In light of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) express penalty scheme, it is imperative that we talk about the Authority’s mission, how it is being carried out in the environmental sphere and whether it has succeeded in Uganda.
As an environmentalist, I applaud NEMA for the initiative, holding people accountable for careless littering and poor resource management. It is indeed a step towards restoring our environment.
However, I can’t ignore the still open issues where NEMA has fallen short of its obligations to Uganda.
Its mandate is clear: to coordinate, monitor, regulate and oversee environmental management in the nation though to my dismay I’ve seen NEMA at the centre of aggravating environmental degradation in the country.
To mention but a few; Kinawataka wetland in Central Uganda has been openly encroached on by mushrooming investors under NEMAs watch, resulting into significant flooding around Kireka and Banda.
This wetland is categorised as a public reserve and supposed to be maintained to filter drains from Mbuya, Kireka and Bugolobi and pour into Lake Victoria.
The same authority awarded permission to Chinese company – Zhong Industries Ltd, to grow rice in the Lwera wetland claiming the activity had been informed by an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) showing it was safe for the development.
However, it should be noted that Lwera wetland pours water directly into Lake Victoria which puts aquatic life at risk due to agro-chemical usage in rice farming including inorganic fertilizers and herbicides.
It does not only affect aquatic life but also the health of dwellers around Lake Victoria who depend on it for drinking water as well as consume fish from it aside from directly affecting the entire ecosystem.
My dear compatriots, it should also be remembered that NEMA also gave permits for sand mining in the Lwera wetland and in Lake Victoria, whose open pits have become a habitat for mosquitoes and created a conducive environment for water weeds like hyacinth and Kariba.
In 2020, it was discovered that the same Authority licensed Hoima Sugar Limited to degrade 22 square kilomtres of Bugoma forest in Kikuube district, whose unknown percentage has been replaced with sugarcane plantations.
Much as the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and non-governmental environmentalists have argued against the development, the investor has been protected and continued with the destruction of the once Uganda’s second largest forest.
In addition to the above concerns, is a question of public dumping sites. Ugandans are unaware of the locations of the waste disposal facilities and no effort has been put in place to notify the public of the gazetted areas which results into people tossing trash everywhere.
It is clear that 227 dump sites have been identified and mapped in Kampala, but neither the general public nor garbage collection businesses are aware that this is even the case.
If you happen to visit Walukuba Wetland in Namavundu Village, you’ll be upset over the company’s used polythene bags that were thrown there.
This necessitates immediate action from NEMA and its allies like the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) to educate Ugandans before holding them accountable so that once apprehended, they will have no defence at all.
In conclusion, therefore, NEMA as a government mandated institution has large loopholes that need to be filled and should be held accountable for its evident shortcomings that have compromised the ecosystem and natural resources of the country.
With the above highlights, it is safe to say that Ugandans have lost confidence in NEMA and call on the government to look into the environment ombudsman’s operations because the country may be at more risk of losing than gaining with NEMA as the only body watching over the environment.
The writer, Jemimah Babirye Kasibbo, is an Advocacy Associate at Citizens Concern Africa
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