By PATRICK JARAMOGI
BUIKWE, Uganda[SHIFTMEDIA] When President Yoweri Museveni commissioned 10 factories in Buikwe and Jinja districts way back in May 2019, there was allure that the industries would create jobs. Just a few years down the road, the residents surrounding these factories are floundering in tears and discomfort regarding the environmental pollution caused by score of these industries.
Over 10, 000 jobs might have been created, but the toxic pollution caused by these industries is disastrous to the health of these workers.
Following the outcry, we decided to take a few days to ascertain who is being the rampant pollution.
The dozens of new factories that were commissioned by President Museveni in Jinja City https://www.statehouse.go.ug/banners/10-factories-jinja-buikwe-districts-commissioned, Njeru and Buikwe districts include; Nile Batteries and Modern Laminates, Nile Agro- Industries, Auromeera Industries, Nile Aluminum Limited, and Modern Distilleries.
According to residents, on the spot is Modern Distilleries that is accused of discharging filthy and toxic wastes into the water streams affecting the flow of clean water in surrounding areas.
Not new allegations
In our investigations we unearthed that the accusations against Modern Distilleries aren’t new. Similar allegations were raised by residents of Bukwambi in Njeru Municipality last year.
The residents cried foul regarding the discharging of wastes by the plant into the water that residents.
NTV Uganda aired the cries of these residents in one of its investigations last year. Towards the year end in 2021, we visited this plant and earlier this year after scores of complaints arose again.
The findings were horrendous.
Residents speak out
Julius Otukei, a resident in Bukwambi village accused the management of Modern Distilleries of acting with impunity. ‘These people (Modern Distilleries) think they are above the law. All our efforts to try to have them address the issue of pollution has fallen on deaf ears,’ he said.
He says the filth and toxic smell that fills the air day and night has made their living a misery and health in worrying state.
Scores of homes near the factory are living in squabble conditions with the distilling firm. Buikwe district chairperson Kanaabi Jimmy has been instrumental in advocating for a health environment for his residents.
He acknowledged receipt of complaints regarding the polluting firms and vowed to have them put to order.
Harriet Bwogi said the pungent smell and smoke discharged from the factory has caused untold suffering to her children and her family. ‘I always have issues with eating food due to the smell from the factory, we are living in hell,’ she said.
Scores of other residents said the owners of the factory are so powerful and highly connected that they are untouchable.
Some who work in the factories, or who have sons and relatives employed in Modern Distilleries fear to speak for fear of losing their jobs.
Leaders speak out
Kanaabi Jimmy said factories that are accused of polluting the environment will be closed. He noted that no factory is above the health of residents.
Recently National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) halted all operations of the Jinja-based Nyanza Textile Industries Limited after it emerged that the factory contaminated the waters of River Nile.
Kanaabi noted that the district leadership had started cracking the whip. ‘You all saw what happened to Nyanza Textile, we are cleaning the environment already,’ he said.
The suspension of Nyanza Textiles by NEMA (https://nema.go.ug/media/activities-nytil-suspended-over-discharge-waste-water-river-nile) followed public outcry on social media.
Other leaders from Buikwe who echoed their concerns regarding polluting of the water streams by factories included the Buikwe South Member of Parliament Dr. Lulume Bayiga.
He promised to drag the industries to court to compensate the locals whom he said had contracted scores of diseases.
‘What these factories are doing to the residents is terrible. We can’t just sit and watch this continue,’ he said.
Hon Lwanga Jimmy the Njeru Municipal Legislator said they had engaged the management of the accused factories to have the impulse resolved.
‘Much as they give our people jobs, the factories must be mindful of the health of our people,’ said Hon Stephen Sserubula Lugazi Municipality MP.
The District Secretary for Health Akida Ismail said the district had on several occasions written to the polluting industries to desist from such acts or face closure. The Bukwambi Local Council One chairperson Joram Walimbwa said the cries of his people have been loud and in vain.
‘I can only demand that this factory be closed or they relocate elsewhere,’ he said.
Management declines to speak
Our frantic efforts to talk to the proprietor of Modern Distilleries, a one Patel Meghi Megan, whom we learnt is the man behind the chain of these industries in Jinja and Buikwe were futile.
Who is Patel Meghi?
Patel Meghi Megan popularly known as MMP came in Uganda in 1997. He has so far set up over 20 factories in Jinja and Lugazi.
He is also the owner of the MMP (Megan Meghi Patel) Industrial Grounds located in Njeru Municipality.
NEMA to crack the whip
Following the outcry, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has promised to sort the ‘mess’. An official we spoke too who preferred not to be named said they had received complaints regarding waste discharged and promised to have the issue sorted.
He said a team of environmental inspectors had been sent to verify the accusations and pick samples for laboratory analysis.
Environmental Lawyer speaks out
Kato Muyinda Hussein the Executive Director Earth and Rights Initiative says they shall use the law to conserve and protect the environment.
“We work with communities, human rights defenders to give them the legal support as well as provision of legal services needed to protect the environment,” he said.
Muyinda is a Ugandan lawyer, Human Rights Activists and Environmental litigation specialist who has been so instrumental in advocating for environmental conservation and helping communities like those in Buikwe access justice in courts of law.
Citing article 39 of the Ugandan constitution that guarantees all citizens to live in a clean and healthy environment, he said. “It is upon this article that Earth and Rights Initiative derives its mandate to help communities advocate for a health environment,” he said.
He promised to file a suit in court to drag Modern Distilleries to court for environmental pollution.
Buikwe Facts & Figures
Buikwe District lies in the Central region of Uganda, sharing borders with the District of Jinja in the East, Kayunga along river Sezibwa in the North, Mukono in the West, and Buvuma in Lake Victoria.
Buikwe District, created out of an Act of Parliament in 2009 has a total area of about 1209 Square Kilometers of which land area is 1209 square km.
The District Headquarters is in BUIKWE Town, situated along Kampala-Jinja Road (11kms off Lugazi). Buikwe Town serves as an Administrative and commercial center.
The district has 1 County (i.e. Buikwe) with 4 rural Sub-counties, 3 Town Councils and Municipalities. The sub-counties are Buikwe, Najja, Ngogwe, and Ssi-Bukunja; while the Town Councils are Buikwe, Kiyindi and Nkokonjeru. The Municipalities are Njeru and Lugazi.
Buikwe has 67 parishes, (wards) and 471 Village Councils.
(This story was run with support from Ultimate Media Consults Uganda and the US Mission in Kampala)