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Reconstruction of a flash flood event through a multi-hazard approach: focus on the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda


The increased use of complex and holistic modelling for multi-hazard analysis is in sharp contrast with a lacuna in hazard analysis in equatorial Africa. This study aims to increase understanding of multi-hazard events in poorly documented regions with low accessibility. We focus on the Nyamwamba catchment (107 km2) located in the Rwenzori Mountains (Uganda) where on May 1, 2013, a severe flash flood occurred. In this region, wildfires, earthquakes and landslides occur as well. Here we reconstruct the circumstances under which this flash flood event was triggered, characterize the different processes acting upon the catchment dynamics and estimate the damaging effects of the flash flood within the catchment. The combined occurrence of intense rainfall, a forest fire having burned 18 % of the catchment area and the occurrence of 29 landslides providing debris to the river system, induced a debris-rich and very destructive flash flood which caused several fatalities, the destruction of 70 buildings, several bridges, a hospital, a school, a tarmac road and several lifelines. Although the methodologies applied to estimate peak discharge, detect landslides and delineate wildfires are well established in their disciplines and sometimes limited in their precision, their combination is required to demonstrate the importance of the wildfire and landslides for the magnitude of this flood, unprecedented in decades but characterized by a low return period of the triggering rainfall event. This indicates that flash floods should not be considered as self-determined phenomena but as a result of several cascading and interacting hazard processes.

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Source of the elevation data: SRTM 30 m (USGS 2014)

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We thank the VLIR UOS South Initiative Project (ZEIN2013Z145) and the BELSPO AfReSlide Project (BR/121/A2/AfReSlide) for financial support. Special acknowledgements go to the Kilembe Trekking Service, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Africa Nyamwamba Ltd, the Kasese District authorities and the Kilembe authorities, Mountains of the Moon University and all organizations and persons providing background reports and documenting the flood.

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Correspondence to Liesbet Jacobs.

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Jacobs, L., Maes, J., Mertens, K. et al. Reconstruction of a flash flood event through a multi-hazard approach: focus on the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. Nat Hazards 84, 851–876 (2016).

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  • Flash flood
  • Landslide
  • Forest fire
  • Multi-hazard
  • Equatorial Africa