Water pollution is on the rise, warns environment prefect 

National Environment Management Authority’s executive director, Dr Barirega Akankwasah. PHOTO/courtesy

What you need to know:

Not all industries are meeting effluent discharged standards as required by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). As a result, some of the country’s eco-systems, including water bodies, are now in danger of rising industrial pollution. In an interview, NEMA’s executive director, Dr Barirega Akankwasah, he explained to Prosper Magazine’s Ismail Musa Ladu, how industries can limit industrial pollution and where the country stands in terms of water pollution. Excerpts...

What is the level of compliance in terms of observing effluent discharge standards by industries in the country? 

From feedback, there are some compliance challenges. However, our findings indicate that not all companies are meeting effluent discharge standards because some industries are not treating the waste to the standards we expect them to before they release it to the environment. 

We have realised that they want to release the effluent (waste) in a rush because it saves them some costs, given that waste treatment is not free.

But that shouldn’t be at the expense of the environment. It is pretty obvious that effluent that doesn’t meet discharge standards causes direct pollution which threatens our water bodies, and our fishing industry.

In addition it impairs our water navigation capabilities as well as affects the quality of our clean water for both domestic and production use among many other real threats. 

In terms of water pollution, where is Uganda at?

Effluent waste or what we call water pollution is on the rise. For example, the Lake Victoria water is turning green in some places, especially where there are industries.

That means that the effluent discharge is not meeting the required standards. Importantly, the situation is not out of hand yet.

We require industries, especially the big ones to have robust effluent treatment plants. If you are producing a lot of effluent waste, you are automatically required to have an effluent treatment plant.  

We also understand that effluent treatment plants are not cheap. Unfortunately, that is the only way to save the environment.

We are willing to work together with them (industries) to find mechanisms of reducing effluent waste. For example, if you do what we refer to as cleaner production, you may reuse the water after treatment, and as a result save some costs.

Waste water can be treated and reused for production. Solid waste can be utilised for generation of power, fertilisers so there is money from wastes. That is why we are convinced that industries are not making a loss by investing in waste treatment.

What is the status of air pollution in the country?

The situation in some places especially in urban areas is not as we would like. For example, the quality of air in Kampala city is not yet good.

We are still recording air quality index as high as 129 against World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 100 air quality index.

Again, the situation is not out of hand because there is still room for improvement.

How can you have industries comply with the set standards?

We have three ways through which we engage the business community in prevention and control of pollution. The first one is the environment and social impact assessment which we conduct. This assessment is meant to identify all sources of pollution that will arise from your operations.

We do this before we approve your operations. At this point, we also help you to identify mitigation measures for all the sources of pollution that have been identified. We work with you to develop an environment management plan for your industry.

Later on we have a second level of engagement which is annual audits. We do environmental audits on industries every year and this is required by law. This is to ensure that you keep your side of the bargain. 

The third level of engagement is routine inspection and monitoring. This is based on a number of things including alerts from the public as well as our own audit findings.  By the time we carry out enforcement, it means all the lines of engagement to help you comply have yielded to nothing.

While enforcing, do you practice any favouritism in terms of which industry to crack hardest or give more time to stabilise?  

No. We do our work to the best of our abilities and knowledge of the law that mandates our operations and existence. Our interest is to ensure that there is cleaner production.

This, we believe, increases profitability of the business. We advise on how to avoid leakages that cause pollution. Is that favouritism?  So we don’t only prevent pollution, but also increase your profitability. This is evident in cement factories where if you do not have a water tight system, then leakages end up polluting the environment but in the process, you are also losing money as a developer.

Take us through the Nyanza Textile Industries Limited (Nytil) situation that happened a while ago.

It is not true we wanted to stop Nytil from working. Our inspectors got alerts from the public to the effect that the factory was releasing some sort of coloured water into our River Nile.

We went there and stopped the components of the factory that produces waste water. So we only closed the component of the factory that produces waste water.

We also found out that the change of colour of the effluent was as result of the dye that was used on the fabrics.

Our investigations also showed that their effluent treatment plant had malfunctioned and as a result, the waste water found its way in into the river.

This matter has since been resolved. The colouration and pollution of the river has also stopped.

Why didn’t you close them down as it was previously alleged or in this case just shut down defaulters?

We are not here to close factories because that affects the economy, our jobs and income.

Poverty and unemployment are the greatest enemies of the environment. It is not in our interest to close development.

We only carry out enforcement as a last resort to protect citizens and the environment from the greater harm. So my call to all industries is that they should have a robust and truly self-regulatory mechanism.