Over the years, Kampala City authorities have toasted to several milestones that have since given the capital a fresh outlook.
The milestones range from a growing infrastructure and improved service delivery after decades of lackluster performance of previous city administrations.
However, the perpetual uncoordinated planning which keeps cropping up at every cockcrow belie the beauty of Kampala.
This uncoordinated planning manifested in the chaos reigning in various sectors such as transport, housing, construction and industrialisation among others leaves Ugandans at a risk of perpetual clumsiness.
One such big risk in the city is imposed by the countless number and tight proximity of fuel stations whose creation is as prevalent and unregulated as a contagious infection, casting Ugandans in harm’s way.
In June 2013, more than 30 people perished in an inferno in Namungoona suburb after a fuel tanker developed a leakage after being knocked by another vehicle, leading to an explosion.
According to police, majority of people who died were boda-boda riders who rushed to siphon leaking fuel.
To date, the families who lost their loved ones are still staring into the emptiness of the void created by their departed relatives.
The fuel stations’ proximity in and around the city is astonishing. Most of them are separated by a few metres from each other. According to Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) guidelines, a fuel station must be located at least 1,000 metres away from another.
The authorities have not enforced this regulation and the public have taken advantage. If fire disaster struck on one station, it would trigger a chain and devastating tragedy on others in a widening cycle of inferno.
The city administration and central government do not appear bothered by this disaster in the waiting. No stringent law has been put in place to regulate the establishment of fuel stations in the city and the
situation is escalated by fuel trucks which scramble for space with passenger service vehicles on the roads crowded with cyclists, pedestrians and hawkers. If a fuel truck collided with another vehicle during a traffic gridlock, the country would witness a replica of the Namungoona tragedy or a calamity of worse gravity.
For a long time, government has pledged to check the mushrooming of fuel stations in the city, but the vow has only served public relations purpose. No practical action has been undertaken on ground.
Amanda Ngabirano, a regional and urban planning expert, says there should be at least one fuel station in every 20km in accordance with the recommended urban planning standards.
“There are dangerous fumes that come out of fuel pumps during the process of filling cars. You have a distance of 100 metres between fuel stations. This means that you are connecting fires and pollution which is dangerous to human health,” she says.
She adds: “Some fuel stations in the city are wrongly located. They are located at junctions, which is very dangerous. Look at City Oil in Kamwokya and Shell at Grand Imperial Hotel in the city centre. You can’t have entry and exit points at junctions because this would definitely cause traffic jam,” Ms Ngabirano observed.
Whereas she says there should be a 20km distance from a fuel station to another, our sample on various streets in the city found five fuel stations crammed within one kilometre distance.
Some fuel stations are tucked between shopping arcades which house a variety of inflammable products.
For instance on Ben Kiwanuka Street which measures only 1.1km has five fuel stations next to one other, separated by a few metres or a mere fence. The street starts at Shoprite on Entebbe Road and snakes through shopping arcades and tall buildings up to Hotel Equatorial near Bombo Road.
Besides, many shopping arcades lack or have inadequate fire extinguishers, leaving both occupants and property at risk.
The gases emitted by these fuel stations are not only a risk to human life but also an environmental hazard.
Daily Monitor further established that some of the fuel stations are in the same vicinity with residential houses, schools, motor garages and taxi parks while others are located just opposite or adjacent one another.
The situation in neighbouring municipalities and other urban centres in far-flung places from the capital is not any different.
Dr Paul Mukwaya, a senior lecturer at Makerere University’s Department of Geography, Geo-informatics and Climate Sciences, says the soaring fuel stations are not only a hazard to the local communities but also to people who work there.
He questions the criteria in issuing fuel station permits, saying they are supposed to be located in isolated areas and outside the city centre.
Dr Mukwaya further says the land use system in Kampala is not well defined, an anomaly that breeds mushrooming of unscrupulous businesses.
“A number of fuel stations have safety measures but their standards and structural arrangement is totally different from one another. The basics for these businesses to operate are not clear. For instance, is thorough auditing of the operations of fuel stations done after issuance of work permits?” he wonders.
More than 10 roads in the city were sampled for the survey to examine the locations of fuel stations and distance gaps between them. They include Entebbe Road, Kampala Road, Namirembe Road, Jinja Road, Ggaba Road, Salaama Road, part of Hoima Road, part of Bombo Road and part of Masaka Road from Kibuye roundabout to Busega market.
Our investigation found that, among the 10 sampled roads, Bombo Road has the highest number of fuel stations. For example the 7.7km stretch from Hotel Equatorial to Kawempe ku Taano has 25 fuel stations. This translates into more than three stations per 1,000 metres, contrary to the rule that provides for one station in such a distance.
Five of the 25 filling stations are in Bwaise suburb. Bwaise is one of the city suburbs with squalid and crammed dwellings without a single fire extinguisher.
Masaka Road, from Kibuye roundabout to Busega market which measures 8.1km, comes second with 23 fuel stations while Clock Tower-Ggaba Beach, 9.7km, has 15 fuel stations, the third highest number of filling stations.
Salaama Road, a distance of 11.2km from Munyonyo to Kobil fuel station on Entebbe Road has six fuel stations.
Berkley (Bakuli) to Namungoona on Hoima Road, 5.5km, has 12 fuel stations while on Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road, a distance of 3.44km has six fuel stations.
The fuel stations along Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road are tucked between hostels where Makerere University students reside.
Makerere Hill Road, a 1.6km stretch from Wandegeya traffic lights to Nakulabye Market, has five fuel stations.
On Entebbe Road, 5km from Shoprite Supermarket to Freedom City, there are 10 fuel stations.
From Constitutional Square to Jinja Road traffic lights, a distance of 1.9km has five fuel stations. Many key financial institutions are on this road; Bank of Uganda, Cairo Bank, Barclays Bank, Orient Bank, DFCU Bank, KCB Bank, Post Bank, Centenary Bank and Bank of Africa. They are on both Kampala Road and Jinja Road which are joined to each other. Both roads are synonymous with traffic gridlock and an outbreak of fire on one of the fuel stations could wreak havoc of unmitigated and devastating consequences on human life and property.
Kisenyi slum has three fuel stations, next to maize milling machines and metal fabrication centres which use electricity and gas.
Namirembe Road, also one of the busiest city roads, has three filling stations while Rubaga Road which starts from Namirembe Road to Hotel Sojovalo has six stations. The short Martin Road in Old Kampala has two fuel stations.
The aggregate distance of about 50km of all the sampled city roads and streets has at least 90 fuel stations, implying a filling station per 500 metres.
This implies that Kampala City has more fuel stations than is recommended as per urban and regional planning standards.
However, on the eastern route in Banda on Kampala-Jinja highway, giant fuel reservoir tanks belonging to Mogas, tower over informal housing units.
Dr Mukwaya says out of the fuel stations they surveyed during their research in 2012, they found Mogas fuel reservoirs as the most dangerous because of the surrounding communities due to the heavy population density.
He also notes that the fumes emitted from the fuel are hazardous to the staff who operate the fuel pumps. He says during the research, they found that all fuel pump attendants do not use protective gear.
“The fumes they inhale are very dangerous. The fumes are a health hazard and for a female to be exposed to these fumes is totally hazardous,” he says.
There are other fuel reservoirs in the Industrial Area belonging to Total, Shell and Gapco on the Seventh and Eighth streets respectively.
Experts warn that such fuel reservoirs are a big threat to the surrounding communities and should be relocated to safer places outside the city.
Who is responsible?
The Ministry of Energy remains the key body responsible for issuance of permits to fuel operators, but both Kampala Capital City Authority and the environment watchdog, National Environment Management Authority (Nema), are also regulators in as far as environment and city physical planning are concerned.
KCCA’s physical planning director Moses Atwine could not be reached for a comment and so was Peter Kaujju, the director of public and corporate affairs.
A source in KCCA told Daily Monitor that there are more than 300 fuel stations spread in the city’s five divisions.
The source said KCCA has no control because approvals of permits for fuel stations come from the Ministry of Energy without KCCA’s knowledge.
Our effort to establish the number of fuel stations in Kampala hit a snag as Minister of Energy Irene Muloni declined to comment on the matter and referred us to Rev Frank Tukwasibwe, the commissioner of petroleum supply who also could not be reached for four days.
According to Section 7 of the Petroleum Supply Act 2003, the commissioner receives, evaluates and processes all applications for and approve the granting, assignment, suspension or relocation of all permits in accordance with the law.
One of the objectives of the Act is to ensure protection of public health and the environment in all petrol supply operations and installations.
Nema’s spokesperson Naomi Karekaho says their role in establishment of fuel stations is merely advisory.
She says they have raised the issue of high number of fuel stations in the city but the Energy ministry has not heeded to their call.
Dr Mukwaya says to mitigate such uncoordinated planning, there should be one-stop centre for all the responsible bodies to reconcile irregularities and operations of fuel stations.
According to Section 56 of the Nema Act, no person shall discharge any hazardous substance, chemical, oil or mixture containing oil in any waters or any other segment of the environment except in accordance with guidelines prescribed by the authority in consultation with the lead agency.
Some of the directors of fuel companies that we attempted to speak to declined, referring us to the Energy ministry.
What should be done?
Way foward. Ms Ngabirano says if government does not prioritise physical planning, city authorities will find it difficult to restrict illegal developments. She says by allowing fuel stations in the city, it implies people’s lives are at the mercy of capitalist investors.
Dr Mukwaya says fuel stations are considered as industries because they have hazardous emissions and should therefore be properly regulated.
Previous fuel accidents
December 2001: 90 died when a fuel tanker caught fire in Busesa, Iganga District.
February 2005: 45 people burnt to death after a minibus, a fuel tanker and a car collided at Lwankima in Mabira Forest.
July 30, 2006: 30 people died when a fuel tanker collided with a minibus at Kitega Hill on Kampala-Jinja Road.
August 2006: 27 passengers died when their minibus collided head-on with a fuel tanker on Kampala-Jinja highway, 3km from Lugazi Town; another three trying to steal fuel from the tanker were killed by the fuel fumes.
December 15, 2004: 12 people died when a fuel tanker, two trailers and a pick-up truck collided on Jinja-Iganga highway.