Noise pollution: What to do about that noisy bar, church

The Constitution guarantees freedom of worship and the freedom to operate bars and seek entertainment in them. But this should not be done in contravention of the rights of other people. Photo by Michael Kakumirizi

Residents of Makerere zone B and Kibuga in Kawempe Division are finally getting some sleep after Pastor Aloysius Bugingo was ordered by High Court to resolve the case of noise pollution against him with residents in the Division.
Bugingo was in February this year dragged to court by residents over noise from his church, of House of Prayer Ministries.
In the petition to High court, Ali Sserunjogi, who represented 300 residents from Makerere zone B and Kibuga in Kawempe Division stated that the church had denied them their right to a healthy environment guaranteed under the Constitution.
It was said that Pastor Bugingo’s church increased sound to unbearable levels hence interfering with the tranquility and serenity of the neighbourhood and general environment.
The residents also claimed that noise form the church had failed them to realise basic benefits such as peaceful sleep, private study, prayers and other normal activities such as education, business, sleeping, disruption of conversations and negative health effects.
In the same month, residents Kololo were up in arms against bar owners whom they accused of playing music to unbearable levels especially at night interfering with their right to sleep.

Increasing noise polluition
Tonny Achidria, the public relations officer at National Environmental Authority (Nema), says people should note that what many people think are residential areas are actually mixed residential areas.
Areas such as Kololo, Ntinda, Bukoto in Kampala were purely residential areas but of recent are turning commercial with more bars and hangouts being established.
By virtue of the rapid and continuous growth, urban areas have become centres of multiple activities within limited defined space. In many urban areas in Uganda, some activities contradict each other leading to user and land use conflict. A significant example of such conflict is noise levels in urban centres.
Over the last few years, noise pollution has become a matter of growing concern. With increased densification, people are finding themselves in closer proximity to each other, a trend manifested by the recent increase in mixed land use areas as well as development of apartment blocks on what were previously single unit premises.
Noise issues are evident in some residential areas afflicted by excessive noise ensuing from places of worship, bars, nightclubs, construction sites, and increased urban pressure has also led some people to reside in highly commercial areas that were previously residential.

Noise Control
Mr Achidria quotes National Environment (Noise Standards And Control) Regulations, 2003 which defines noise as, “any unwanted and annoying sound that is intrinsically objectionable to human beings or which can have or is likely to have an adverse effect on human health or the environment; Noise pollution therefore means the release of uncontrolled noise that is likely to cause danger to human health, or damage to the environment.
In this case, the law defines it as noise if it is clearly audible at a point of reception or in the neighbourhood for more than two minutes or is within the prohibited time in a residential area or noise control zone as determined by the local council.
This includes: yelling, laughing, clapping, shouting, hooting, pounding, whistling and singing; selling or advertising by shouting or outcry or amplified sound; operation of any equipment in connection with construction; detonation of fireworks or explosive devices not used in construction:
Operating any auditory signaling device, including but not limited to the ringing of bells or gongs and the blowing of horns or sirens or whistles, or the production, reproduction or amplification of any similar sound by electronic means.
Noise also includes operating or playing a radio or musical instrument or any electronic device or group of connected devices incorporating one or more loudspeakers transducers or other electro mechanism, which is intended for the production, reproduction or amplification of sound.

Victims of noise pollution
Abraham Kayondo, a resident of Namugongo has to contend with noise from a video library near his photo studio. He says he has no where to report and is not aware of any law that supports it in case he wants to report.
He says many places are suffering from the same problem as they turn commercial. He cites some leaders who say they are against noise pollution from churches and but at the same time defended them saying it is part of their freedom to worship.
Some residents in Kampala city suburbs are forced to vent out their frustrations to authorities on social media.
Hassan Wadriff wrote on Facebook: “One major challenge is KCCA is still not in total control of noise pollution within Kampala. Some happening places like bars/entertainment places, even churches are emitting noise which I believe is in excess of the permissible noise level. A case in point is a church around Namere near Kitezi that really is making us sick and have sleepless nights. Can the authority enforce the law? And ensure such places adhere to the noise standard and control regulations.”
Bob Oyo, a resident of senior quarters in Gulu town narrates what he goes through with noise pollution.
He says despite senior quarters, an affluent surburb in Gulu town being a residential area, it has of recent been invaded by pentecostal churches which make loud noise especially during fellowship nights. He adds that this is mainly on Friday and Saturday.
During day time, loud speakers at nearby trading centres keep on playing music disrupting school activities and other people who prefer peace and quiet.

What the law says
It is the District Environment Committee which is responsible for monitoring and advising the district council on compliance with enforcement of any law regarding noise pollution.
Therefore, the environment committee should investigate all complaints relating to noise pollution; prohibit the continuation of undesirable activities which cause noise in excess of the permissible levels.
Usually, sound is measured in decibels and a decibel is a unit of measurement used in determining the level of sound.
Mr. Achidria says, in a purely residential area it is 50 decibels at daytime and 35 at night. For a mixed residential (with some commercial and entertainment) it is 55 at daytime and 45 at night.

Noise limits
In a residential area with an industry or small-scale production and commerce area, it is 60 decibels at daytime ant 50 at night.
Please note that day means 6:00am-10:00pm while night means 10:00pm to 6:00am

Where to report
Once a person is offended by noise is an area, Mr Achidria advises that the first step is to report to your local government that is the local council or the police.
Local governments are legally mandated and empowered to manage noise pollution in their various jurisdictions because they are the ones who issue operational licenses to all businesses in the respective geographical locations.
This can be done in writing by lodging a complaint with the local council on the grounds that one is aggrieved by noise being emitted. The local council must act immediately to stop or control emission of noise to permissible levels.
An improvement notice is issued to the person emitting noise. If they fail, then a member of the local council has powers to confiscate their machinery.
If a person fails to get satisfaction at a local council level. Then, one can go to a nearby Magistrate’s court which is the first instance for bringing an action for the control of noise.
In this case, one can also sue the responsible authorities for failure to act after being notified.
For instance, Pastor Bugingo was sued alongside Kampala Capital City Authority which is responsible for control of the noise in the city.
Residents are also at will to inquire whether a person causing noise pollution in an area is licensed. Usually, people with machinery that cause noise are issued with licenses to operate in an area.

Penalties for noise pollution
A person who emits noise in excess of the permissible noise levels or fails, neglects or refuses to control noise is liable to, on conviction to a fine of not less than one hundred and eighty thousand shillings and not more than eighteen million shillings, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months (two years), or both.

Health hazards
Exposure to excessive noise especially for long periods of time causes lack of concentration leading to low productivity; stress, fatigue, communication difficulties and in extreme cases cardiovascular disease, hearing loss among many other risks.

Unscrupulous people can take advantage of the noise to rob residents.
A call for help from a resident in the neighbourhood can be drowned out by a bar or church that emits very loud noise throughout the night.
Robbers can take advantage of the noise to break down doors, smash windows. The sound they make is also drowned by loud bar or church speakers.

Simple ways to block out noise
Invest in a pair of earplugs. These block out background noise and can be won to bed. A pair costs at least Shs30, 000 in supermarkets, phone accessory stores or online sellers.
You can use furniture like book shelves to absorb vibrations. Place these against a wall.