Floods ravage Thaba-Ntšo even in death

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MOKHOTLONG – In March this year, dozens of skeletal remains surfaced from a flooded graveyard in the remote village of Thaba-Ntšo, following a mudslide that upturned graves washing bones into the open.Situated in rural Mokhotlong, the community of Thaba-Ntšo joined a growing list of victims of the wrath of climate change across the breadth of Lesotho.The cemetery was flooded when torrential rains swept the area, causing major flooding and an eventual mudslide, dozens of graves were eroded, leaving the community in distress.Villagers were forced to relocate deceased relatives’ exposed corpses to an alternative graveyard using plastic bag-covered hands since nobody in the village had even a pair of rubber latex gloves.

Nobody came to help.Since the incident, not a single member of the community has received either counselling or any intervention following the experience, and they say they were not only traumatised by the event but are scared that soon their houses will also be wiped off should a similar disaster strike again.During the mudslide, three houses located down a slope were reportedly also destroyed.

Thaba-Ntšo area chief, Sechaba Mokoetje, says one evening around March, they were shattered by a strong sound that they have never heard before, and while they remained startled and wondering where the sound came from they learned from village herdboys that there had been a landslide at the village graveyard.The scene that awaited them was something the shaken villagers had never seen as skeletal remains of their dead beloved next-of-kin buried years ago were laid bare, a traumatising view.Mokoetje says they sought help from all the relevant authorities they could think of, including the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) but to no avail. He added that all that the authority did was to map the place in question before they quickly left.They never heard from the DMA again.

The chief said they had no choice but to cover their hands with plastic bags to collect the remains of the dead and prepare them for reburial elsewhere.To date, he further narrates, the graves remain open and the devastated community is on daily basis confronted with scenes of dogs and children caught playing around with the bones of the deceased from some remains possibly not well cleared from the graveyard.

“We have tried to relocate the remains of our people, but since the job was done with bare hands, there are some remains that we get to see around the village abandoned by dogs and our children even end up innocently playing with them.“All we ask for is that we get relocated to a safer place and have our graves moved to another place. It is culturally and psychologically wrong that the remains of our loved ones are exposed in this way,” the chief adds.

It is not only losing what is left of their homes that the villagers are worried about, Mokoetje says their farmland has also been swept away by the Moremoholo River and, as a result, the community no longer has land on which to plant their own food, leaving them to survive through handouts.Thaba-Ntšo Ward Councilor, Bakang Lesala, echoes Mokoetje’s opinions on the challenges and experiences the community witnessed as a result of extreme weather conditions.He shared that he has been working together with the chief to ensure that the remains of the dead are relocated, and that eventually the community is also relocated to a safer place.But nothing has happened since to date.

Lesala says the neighbouring villages in this council are also experiencing severe land degradation and he is scared that they will also become victims of a similar incident.“People here are not safe at all; we are even scared to sleep in our homes fearing that the degraded land will slide and this time around leave us homeless,” he states.Warning of the dangers of the impacts of climate change, Meteorologist at Ministry of Energy and Meteorology, Theletsane Mpholle, says the first step to be taken to address this challenge faced by the community is to capacitate them such that they understand that climate change is here and will continue to affect them and impact on their lives for a long time.

He proposes for people to be capacitated so that they also understand issues around climate change to enable them to change their behaviour while adapting to the new norm, noting that now rainfall patterns have changed and that people need to change their lifestyle too.“If people used to have their graveyards on flat lands, wetlands or where water accumulates they should consider moving them because accumulation of water will finally cause landslides at such graveyards.”He further states that for resilience, communities can plant trees to control soil erosion and consequently prevent soil wash out that can result in land sliding.

“Even green vegetation is an adaptation intervention which helps recover land. This too will eliminate chances of having landslides as the soil will be in place and when it rains, the runoff will be on top of the soil with no much power to sweep away the soil.Due to weather events that the country is experiencing, rain falls can become extreme so much that sometimes even in places where there are plants soil erosion still occurs. In extreme cases, trees are also being swept away by the heavy rains,” he shows.

Mpholle has another solution, which is promoting disaster risk reduction initiatives for controlling floods and other extreme events that can happen as a result of the varied impacts of climate change.This can be done by controlling floods, constructing water troughs to channel water in a different direction while another alternative can be building a dam to conserve the water.Mpholle notes that the worst that a community experiencing land sliding can encounter is having all their land washed away, therefore, immediate action should be taken to restore the land and put in place mechanisms that will help the community not only to be resilient to the changing weather conditions but also ensure that they adapt.

Evidence of increased soil erosion, he further pointed out, is the amount of siltation in the dams and rivers, further articulating that the soil is packed in rivers because the land is bare and needs to be covered with trees.According to a meteorologist in the same ministry, Rammolenyane Lethaha, the recent landslides around the country have mostly occurred where there have been human activities which are not environmentally friendly. These include areas that have been largely overgrazed while others are graveyards.Again, according to Lethaha, these events occurred during heavy rains and occurred in the highlands of the country.

“It is a fact that our rangelands in Lesotho are not in a good shape due to our bad practices, and being on the mountains means we are very vulnerable to landslides,” he observes.Contacted to respond to claims of their inaction in Thaba-Ntšo, public relations officer at the DMA, Retšelisitsoe Molefe, said the authority has no report of the Mokhotlong landslide; promising to inquire from their other office in the district for details.World Atlas describes landslides as any form of mass wasting characterised by movement of rocks, soil, or other debris downhill assisted by gravity. This results from wearing off of the earth’s surface and can even happen underwater.

Although the majority of landslides experienced around the world are caused by multiple factors, the greatest trigger is excessive water.The structure of the earth surface can also contribute to land sliding, as sloppy land can lose vegetation due to a drought or fire, which causes it to become vulnerable to a landslip when the root system that holds soil intact is destroyed.The saturation of the earth by melting snow, glaciers, or even the occurrence of heavy rainfall can also cause a landslide.Another cause of landslides is human actions on land, deforestation, water leakage, rock blasting, vibrations by machinery, and excavations are major causes.

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