Landslides in the Mount Elgon region.

Mount Elgon from which the National Park derives its name is an extinct volcano with an age of about 24 million years . Nine  districts share Mount Elgon and these are Bukwo, Kween, Kapchorwa, Bulambuli, Sironko, Mbale, Manafwa , Bududa and Namisindwa . The word Elgon is of Masai origin and believed to have been derived from the word El Gonyi, the name of a tribe who lived on the southern slopes of the mountain (Davies 1957). This name is not used by the greater majority of the native tribes who inhabit the slopes. For the Bagisu tribe on the west it is known as Masaba, to the Luo it is Masawa and to the Kitosh (Babukusu) on the east Luteka. The Elgon massif extends for about 80Km north to south and about 50 Km west to east. The highest point on the crater rim is 4321 meters above sea level making Elgon the eighth highest massif in Africa and the second highest in Uganda after Ruwenzori.

The general outline of the mountain is typical of a shield volcano with very gentle slopes in the order of 30 to 40. The lower part of the mountain is made up of a series of benches separated by prominent cliffs often up to 305m in height. This characteristic terrain is the product of differential weathering of the various volcanic materials resulting in a rugged landscape with cliffs and masses. The rainfall in the Mount Elgon area ranges from 1000 to 2500 mm per year.


Bududa district situated in the surroundings of Mount Elgon volcano is the hotspot for landslides in Uganda. Degradation of slopes through soil loss due to landslides in this district is a problem with fatalities, environmental consequences and food shortages in the future. During the period 1997 to 1999, landslides killed 48 people and displaced 10,000 (Kitutu et al., 2004). Further still in 2010 and 2011 about three hundred and eighty people were killed by landslides in this area.


The main triggering factor for landslides in Bududa is rainfall. Rains that go on for days while delivering little amounts of water cause more landslides because of high infiltration of the water into the soils causing stagnation. The preparatory or causal factors are geology, slope shape, slope undercutting and soils texture (Knapen et. al 2006).

The influence of vegetation is difficult to assess because almost no natural forest exists in Bududa. It is even difficult to know when the vegetation was cleared because it seems to be a long time ago. Despite this a few hills which had trees in the 1997 rainfall event did not suffer from landslides an indication that vegetation has a lot to play in preventing landslide occurrences .

Our  research is focused assessing  on the influence of vegetation and also the type of vegetation  suitable for the area .For example the Cordia Africana an indigenous tree in the Mount Elgon area has been singled out by communities to prevent landslides on slopes. However given the small sizes of farmlands its agro-forestry potential should be well researched and implemented . 


Population is a very significant driver to landslide occurrences and it also increases the risk as many people settle in the steep slopes with high landslide hazard. The communities in this area because of ignorance rarely use family planning methods. Under-age marriages have also been identified as a contributing factor to a fast growing population.

About 507 people have been killed by landslides since 1800. The economic damage from these landslides is not well documented which is one of the shortfalls in this process. For example in 1997 all bridges in Bududa were damaged by rivers and roads were completely destroyed by rivers. This was more prominent in Bushiyi, Bukalasi and Bubita areas. Currently these roads have been opened without putting in place measures to reduce the damage if extreme rainfall events occurred


The main economic activity is farming and both cash and food crops are grown. The  communities are strongly dependent on forest land for farming, food, firewood, among others. It is therefore important; to change the dependency on land as the only source of livelihood by creating awareness on the importance of forest conservation and finding alternative source of income. The level of education is low and 60% of the communities have attained primary level education and 10% have no formal education. This makes it difficult for many to easily understand the conservation measures that reduce landslide disasters

 The forest is of great importance, as it provides them with medicinal plants, food, rainfall, farming source of energy and construction materials. The people have long been dependent on the forest for construction materials, food and bamboo shoots. The community is aware of the consequences of forest encroachment and illegal activities carried out in the forest reserve.  landslides occurrences are due to clearing of forests. Some of the alternative interventions suggested by the community included, sensitization of the community about the usefulness of afforestation,  the Government should come up with strict rules on those who encroach on forests.


The Elgon region has semi urban and rural communities with an estimated population of 1,795,567. The population is engaged in various economic and social activities including; subsistence farming of both cash and food crops, business/trade, rearing domestic animals like goats among others

Landslides and floods are one of the most important disasters today with floods alone reported to account for 6.8 million deaths worldwide. Estimates indicate that Asia and Africa are among the most vulnerable regions prone to disasters with Asia alone accounting for about 50% of flood related death. The occurrence of landslides and floods in East Africa has increased over the past decades with enormous Public Health implications and massive alterations in the lives of those affected. Uganda is one of the African countries most prone to disasters. In 2010, flooding of the banks of river Manafwa and landslides in Bududa district in the Mt. Elgon region left 5,000 individuals displaced and over 400 killed. The Mt. Elgon region of Uganda is reported to have the highest rates of landslides and floods in the country with devastating effects on the livelihood of people. The key primary effects to landslides and floods in the Mt. Elgon region include loss of life and injuries, destruction of infrastructure, destruction of farm land and livestock and destruction of property and business. In the long run, communities with broken sanitation facilities, disrupted education systems, malnutrition and poverty are susceptible to secondary effects such as famine, disease outbreak


There are  a number of factors predisposing people, infrastructure and institutions to the effects of landslides and floods among which include; settling in high risk areas such as mountain slopes, lack of information on mitigation measures to reduce the effects of landslides; instability of slopes; the informal nature of houses which makes them prone to collapsing in the event of a landslide; and low level of preparedness in the district. In the event of a disaster, social characteristics of household members such as age, sex, health status and disability increase vulnerability to the disaster effects. Oftentimes, women, children, the sick and the elderly have been reported to be the most at risk groups affected by landslides and floods. In particular the young children and elderly are vulnerable because they are too weak to run and often times remain at home and miss out on the warnings about the threat of landslides and floods.

In sub-Saharan countries particularly, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda, individuals, households and communities have come up with some local coping strategies.Coping strategies are a combination of all the strengths, attributes and resources available within a community, society or organization that can be used to avert some or all of the negative effects of a shock or stress. For instance, relocation to safer areas if the threats are too great to ignore, receipt of aid and relief, and resorting to subsistence and innovative farming practices such as terracing in order to overcome crop destruction following heavy rains . In Uganda the national policy for disaster preparedness and management addresses some key coping issues such as resettlement of people living in high risk areas, applying appropriate farming technologies and prohibition of settlement in high risk areas. However, implementation of the Policy actions on landslides remains significantly inadequate. This could probably be because of the limited capacities to manage and reduce disaster risks at both community and national level.





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