A terrifying mudslide that slipped off the side of Mount Cameroon and flowed into the town of Buea, killing two children, might not have been so damaging if the local population did not defy rules laid down about where they build their houses, and how they exploit natural resources, the local government say.
Residents of Buea, led by the Bakweri youth, are cleaning roads and digging-out blocked gutters as council officials collect data on victims affected by the flood on March 18th.
The two children were from the same family, authorities said. They were swept away as the mixture of water, mud rocks, vegetation and rubbish swept through their home that had been built on the side of the hill. Four others have been hospitalised at two hospitals in the Southwest capital.
Residents say this is the second flood in as many weeks, though the first was not as destructive.
One of those affected is a displaced plantation worker who said they were taken completely by surprise by the impact of the rain.
“When I ran away from insecurity in Tole, I came here and started managing with my little poultry. Yesterday’s flood destroyed everything,” said Pa Yufeh.
“My child was fortunate when the floods came because he had stepped out to bathe. Luckily, it touched just the poultry. I am grateful,” he said with relief.
Southwest Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai has blamed the incident on locals, accusing them of being undisciplined and violators of laws put down to protect the environment.
People built their homes in areas known to be prone to floods, he said. They cut down trees which makes mudslides more likely.
It was hard to predict when rain might cause a mudslide, as there was often a delay between the rainfall and the resulting flood of debris, the Governor said.
“We are in a risky zone, we are at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain has its waterways. When it rains up there, we don’t know, and that water remains there for a week or days before it comes down.”
“According to our experts, this water comes down heavily after days later, with all the force, and when the waterway is blocked, water will create its route. Up there, they build without permits. They cut down trees, and they destroy the environment,” he added.
Removing trees means the water is not drawn up into the vegetation and saturates the soil instead. The wet mud then slides off the side of the mountain.
Community leaders are also concerned with blocked water channels in the region as the rainy season begins.
The Buea Mayor, David Mafany, has sworn they will double-check on persons blocking water channels on Mount Cameroon.
“As a long-term solution, we will get a permanent team that will prevent construction on this risky zone and create a complete water channel. It’s true everybody wants a shelter, but at the same time, it should not pose a risk to other lives,” he warned.
Mount Cameroon is one of Africa’s largest active volcanoes, looming over 4,000 metres above sea level. It is the highest point in Sub-Saharan West and Central Africa, and it is thought at least 500,000 people live on the slopes of its foothills.
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