Kampala- Kampala’s mess from traffic gridlock to squalid slums peppered with high crime rates, manifest in violent burglaries and individuals being waylaid and bludgeoned to death with metal bars, make the capital a death trap of sorts.
Now there is a new layer of risk; a man-induced muddle that casts every dweller into potential harm’s way, whether one is walking, driving or on the back of the ever-present boda bodas.
It is the inappropriate, even dangerous positioning of a high number of fuel stations in and around the central business district.
The city is overwhelmed with these, majority literally sitting on reserves of the narrow roads while tens pop out from crowded residential neighbourhoods.
On paper as per government policy, gas stations holding thousands of litres of fuel in underground reservoirs, are supposed to be sited at least a kilometre apart. On the ground, they are a few hundred metres close with some located at traffic jam-prone intersections.
Police have called the crowding a “time-bomb”, a reference to potential huge destruction to life and property if the fillings stations were to catch fire, say, during rush-hour. The country has recorded mysterious fires that in the past few years killed dozens of students and destroyed the Kasubi tombs, a World Heritage site.
This risk of petro-fires could not be more telling than today, June 30, the first anniversary of a fuel tanker inferno on the Northern Bypass in Namungoona, north-west of Kampala, which killed some 30 or so people in what investigators concluded, was a self-inflicted accident.
Majority victims were siphoning fuel from a tanker stuck on the thoroughfare.
Intelligence agencies warn that terrorists plan to blow up fuel tankers in transit or set alight teeming fuel containers, prompting police to begin escort services for the trucks from border custom to delivery points.
Energy Ministry officials and their counterparts in City Hall as well as the environmental watchdog, National Environment Management Authority (Nema), acknowledge the random location of these fuel stations threaten public safety but each points an accusing finger at the other on who is responsible.
In the east of Kampala, a huge fuel depot sits in a crowded residential neighbourhood and just few metres away from the traffic laden Jinja highway.
According to Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) guidelines, a fuel station must be located at least 1,000 metres away from another, 15 metres from a habitat.
“Saying that fuel stations in Kampala are many is an exaggeration because there is no binding evidence to prove they have a potential threat,” the senior spokesperson in the ministry, Mr Matovu Bukenya, said. Ading: “We have however stopped licencing more fuel stations in Kampala since 2011.”
There is no problem
Mr Bukenya, maintained that there are only 105 fuel stations in Kampala. The divisions most crowded with fuel stations are Rubaga, Kawempe and Makindye respectively.
Uganda until 1994, had only six fuel distributors, namely Upet, Agip, Gapco, Shell, Total and Caltex but the liberalisation of the market brought on board more players and they currently estimated over 30.
A 2011 report from the Ministry of Energy indicates that of the 730 fuel stations in the country, 220 were located in Kampala. But from the current figures provided there is an indication that numbers have gone down. This does not include the number of single pump stations.
The ministry also believes that (even if), this big number pose no threat because most fuel stations have underground tanks and this surge indicates growth in the consumption rate and that it has doubled compared to ten years back which keeps business afloat.