By Nicholas Shawn Mugarura
End of 2019 was characterized by heavy rains and windstorms in the western, northern and eastern districts of Uganda, causing devastating floods and landslides. This disaster affected flora and fauna and resulted into destruction of basic social services such as Water, Sanitaion and Hygiene (WASH), agriculture and transport infrastructure.
Care and Assistance for Forced Migrants (CAFOMI) with funding from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (UNCERF) through International Organization of Migration (IOM) is supporting emergency provision of safe water and sanitation and distributing Non food Items (NFI) to the affected population in Bududa and Sironko.
I planned for my travel to Bududa after learning of the reopening of public transport, to document the progress of the WASH emergency rapid response project and also support in distribution of Hygiene kits to the worst hit victims of floods and landslides.
I arrived at the Bus Park early morning 09.00hours, as easy as it used to be to pick a popular bus to eastern Uganda, it wasn’t the case first day of the reopening of public transport, Thursday, 04 June 2020.
Cutoff from passenger service vehicle travel for over two months to control the spread of COVID-19, travelers flocked the bus terminal after the reopening. This was an opportunity for many who had been in difficult situation in the city without food and money, to return to their homes in rural areas.
There were long ques of people lining up for tickets, I noticed the fares had doubled, from 15,000 shillings to 30,000 – 35,000 shillings. Most of them were not following the ministry of health guidelines. A few had masks on their faces but rather in their hands, whilst others tied theirs on their backpacks.
Passengers tried to maintain the two-meter social distancing, until a security personnel announced on a megaphone that buses would stop moving at 14.00hours, they begun panicking and pushing each other to secure a ticket and a seat for travel. At this point, I realized there was more risk of contracting covid-19. I stepped aside and waited until I secured a seat on the next bus.
Shortly after setting off from Kampala, the bus was stopped at a traffic check point in Mukono and the bus driver was arrested for more than two hours. He was using a wrong route-chart, the bus was supposed to travel to western Uganda according to the route chart.
In a bid to have better coordinated and well- regulated public transport, KCCA issued route numbers and charts for every passenger service vehicle moving in and out of Kampala city. Therefore, it was a requirement for travel, so operating without one or having a wrong one was a traffic violation.
After long hours of negotiation between traffic management operatives and the bus company officials, we were back on the road and it was around 16.00hours. We went through several road blocks in the major towns, until we were again caught up by another of the president’s directives, the 19.00hours curfew which got us in Iganga.
The bus driver wasn’t in position to breach yet another law, he decided to park at a gas station in Iganga, we would spend the night in the bus, and it was my first time to sleep on the bus. I was exhausted, hungry and sleepless, I was mind awake body asleep till dawn, I could hear children hunger cry in the bus all night.
I reached in Mbale the next day, the bus had setoff early morning at 06.30hours. I only had thirty minutes to freshen up and join a team delivering COVID-19 prevention and preparedness items to Sironko district health task force and later proceed to communities affected by floods and landslides to begin on documenting the progress of the emergency response project.
Many humanitarian actors are experiencing hardships during this period of COVID-19 pandemic, whilst trying to deliver humanitarian aid services to affected communities.
Author is M&E Communications Assistant at CAFOMI