It was very sad to read last week of another large landslide on the slopes of Mount Elgon, in eastern Uganda. Heavy rains resulted in a large landslide sweeping away three villages, and burying an estimated 70 people.This area of Uganda has been hit by other landslides in recent years. In March 2010 an estimated 350+ people were buried by a large landslide, and in August 2011 a landslide killed an estimated 24 people.
These articles proposed a series of measures that should be considered in order to reduce the risk of further disasters:
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, 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 instrumental measurement of the slope condition could provide valuable information.
A holistic, multi-faceted approach is essential, as all three of the above have their challenges and limitations. Many people do not want to be relocated, as the slopes of Mount Elgon have good, fertile soil. Compulsory relocation has its challenges, and so there must also be investment in training for farmers - relating to reducing soil erosion and deforestation, and improving drainage. Possible engineering investments should also be considered. Without some form of action the images that we have seen in the past week are likely to be seen again and again.
As Dave Petley has written on The Landslide Blog, this has not been the only landslide recently. There have been significant landslides in Bangladesh and India as well, with a number of fatalities, injuries and missing people.