What’s that? You’ve got time to kill at work, you say?

Posted: August 28, 2007 in Blog
A few stories in today’s paper…

Rural homes remain unconnected even as power lines criss-cross

Christopher Mason

IT does not take long for residents here to come up with reasons why they want electricity brought to this tiny trading centre where the mud huts outnumber brick buildings.

Whether it is better security, lighting, power to open a mill or a cooler to properly store animals’ medication (A cooler for our food, too, someone else shouts), over 100 people living here were enthusiastic after meeting for several hours under the shade of an olam tree.

They had gathered to learn more about the programme established by the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) to bring power to trading centres like Aler.
But communities like this one face an uphill battle in getting electricity, mainly because they are expected to bear a portion of the costs that goes well beyond the means of most communities.

The REA has focused its resources on bringing power to entire districts. So communities like this one, which are without power but in districts that have electricity, must contribute 30 per cent of the cost of bringing electricity to the community – a large and perhaps impossible, sum given that residents here have had their resources decimated by years of instability caused mainly by rebel attacks.

The cost
Aler Trading Centre’s leaders said they have not been told how much it will cost to get electricity, so they do not know what their contribution will be. But the goal seems realistic enough to them as they cast their eyes upwards at the power lines connecting Gulu and Lira that run over top of their community.

When Ogur sub-County Councilor Bosco Okello was asked how much Aler Trading Centre’s population of 300 people, could reasonably contribute to getting electricity, he stepped away to consult with community members.

“We think we could afford a total of Shs500,000,” Mr Okello said after returning.
“You have to understand that we don’t have much to give. People here have lost a lot the past few years.”

The troubling reality facing communities like Aler Trading Centre is that communities in northern Uganda have so far had to contribute an average of Shs300,000 per person to cover their 30 per cent share of the project cost.

Delivering this news to communities eager to get electricity has not been easy.
Recently, REA officials visited communities in Amachi sub-county. The three communities were told they would have to contribute an average of Shs7.3 million towards the cost of getting power.

Based on the number of residents who signed-up for the programme, each person would have to pay about Shs100,000. Even though that figure is only a third of the average per-person cost of northern communities in the programme, residents had no idea they would have to pay that much, according to Mr Barbara Musoke, the manager of public information at REA, who was on the trip. “They looked at the figure and were shocked,” she said in an interview.

She added that the agency reviews the programme each year, but whether the 30 per cent requirement would be lowered depends largely on funding from international donors.

The cost-sharing REA programme was established in 2005 as part of a broader effort to bring electricity to more rural Ugandans. Currently, only three per cent of rural Ugandan households have electricity. Mr Musoke said that about 300 communities have applied for electricity under the 70-30 cost-sharing programme.

The applicants are split amongst three agencies so she was unsure of how many of those have received electricity, but she said REA has brought power to about two dozen communities in this financial year and the last. “We have a very, very long way to go,” she said.

All across the country, small communities are holding meetings, just like Aler Trading Centre, to learn more about how they can connect to the grid. Recently in Erute North, three trading centres were holding such gatherings.

All present, between about 60-120 at each, unanimously wanted electricity. But they were also unanimous in their concerns about the overall cost. “There are many trading centres that want power,” said Mr Bosco Ogwang, Chairman of Amuca Trading Centre.
“But we all think the 30 per cent is too much. If it were 10 or 15 per cent it would be a bit more fair.”

Army crash death toll reahes 72

THE death toll from the Sunday evening accident on the Kapchorwa-Sironko road continued to climb yesterday as more victims succumbed to their injuries.

Some 72 people have so far died and 33 more are injured as a result of the accident that occurred after the brakes of a military truck failed, said Lt. Alex Nandege.
Lt. Nandege is the Kapchorwa District intelligence officer and was involved in removing bodies from the wreckage.

The dead include 56 soldiers, 13 women almost all of them wives of the soldiers, and four children. The dead soldiers were attached to the 107 Battalion of 3rd Division in Bukwo District bordering Kenya.

The occupants of the truck were soldiers and their families. They were being transported from Bukwo to their new base in Amudat in Nakapiripirit District. The soldiers were due for re-deployment to the 13th and 119th battalions of the same division.

The death toll is the highest the Ugandan army has ever suffered in a non-combat situation. It also ranks as one of the worst traffic accidents in recent Ugandan history.
“We have never heard of such an accident in the country before,” said Mr Lawrence Nuwabine, the regional traffic officer in Kampala.
A recent accident in Masaka claimed 32 lives.

Dangerous spot
Sunday’s accident occurred along a particularly treacherous stretch between Kapchorwa and Sironko where the road weaves its way through the foothills of Mount Elgon.
Speaking at the scene of the accident near Kapchogo Village, Lt. Nandege said the truck’s brakes failed as it went downhill forcing it to swerve from one side of the road to the other and back.

It eventually hit a concrete barrier, overturned, and tumbled down a cliff at about 5:30 p.m. “I am likely to lose most of my good soldiers,” Lt. Nandege said.
By 7 p.m. on Sunday, 48 soldiers had died but eight more died on their way to Mbale Regional Hospital.

The injured were to Kapchorwa and Mbale hospitals. The soldiers had been based along Uganda’s border with Kenya, where the army has recently bolstered its presence following clashes with Kenya’s Pokot cattle rustling pastoralists who often cross the border for livestock causing mayhem as they come and go.

Army officials are now investigating the condition of the accident truck, which was pulling a trailer packed with people. One non-army official estimated that there were about 110 people aboard the vehicle.

But Army Spokesman Felix Kulayigye said the exact number is not yet known.
“Many of [the soldiers aboard] have died but we are still trying to establish the true numbers,” he said.

High death tolls on Ugandan roads are often a result of bad driving habits, poor road conditions and vehicles that are in dangerous mechanical condition. The road between Kapchorwa and Sironko, although paved and in good condition, is particularly dangerous because it is winding given the mountainous terrain.

So far this year, say police, there have been 4,986 traffic accidents, a figure lower than for the same period last year. However, these accidents have killed 227 people, a number higher than for the comparable period last year.

Police estimate as many as 2,000 Ugandans die in traffic accidents each year, a high rate given the small number of vehicles (about 750,000) in a population of 30 million.
There was a double-cabin pick-up truck in one of the transport vehicle’s trailers. The same trailer also had passengers. Eyewitnesses said many of the deaths were caused by the pick-up truck as it swerved inside the trailer crashing people on either side.

“Most people were killed by the double-cabin pick-up that was atop the same army vehicle,” Lt. Nandege said. “It hit people in all directions and by the time the [main] truck stopped many of the people had died.”

Eyewitnesses also said the driver, a soldier, jumped out of the vehicle about 20 metres before the accident happened, after discovering that the brake system had jammed.
“The driver could have saved some lives if he had remained in the vehicle but immediately he sensed that the brakes were not working, he jumped off,” said eye-witness Sepiriya Muzungyo.

The bodies of those who died have been taken to Mbale’s Bugema Barracks, the 3 Division headquarters, from where they will await transport for burial.
The driver of the vehicle remains at large.

Rwamirama for surgery
Meanwhile, Maj. Bright Rwamirama, the minister of state for animal husbandry who suffered multiple leg fractures in a separate accident on Saturday, is to undergo surgery at Mulago Hospital today.

Maj. Rwamirama was injured when his official car, a Nissan Patrol, collided head-on with a Corona car near Mbarara town. The accident also left the minister’s driver Abel Monday, escort Sgt. Caesar Arwata, and a co-passenger, Hajji Juma Kaweesa, injured. They are being treated at Mbarara Referral Hospital.

The Corona driver, Rahmad Nyiramusha, is admitted at Mulago. Mbarara District Police Commander Ivan Nkwatsibwe blamed the accident on speeding by the minister’s driver.


Lira schools reopen as hope for peace increases

THE classrooms of Coorom Primary School in Barlonyo are again filled with the laughter of children. The school was closed in 2003 when rebel fighting in the area escalated, but it reopened last August amidst promise of renewed peace in northern Uganda. This is the situation in many other areas in the north.

It symbolizes much of the newfound hope in Lango sub-region that schools can re-open, families can return to their homes and farmers can plant crops again for the first time in five years.

On a recent afternoon visit, Daily Monitor saw hundreds of children playing in the yard, lying in the grass or conversing under the shade of one of the three large trees on the school grounds.

On the surface, Coorom Primary School is a success story – peace returning, residents trying to put back their lives and children picking up their education where many left off when the fighting was at its worst. But the reality of the resettlement effort is much more complicated. Schools are open, but many lack materials, clean drinking water, few teachers among a litany of other challenges.

At Coorom, 14 teachers oversee the 981 pupils, while classes rarely start before 10am and end around 3pm because the teachers have to ride bicycles to the school from their homes in Lira. “Most of us stay in town because of lack of accommodation at the school,” said Mr Gilbert Ogwal, a teacher.

But the challenges of resettlement go far beyond reopening schools. About 92 per cent of IDPs in Lango sub-region have left their camps, either for home or for transition camps that take them one step closer to returning to their original settlements.

Although many IDPs are returning home to areas that are safe, most of those interviewed who remained at the IDP camps said they come from areas that remain unstable, such as those bordering Karamoja, and said they were being told to go home before they are ready.

“The government is forcing people to leave before they know it is safe at home,” said Mr David Ogwang, a resident of the Erute IDP Camp.
On providing services to those who have remained in the camps, the Relief and Disaster Preparedness Minister, Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere said, “We shall not encourage people to stay in camps. We want them to return to their villages.”

In another part of the region, many spoke of the difficulties they face in rebuilding their lives. “I am at zero,” said Mr Victor Opio, a resident in Aromo Sub-county who made mud bricks in anticipation of iron sheet roofing that never materialised. “I don’t know where to start from.”

The sub-county chief, Mr Terence Okullo, said people who come from the borders of Gulu and Pader cannot go back because the places are still insecure and yet, he said those who have stayed behind at the camps receive no support because the government wants them to go back to their villages.

The Aromo IDP Camp leader, Mr David Elich, said the population in the camp was 45,424 but has now reduced to 1,889. Government programmes and NGOs have struggled with the sudden shift in only 12 months of some 138,000 people in Lango from large camps where support could be concentrated, to servicing that population dispersed widely through a vast region.

Those 12 months have seen the number of camps in the north increase from 241 to 789, with most of the new camps acting as transition points for those on their way home.
“In such a short period of time the number of camps we need to support nearly quadrupled,” said Shannon Strother, the Unicef chief of field offices in northern Uganda.
Asked whether Unicef and other aid agencies are able to meet the demands that come with those increased number of camps, Ms Strother said they could not.

Prof Kabwegyere said the resettlement of so many people so quickly has also stretched government resources, including the distribution of iron sheets.
“This is the largest movement of people and we could not cover everybody in a single financial year,” he said, referring to the iron sheets.

“We still need donor support but we shall reach our target. We want people to move from grass thatched to iron roofed houses and this would be done in three years.”
During visits to the seven IDP camps still occupied in Lira District, Daily Monitor saw no evidence that those still living in the camps received food rations of any kind.

“There was not even enough food when the aid groups were here,” said Mr Ogwang. He said most of the 1,100 residents in the Erute camp work in area farms in return for food.
“The situation is even worse now because those who cannot do the labour, like the elderly men and women, have to go to [Lira] town to beg.”

The government has promoted Lango sub-region as a success story and a tangible sign of peace and stability returning to the north.
Although many say they are reassured by the promise of peace following the Juba peace process, most observers are skeptical the resettlement process underway in Lango will eventually spread to other regions in the northern.

“Anyone who says the Lira region is a model of resettlement is joking,” said Mr Moses Okello, head of research and advocacy at the Refugee Law Project in Kampala.
“The question of the vulnerable population remains very problematic.”


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