Lately, your ordinary ride on the Jinja-Kampala highway is likely to show you new factories like Abacus Parenteral Drugs Ltd (APDL), Tian Tang Group, Global Paper, Landy and others still under construction. This has turned the once feral-like highway to an industrial corridor of sorts.
These factories, in addition to the Namanve Industrial Park, have unfortunately been erected in what were once wetlands, right from Kampala to Jinja District. Between Namawojolo and the sign post to St. Mary’s College Namagunga, for instance, huge chunks of land on wetlands have been sealed off together with numerous spots along the highway which are bustling with construction activity.
On the other hand, however, these factories are producing goods previously imported into the country, making them cheaper and available. In fact, some of the products are being exported, bringing in the much needed foreign currency.
Tian Tang Group, for instance, produces steel like iron bars and sheets; APDL produces infusion products like IV fluids, eye, ear and nasal drops. This economic gain might, however, not leave a single strip of wetland on the highway in the near future.
Dr Henry Busulwa, an environment specialist, says building in wetlands affects the area and the people planning to live in them. He says construction in wetlands deprives the marshland of its water storage and filtration roles, kills plants and animals whose only habitats may be a wetland.
While those, he said, living in the wetlands are more prone to catching diseases like malaria, since it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. “The wetlands are being denied the chance to replenish rivers and lakes. In this case Lake Victoria is most affected. Since the wetland is no longer filtering water, it means the people downstream are likely to get polluted water,” Dr Busulwa says. “We have laws and policies governing wetland use, but it seems the wise use aspect has been deliberately side-lined by the government.”
The National Environment Act (NEA), Cap. 153, stipulates the mandate of the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) as “the principal agency in Uganda responsible for management of the environment by coordinating, monitoring, regulating, and supervising all activities in the field of environment”.
Uganda Investment Authority executive director Frank Sebbowa says all factories have been approved by Nema.
Dr Sebbowa says given the nature of our weather, swamps, like plants, were likely to grow in areas even when they are no wetlands, thus making some factories appear to have been built in wetlands.
“Before any factory is built, a master plan is done which involves Nema to approve an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) before land is demarcated for construction. To the best of my knowledge, majority of the factories are not in the wetlands. And if they are there, it is illegal,” Mr Sebbowa says.
Nema public relations officer Naomi Karekaho says the factories have had their EIAs approved by the Authority.
Ms Karekaho says wetlands are wealth production houses which spur development, and that: “the only reason that Uganda is strict on wetlands usage is because urban areas lack adequate drainage systems to filter sewerage and storm water.”
“However, when factories (like the ones mentioned) have got land titles from Uganda Land Commission, or another relevant lead agency, it puts Nema in a challenging position to reject the EIA (which is done independently by licensed environment practitioners),” Ms Karekaho says.
“In such instances, Nema reviews the EIA and issues an approval on condition that drainage issues are well addressed. The conditions of approval form the basis for future monitoring, auditing and inspections.”
The latest Biomass study indicates that in the last 15 years, the country has lost 569,021 hectares of wetlands in various parts of the country.
Bundibugyo District is on top of the list losing 72,000 hectares between 1990 and 2005, followed by Nakapiripirit losing 42,000 hectares and Mubende 23,000.