Flora Membe is washing clothes outside a battered white canvas tent at Khumwanda, a camp that houses some of the families who were displaced by floods in Budalang’i three years ago.
Just a few metres from Membe, an 11-year-old boy is preparing a meal in the open for his younger siblings. This camp alone houses at least 282 families.
“We moved here three years ago and it appears that we have been completely forgotten,” Membe says.
Other makeshift camps in the area housing flood victims include Bunyala, which has 30 occupants, MMUST, which has 27, Budala, which has 45, Rukala, which has 39, and Khadundu, which has 32. Igigo and Runyu have 38 and 22 families, respectively.
They say life at the makeshift camp is intolerable. “You can see for yourself that we have children as young as seven months old in this camp; they require medical care, food, and education, but we as parents are unable to provide all of that,” Membe says.
Membe, like other families in the isolated camps, spends cold nights with her children in their tiny tent, but she must cook outside to avoid a fire accident inside the small tent.
Furthermore, there is no privacy in the tents, and parents find it difficult to conduct private business in the presence of their children.
The residents say teen boys and girls are given separate tents from their parents and families. Living alone exposes them to early sex, unwanted pregnancies, and even sexually transmitted diseases.
These families have been living in deplorable conditions for three years and have petitioned both the national and Busia county governments to assist them.
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“First it was Corona, then it was the floods that displaced us; we lost our homes, livestock, and crops, and life has never been the same since,” Membe says.
She bemoans the fact that fishing, which had become the sole source of income for families living in the camp, is no longer viable “because Ugandan fishermen introduced poor fishing methods that destroy the fish and the lake.”
“We no longer get fish the way we used to sometimes back; many times, the fishermen return home empty-handed; we are struggling to feed our children; and as parents, we don’t know who to turn to because our children are soon to be expected to report to school,” she says.
“Sometimes we wonder whether we are worthy human beings like other Kenyans, my children ask me whether we are in Kenya or Uganda,” Membe says. As a result of the perennial destructive floods that have rendered thousands homeless in Budalang’i, the land where they used to live and grow food crops has become a swamp.
“Mosquitoes breed in that swampy area and are the source of the malaria threat at this camp. Whenever we go to a nearby health facility, we are told there are no drugs and are directed to chemists, where the medicines are exorbitantly priced.
“Our children are forced to wade in the water on their way to school, and we are pleading with the government to come and assist us,” Membe said.
She wonders why leaders care about their votes but abandon them in their hour of need.
Jannes Dadira, who lives in the same camp, says they do not live in dignity. The father of five says being unemployed has rendered him helpless.
“My firstborn is 16 years old, and my lastborn is five years old, but I am having difficulty providing for them,” he said.
“We used to cultivate crops and raise goats, sheep, chicken, and cattle, but the floods destroyed everything and left us homeless, but as a parent, I must provide for my family even in the most difficult circumstances,” Dadira said.
He is recovering from malaria, a disease that is making lives in the camp a living nightmare.
Fredrick Kudira, who returned from a local primary school where he had been housed after the floods, appears frail.
“I’ve been sick; cholera and malaria have become common diseases around here, but we can’t get immediate medical attention because hospitals are far away,” Kudira says.
“I was displaced due to flooding in 2019, and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to return home because the area was submerged.”
His sentiments are shared by Robert Muganda, who has expressed a desire to leave the camp.
“We had nothing to rejoice about during Christmas. We don’t have food and our children are sick, so we have nothing to cheer us up,” Muganda says.
He stopped fishing because the lake was unable to produce fish due to overfishing and other factors that caused fish to disappear.