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Floods in Uganda Have Lessons for Future Disaster Management 

Floods in Uganda Have Lessons for Future Disaster Management 

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Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on EDM Digest.

By Allison G. S. Knox, faculty member at American Military University 

While the coronavirus swept across the globe, major flooding in Uganda early last month displaced thousands and left at least eight people dead, the BBC reported. An estimated 200 patients were trapped inside a hospital.

The flooding was the worst in the country since 1976.

“Heavy rains flooded areas around Mount Rwenzori in Western Uganda after the River Nyamwamba burst its banks, forcing more than 100,000 people to seek refuge in nearby schools and destroying roads and bridges,” a senior government official told Africa Live.

“What complicates the matter is that this is the era of COVID. People are expected to maintain social distance, but how do you maintain distance in such a situation?” Julius Mucunguzi, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office, said by telephone.

[Related: Coronavirus and a Stressed Emergency Management System]

Kenya, Rwanda, and Somalia also experienced extensive flooding with Kenya being the “hardest hit with the government reporting 198 deaths.” In Rwanda, 55 people died and floods killed 16 in Somalia.

Uganda’s recovery needs from these floods are extensive, as the impact will unfortunately last for years.

Major weather events like these certainly can create havoc. But from what we know about major disasters, they affect the world differently.

On their own, earthquakes, floods, landslides, and other disasters can be devastatingly destructive. However, the destruction is multiplied when combined with economic, environmental, and social factors.

Natural Disasters Can Spiral Out of Control Depending on How a Community Responds  

Natural disasters can spiral out of control depending on how a community responds, manages and handles the recovery immediately after the event. The emergency management discipline is rich in scholarly discussions that pinpoint numerous factors that affect the response, recovery and management of these disaster events.

Uganda’s cataclysmic emergency started with heavy rainfall that the ground simply could not absorb. With the rainfall having nowhere to go, the accumulated water created flash flood conditions that led to landslides and the loss of lives and property.

In some cases, floodwaters can move so quickly that individuals do not realize the danger. Driving through only 18 inches of water can be quite dangerous as the vehicle can be swept away without a lot of warning.

Uganda Infrastructure Problems Include Child Malnutrition and Poor Education 

The nonprofit Borgen Project places Uganda among the poorest nations in the world. Uganda has infrastructure problems including child malnutrition, poor education, a lack of electricity and appropriate sanitation. These issues make Ugandans vulnerable to major disaster like flash floods.

From an emergency management standpoint, the infrastructure problems that need to be addressed immediately include inadequate housing, a need for more hospitals, and better roads and highways.

Uganda has a disaster management policy that will help citizens to organize and manage the flooding emergency. And while emergency management policies are essential to the quick and efficient means of managing large-scale disasters, this flooding emergency came in the midst of a global public health crisis that has killed nearly 6.5 million people.

“Helping displaced Ugandans will be complicated,” noted CGTN Africa, “given the current circumstances surrounding the coronavirus where social distancing is essential to prevent the spread, yet – shelters will also be needed to help displaced citizens.”

The Focus Needs to Be on Recovery Which Is Always Problematic during a Major Incident 

When major emergencies like the Uganda floods happen, there are always major issues to consider to help manage the crisis. While response remains one of the most important aspects, the focus needs to be on recovery, which is always problematic during a major incident.

While the flooding in Uganda certainly presents numerous obstacles from an emergency management standpoint, it also creates issues for the international community, because everything in the international political arena is interconnected. That makes it imperative for the international community to assist when large-scale emergencies arise.

Although the flooding created serious emergencies for the people of East Africa, the disaster can become a catalyst for solving other problems in Uganda and the international community. By assisting in the recovery process, Uganda may have a stronger chance of not becoming a catalyst for future crises.

About the Author: Allison G. S. Knox is an emergency medical technician and a political scientist, Allison focuses on Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, Allison worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, and International Relations, and History; a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security; and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society and also serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. 

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