Nakasongola up in arms over toxic waste spillage

Residents observe the contaminated water at the Lubenge wetland shared by Nakasongola and Luweero districts on September 17, 2023. PHOTO | DAN WANDERA

What you need to know:

  • Mr Joseph Oluka, an engineering assistant at Victoria Sugar Ltd last Friday said the management was addressing all the concerns with the agency without divulging details.

The toxic waste recently released into the water channels that feed into Lake Kyoga is a big concern to communities and authorities in Nakasongola District.

The concern stems from the suspected contamination of the trans-border wetland with industrial wastewater that was released into Lubenge wetland, which is an extension of the River Lugogo and River Kafu basins. Authorities say River Lugogo and River Kafu feed directly into Lake Kyoga, where more than 60 percent of the Nakasongola residents derive a livelihood. 

“While the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has assured us that they have directed the factory to halt production and ensure the wetland is cleared of the waste, we are witnessing dead fish, snakes and frogs at the water channels that are pouring into the Lugogo and Kafu basins,” Mr Sam Kigula told Sunday Monitor, adding, “Lake Kyoga is not safe.”

Mr Kigula, who is the chairperson of the Lake Kyoga Integrated Management Organisation (LAKIMO), added that it is a telltale sign that the grasses at Lubenge wetland have turned yellow and the water has a black hue.

LAKIMO is an umbrella body that brings together 16 districts that share the Lake Kyoga waters. The body is deeply concerned that the black water has not been stopped from pouring into the Kafu and Lugogo rivers that directly feed into Lake Kyoga.

The Speaker of Nakasongola District Council, Mr Rogers Sunday Bwanga, shared the same fears as LAKIMO.

“For the past one month, the pollution of the water has been ongoing at Lubenge wetland unabated. It is not debatable that the affected wetland is a major catchment area for Lake Kyoga where a majority of the people in Nakasongola derive a livelihood. We need to act now,” he said.

When Nema made an inspection visit at the Lubenge wetland four weeks ago, the officials instructed the management at Victoria Sugar Limited that had allegedly released the waste material into the wetland to halt activities. They were advised to set up a waste management facility before resuming operations. The sugar factory was also supposed to ensure it cleared the wetland of the contaminated matter, something leaders in Nakasongola say has not been enforced.

“When you observe, the contaminated water still flowing uninterrupted, you question the ability of leadership in Nakasongola to resolve the problem without a stronger enforcement arm of the government, including the police,” Mr George William Ssempeera, an environmentalist and resident of Nakasongola Town Council, said.

In a recent clarification to the media, Nema revealed that it had issued a stop notice for activities at the sugar factory pending erection of a waste management facility. Nema also indicated that its legal team is studying the available information to ensure that the polluters are brought to book.

Communities that derive a livelihood from Lake Kyoga as well as the Lugogo and Lubenge wetland, however, fear that human life and that of their livestock is at risk.

Mr Lazurus Ssembajwe, a farmer and resident of Kakooge Town Council in Nakasongola District, said he lost fish at one of his ponds.

“When my worker who attends to the livestock, including the water ponds, opened the water gate to get additional water from the water channels, the fish suffocated to death,” he disclosed, adding, “We found the fish floating on the water lifeless, including other aquatic creatures. Our concern has not been addressed three weeks after reporting the matter.”

Mr Joseph Oluka, an engineering assistant at Victoria Sugar Ltd last Friday said the management was addressing all the concerns with the agency without divulging details.