Uganda: Building resilience through stronger houses

Published: 2 September 2013 12:28 CET

By Rebecca Lefort, British Red Cross

When a fire swept through Nuway Abas’ home one evening, he was petrified; scared for his family and distraught that his few possessions were being engulfed by flames. But he wasn’t totally surprised, because among the fishing community in Kalangala, an island district in Uganda’s Lake Victoria, fires are all too common.

In the fishing village of Nkose Katooke, a massive blaze easily consumed the temporary wooden homes of more than 40 fishermen. As most of them also store their fuel in their homes at night, what starts as a small controllable fire can quickly accelerate, devouring neighbouring homes.

“My mother kept petrol in the house. We don’t know how it started but once it did, it grew so quickly,” says Nuway, 24, who lives in the Mweena landing site in Bugala, the largest island in Kalangala. “It was scary and destroyed the house.”

No one was hurt, but once the flames died down, the family faced the daunting challenge of rebuilding their home and their lives. This time though, they were determined to do things differently.

They listened to the advice of the Uganda Red Cross Society volunteers in Kalangala who have been championing the building of brick homes, and who are currently creating containers so that fishermen can feel confident leaving their fuel overnight.

Ssenyonga Ibrahim, Red Cross branch manager, says: “Dealing with fire is a big challenge for us. In the past year, there have been two big fires, and many more small ones. The fire can burn the whole landing site. It is a very dangerous situation, which is why we are taking urgent action to prevent future disasters.”

In addition to trying to reduce the threat of fire, the Red Cross also provides support when disaster does strike. Following the fire in Nkose Katooke, volunteers distributed essential household items, including tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen items, jerry cans, soap, mosquito nets and first-aid materials, to more than 180 people.

As for Nuway, he is now the proud owner of a brick home where he lives with his two children. It is not only less of a fire risk, but is more comfortable and less exposed to the elements.

“It is so much better than the wooden house,” he says. “It feels safer to stay here now.”