Lake Victoria pollution: Act now or never, experts urge government

Effect. Waste at Masese Landing Site on the shores of Lake Victoria in Jinja District. Many parts of the lake across Uganda and Kenya are polluted. PHOTOS BY RACHEL MABALA

Government’s laxity in conserving wetlands is the cause of mess on Lake Victoria and its pollution, environmentalists have said.

The warning comes after a research commissioned by Nation Media Group (NMG) found out that the lake is heavily polluted.

Several wetlands around Lake Victoria have disappeared over several years amid rising population and demand for industrialisation. Many industries and settlements have sprung up in the wetlands, destroying the ecosystem that used to filter the waste from the city before the water enters the lake.

Officials from the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) say the heavy pollution of the lake has raised the cost of treating the water to make it suitable for human consumption.

Similar sentiments are shared by officials from the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) in Uganda who say government knows about the level of pollution of the lake but has not acted.

The NMG study shows that in several parts of the lake, the colour of the water has changed to green as algae and other impurities take over the water surface. Environmentalists say this is likely to worsen if no step is taken.

Mr Frank Muramuzi, the executive director of NAPE, says pollution of Lake Victoria is not news anymore and that what is needed is for government to act.

“We have talked about the interventions for a long time but Ugandans don’t read what is being published. It’s the responsibility of the government to take action because it is the one which allows industries near the lake, who give the permit to put up facilities near the lake, the wetlands get degraded and they are watching,” he says.

Mr Muramuzi says a lot of talking and research have been done on the dangers of pollution to the lake and that time is now for government to take decisive action to save the lake.

“What we need to do right now is to wake up, from the highest level of government authority, including the President and the minister. For example, why do they allow people to build in wetlands? Look at all those beaches being licensed by Nema [National Environment Management Authority] and government. People have land titles in the wetlands,” he notes.

Mr Muramuzi also says responsibility should not be left to the government alone but that citizens should rise up and protect wetlands.

Nema, the government agency mandated to protect the environment in the country, says the growing population is adding pressure on the wetlands around Lake Victoria, leading to pollution.

Dr Tom Okurut, the executive director of Nema, says while many people move from upcountry to live in the city, they are not guided on where to settle and many end up occupying the wetlands. He says this has put a strain on the existing wetlands around Lake Victoria.

“A lot of people are being shifted and settled in the fragile ecosystems as the only places where they can stay. The issues of investors also coming to the wetlands is part of the issues of concern,” he adds.

Dr Okurut is also concerned that while government has allocated some wetlands to investors, most of the water catchment areas are sold by individuals to investors.

“So when these investors come to ask for operational permits and we say no, that is where the war now starts. Sometimes even these investors start operations before getting permits and if we had not intervened, you wouldn’t being seeing most of these wetlands,” he says.

“We have stopped so many projects. Even the cancellation of land titles in wetlands and forest reserves was initiated by Nema because we needed to remove the illusion that people are entitled to settling in wetlands,” Dr Okurut adds.

Efforts by NEMA
He, however, says Nema can only succeed in the war against environmental degradation if citizens are on board. “We have done and will continue to do sensitisation across the country.
Our people should develop a positive attitude towards conserving the environment so that together, we save the lake and the wetlands,” Dr Okurut adds.

Dr Okurut also says Nema has cancelled land titles that were issued in wetlands and people who had acquired such titles are being evicted.

Last month, the Lands ministry announced cancellation of 300 land titles, which it said were issued in the wetlands after the enactment of the laws in 1995. In 2018, Nema said they had cancelled more than 600 titles that were issued in wetlands in Kampala.

Some of the titles that were cancelled are located in Ntinda, Kinawataka, Kyambogo, Bukoto, Nakawa, Bugolobi and Namuwongo.

Risk. A wetland on the shores of Lake Victoria in Luzira, Kampala, that has been encroached on.

In 2014, Cabinet issued a directive to Nema to cancel all land titles acquired in wetlands after the 1995 Constitution.
pA verification exercise by Nema later revealed that in Kampala and Wakiso districts, more than 17,000 land titles had been issued in wetlands.

Dr Okurut also says currently, the battle is on to save Bugolobi wetland which has been sub-divided into titles that people are trying to purchase. He said Bugolobi wetland is a very important catchment area and that the authority will do everything to protect it.

“The entire Bugolobi wetlands is titled and people have already made applications to it but we have made a lot of efforts to stop them from proceeding with it,” Dr Okurut says.

He reveals that Nema is no longer issuing permits to industries established in wetlands and that the owners are being asked to construct pre-treatment facilities to treat waste before disposing them of in the lake.

“What we have done is that all the new industries must have facilities to treat waste before discharge. Those that are connected to the national water sewerage system are lucky, but those that are not connected must construct the facility before starting operations,” Dr Okurut says.

Ms Persis Namuganza, the State minister for Lands, says her ministry has cancelled many land titles issued in wetlands and forest reserves.

“What we do is when we cancel the title, even if you keep your copy, it is null and void. When you want to go and get a loan or sell off the land, the prospective buyers and banks always crosscheck with us before buying such land and when they find the title was cancelled, you lose out,” Ms Namuganza says.

She adds that they are working with the Ministry of Water and Environment to integrate the sensitive ecosystems such as wetlands and forest reserves into the national land information management system so that whoever applies for titles in such area, the request is automatically rejected.

“We are working with the Ministry of Water and Environment and we have reached far in consolidating the national forest reserves and wetlands. We think we should anchor them in our national land information management system and once they are anchored, nobody can register that wetland, not even forests,” Ms Namuganza says.

The minister says such joint efforts will save lakes, rivers, wetlands and forest reserves from being destroyed by encroachers.

Waste treatment
The National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) has constructed a waste treatment plant in Bugolobi, Kampala, which officials say will save Lake Victoria from pollution.

Officials say the new plant serves the city suburbs of Naguru, Ntinda, Nakawa, Bugolobi, Kyambogo, Kiwanataka, Banda, Kasokoso and Butabika, among others.

“We have just completed this treatment plant at Bugolobi and it is already operational. This will help us treat big volumes of waste and generate power. Through this, all the dirty water from town through Nakivubo channel will be treated before going to Lake Victoria,” Mr Andrew Muhwezi, the senior production manager at NWSC, says.