLUTIONS: Improving draining of the slopes and toe weights at the foot of particularly vulnerable slopes to increase stability. In addition some instruments could be used to  measure the conditions of the slope, instruments such as inclinometers (to measure deviation from the vertical - i.e. if the slope is moving) and piezometers (to measure the pore fluid pressure).