UGANDA: ANNUAL FIRE OUTBREAKS AND FLOODS HIT UNPLANED ELEGU BORDER TOWN

Elego

Mr. Kassim Akule explains how fire outbreaks starts at Elegu.

“This issue of fire outbreak occurs every time. You make the same mistake: congestion. You should decongest your businesses. There is enough land here to accommodate you all. Why do you squeeze yourselves in such a small place yet the population is big?”

“We need physical plan of the town before developers can put permanent structures on the plots allocated to them. That is why we have these temporary structures”,

ELEGU-AMURU: The people living at Elegu, a Uganda border market town with South Sudan, experience two major challenges annually: floods during rainy season and fire outbreaks during dry season.

The town, rashly established in 2012 to tap in on the lucrative border trade with South Sudan, is located 110 kilometers north of the Regional town of Gulu, along the Great-North colonial Highway which connects Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt.

During a visit to Elegu Township on February 21, 2017, I was reminded by my conscience, of a poem I had read during my high school days in the early 1970’s about Ibadan City of Nigeria, which was sprawling like “broken Chinaware”. This is exactly how I found Elegu Township to be.

Roughly 4,000 people inhabit this small unplanned boarder town, occupied by temporary structures made of iron-sheets and bamboo reeds. The streets are narrow and congested. There is no provision for sanitation or wide streets which would make it impossible for fire brigade trucks to access the facilities in case there are fire outbreaks, as was the case on Monday, February 20, 2017.

“This issue of fire outbreak occurs every time. You make the same mistake of congestion. You should decongest your businesses. There is enough land here to accommodate you all. Why do you squeeze yourselves in such a small place yet the population is big?” comments Regional Police Commander, Mr. Benson Otim, adding that “even if police provides firefighting trucks at Elegu, there are no access roads for the truck”.

According to the Town Clerk of Elegu, Mr. Ocan Bebob, the Physical Planner of Amuru district has not yet come out with detailed physical plan for Elegu Township, making it difficult for his office to guide developments of the town.

“We need physical plan of the town before developers can put permanent structures on the plots allocated to them. That is why we have these temporary structures”, says the Town Clerk.

According to Mr. Kassim Akule, the Zonal Chairman, the fire started from “Joy Pub”, a local drinking joint, at about 2.45 am and quickly spread to over 250 stalls and makeshift shops, which were also sleeping places by night. Over 300 million shillings (about $83,330) worth of goods were destroyed by the fire.

“There is business rivalry among the traders. Some traders could be starting these fires deliberately while others keep petrol in their stores, which is dangerous for fire”, says Akule. This is the second fire outbreak at Elegu this dry season.

The Regional Police Commander, Mr. Benson Otim, has meanwhile said his office has requisitioned for firefighting truck for the town from Police Headquarters.

The second challenge for Elegu, which is flooding during rainy seasons, has been temporarily addressed by a Chinese firm which constructed the Attiak-Nimule-Juba Highway.

“The issue of floods has been addressed by the Chinese which constructed the Juba Highway. Otherwise before, we would have floods every time it rains”, says Akule.

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