Environmental activists who were arrested by Uganda police in September this year in Hoima city Western Uganda over the “Save Bugoma Forest campaign” have vowed to die fighting to save the forest.
David Kureeba, the Officer in Forestry and Biodiversity, at National Association of Professional Environmentalists, NAPE says if government does not safeguard the forest and stop deforestations, they will run to courts of law.
Mr. Kureeba, who appeared on Community Green Radio on September 18 said NAPE and other environmentalists are to sue Hoima Sugar Limited, NEEMA and the government over the destruction of the forest.
“It is unfortunate that the police are arresting activists who are advocating to save Bugoma Forest instead of arresting those behind the cutting down of the natural resource. We shall take this battle to courts of law. We can’t allow the forest to just go”, Kureeba said.
NAPE and other conservation activists are still battling in court after they dragged National Environment Management Authority –NEMA for giving out a certificate to Hoima Sugar limited for sugarcane growing.
Two Environmental Journalists who were arrested by Uganda police for allegedly organising a demonstration have also vowed to fight on. The two are Joshua Mutale and Venex Watebawa from the Water and Environment Media Network Uganda (WEMNET).
Mr. Watebawa says they were arrested and detained when they had gone to seek for protection from police to have a peaceful protest against the leasing of the forest reserve by Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom to Hoima Sugar Limited for sugarcane growing. He, however said their arrest and detention will not stop them from the campaign.
“We went to seek for permission from the Officer in-charge at Hoima Police station to be able to peacefully protest the giveaway of the forest that is reportedly being cleared by the sugar company but we were instead arrested and detained. Now that we are out, we are going to continue to fight to save the forest,” Watebawa narrated.
Transiting from the use of mercury to a more user friendly, less harmful and more productive methodology of using Borax in artisanal gold mining is still slow but catching up with intensive trainings among artisanal miners especially in Kassanda district.
Despite some of them knowing the harmful impacts of mercury, their mindset is still stuck to the fact that mercury is still the best option alternative, perhaps due to lack of enough sensitization on alternative choices.
“I used to work in Mulago National Referral Hospital as a technician before coming here in the mines. We used to ensure that mercury is not poorly exposed because of its harmful impacts on someone’s health. But when I came here, I found people touching, inhaling and even pouring it on ground which is very dangerous. But because most of us miners are here to make money for our children, we are aware that we shall not live long but shall leave the families happy,” said Wasswa Ssekalye, 52, a gold miner in cygonmining (Kayonza) site in Kitumbi sub county.
With the efforts to change this mindset and promote mercury free gold mining, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) organised a learning exchangeand experience sharing where experienced artisanal mining trainers who have used borax method in Buhweju and Namayingo districts to train their counterparts in Kasanda district.
NAPE, working with support from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF)-Uganda, a small grants program under United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on a project to promote mercury free methodology in artisanal and small scale gold miners put up a demonstration site in Kayonza mining site which is being used as training center for artisanal miners in Borax use in gold mining that is less harmful to human health and the environment.
During the training, over 20 artisanal miners were trained in Borax technology so that they are able to train others in Kitumbi-Kayonza gold mining. Kitumbi-Kayonza gold mining site brings together over 500 artisanal miners registered under Kitumbi-Kayonza Gold Miners Association (KKMA) in Kitumbi Sub County Kasanda district.
Sande Patrick, an artisan trainer from Namayingo district said he was ignorantly using mercury to extract gold from iron ore not knowing its negative impacts on health and environment until 2014.
“I started using mercury in 2009 when I joined artisanal gold mining. We used to get challenges like corrosive skin, headache and general body weaknesses not knowing that it’s as a result of absorption of mercury into our bodies,” Sande told artisanal miners during training.
Sande added, “However, when we met NAPE in 2014, we were sensitized about the dangers of mercury and trained in Borax use as an alternative and since then we have never looked back. A few of us who were trained have been able to train others and we are slowly phased out mercury use in Namayingo because we need life.”
Jane Ahimbisibwe, another artisanal trainer from Buhweju said for the time she has been using Borax she has observed that the gold recovery from iron ore is high and borax is readily available and less expensive in the market since it is not illegal like mercury.
“As women, we are the ones who normally move with children to the mines, who inhale mercury vapor even when we are pregnant and this puts our children’s growth at stake. Its better we spearhead this campaign against mercury use,” she said during the training.
The miners expressed willingness to switch to the use of Borax but called for more training to learn the methodology better.
“We need more training for the miners to get acquainted with Borax technology. And when we know the big number has been trained, it will give us a basis of fighting mercury in the mines as leaders,” said Ssempala Herbert Edward, the Manager for KitumbiKayonza Miners Association.
Mr. Ssempala hailed NAPE for coming up to train artisanal miners on alternatives of extracting gold.
“We shall ensure that every one gets trained and from there it will help us to phase out mercury knowing that everyone has knowledge on the alternative,” Ssempala said.
He, however, notes that the government is partly to blame for the weak laws to control mercury from being smuggled into the country and lack of enough sensitization on other methods to be used in gold extraction.
“Mercuryuse in the mines isillegal in the country but we don’t know how it ends up here. KKMA is against Mercury use but how to control it is a problem. The government should help us by ensuring that it is not smuggled into the country and also promote other alternatives as we work together to promote mercury free gold mining,” Ssempala says.
Peruth Atukwatse, the Program Officer in Charge of Sound Chemical Management at NAPE said since the artisanal miners areorganized under KKMA for the case of kayonza, the association leaders should spearhead the fight against mercury use by embracing the opportunity of getting training on Borax use and slowly phasing out use of mercury.
She also said the government should speed up the process of passing the Mining and Mineral Bill 2019 that is currently in draft form and ensures that there is emphasis on regulating the chemicals like mercury that miners use to extract gold.
On 1st March 2019, Uganda became a signatory to Minamata Convention, the first global treaty that seeks to protect human health and the physical environment from mercury emissions and its release into the environment.With Minamata Convention coming into force, there is need to raise more awareness on the dangers of mercury and promoting less harmful alternative mining practices. This project is contributing to such global efforts of phasing out mercury use.
In a move to raise public awareness on sound chemical use and waste management, the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) has disseminated awareness materials to the districts of Kiboga, Kassanda, and Kyankwanzi.
The materials in form of t-shirts, caps, stickers and posters that display information on proper use of agro-chemicals, health impacts of mercury use and proper waste management were handed over to the district officials in the respective districts and other members of the public for easy information dissemination.
Ms.Peruth Atukwatse, the Program Officer in charge of Chemicals Management at NAPE says though chemicals are used in day to day life in different products, there is need for consumers to be conscious of the contents of the products they use. She says different chemicals may pose great threats to ecosystems and human health if not properly handled.
Ms. Atukwatse believes lack of awareness in handling, storage and use of most of the chemicals like pesticides and herbicides in still a big issue in many communities. She says poor disposal of wastes and uncontrolled dumping continues to pose a threat to people and the environment.
“Artisanal miners use mercury to extract gold which is harmful to their health and environment. Even farmers are using agro-chemicals without protective gears. Therefore, we are coming up with these materials to disseminate information on these dangers and proper handling but also promoting less harmful alternatives,” she said while handing over the materials to Kassanda district officials.
While receiving the materials, JohnBosco Ssewankambo, the Kassanda Deputy Chief Administrative Officer said the materials were timely since artisanal gold mining has now become a big economic activity in the district where miners use mercury. He also added that Kassanda is known for growing maize and coffee and sometimes farmers use agrochemicals without protective gears.
“These materials will help us to raise public awareness because they understand better when you are showing them pictures explaining the dangers, we are going to also disseminate the materials to the respective communities” Ssewankambo said.
In Kiboga, the materials were received by the district Senior Natural Resource Officer, Patrick Musasizi who hailed NAPE and Community Green Radio for contributing towards natural resource conservation.
“However much we try to sensitize the public on dangers of improper handling of chemicals and poor waste management, the intake is still low. We therefore thank NAPE for these materials and the radio for always advocating for environmental conservation. You are easing our work,” Musasizi said.
The outbreak and spread of COVID-19 pandemic has taken aback every individual world over.
In Uganda, the first corona virus case was reported in March 2020 and ever since, government set out strict rules to contain the spread of the virus across the country. Some of the measures include movement restrictions and a ban on gatherings.
Though such measures have incapacitated people socially and economically, the rural communities are becoming strengthened and resilient to the pandemic by coming up with their own community-centered solutions to slow down the spread and mitigate the impacts.
Some of the local partners of National Association Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) say they have been resilient to finding solutions amidst COVID-19.
Rev. Fred Musimenta, the Chairperson of Butimba sustainability Conservation Association in Butimba village in Kikuube district says the lock down and restrictions on access to markets and movements have incapacitated their efforts to earn income and this has dragged people into poverty.
“People have been selling their food to get some money. But now that the gatherings are suspended, the markets are closed and movements restricted; they have nowhere to sell to. They have been forced to sell within at very low prices,” he says.
He adds that, “BUSUCA has also been earning some income through selling tree seedlings and honey to local organisations and other community members. However, the buyers suspended buying since they have no money,”
Musimenta, however, says such challenges have hindered BUSUCA from carrying out their advocacy work and environmental conservation activities.
“We have learnt to live in the new normal, we still hold meetings of small numbers to sensitize people about their land rights and how they should use the COVID-19 lock down to grow more food to ensure food security at households. We have also decided to give out trees freely for people to use this lock down to plant trees to increase the forest cover,” he says.
On community health, Rev. Musimenta says they are living by examples in washing the hands and putting on masks. He says in addition to getting COVID messages on preventive measures from Community Green Radio, they are advising communities to come up with their own solutions other than waiting for the government to come in.
“NAPE gave us a hand washing water tank which we put at the office to teach communities how to wash hands and why we should wash hands. Community Green Radio has also played a big role in raising awareness in COVID prevention and people are putting it into actions. Away from that, we have told people to buy masks, emphasize hand washing using soap to prevent the virus,” he said.
Alice Kazimura, the Director of Kakindo Integrated Women’s Development Agency (KAWIDA) in Buliisa district says COVID lock down and displacements due to floods resulting from rising water levels on Lake Albert have fueled domestic violence.
“These two natural calamities have largely affected fishing which is Buliisa’s main economic activity. As a result people have become to poor and poverty goes along with domestic violence. Because of poverty, many families are breaking up with many women running to road construction workers in the area for money. So far we have 11 families have broken up since he lock down,” she says.
She says KAWIDA has partnered with the district officials and other local community based organisations to sensitize communities on domestic violence which has taken toll in the wake of COVID-19.
“We have sought permission from the Resident District Commissioner to allow us have small meetings of like 30 people to engage them on domestic violence. We are also carrying out radio talk shows in partnership with the district local government and other organisations to sensitize people. Since many people are at home; men, children and wives, sharing responsibilities has become a challenge,” she explains.
For people living in Kijayo camp for the Internally Displaced People, the COVID-19 pandemic has made life complicated since they depend on causal labor for their livelihood and food.
“This pandemic has taught us to understand that it’s only us who must get solutions to our own problems. The people we have been working for have no money. You either work for cheap labour or food. Some of us have decided to hire some pieces land to grow crops. Like me I hired some piece of land and planted cabbages that I have been eating and selling. I sometimes go to my disputed land and get some avocados which I also sell,” says Ms.Hariet Kemirembe, a resident in the IDP camp.
Kemirembe says being in the camp has not stopped people from embracing hand washing as a preventive measure to COVID-19. She says the hand washing water tank received from NAPE has helped them to emphasize hand washing before one accesses the camp.
The communities say the radio has played a big role in spreading messages from credible services like World Health Organisation and Ministry of Health translated in local languages and rising awareness on preventive measures.
As the country continues to fight the spread of COVID-19, the role of communities in responding to COVID-19 pandemic cannot be underestimated especially in designing their own solutions to the needs of communities at grassroots.
Several residents affected by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project in Hoima, and Kikuube districts have lost patience and returned to the land reserved for the oil pipeline to cultivate crops.
The decision stems from the delayed compensation of the affected families and lack of activity on the land.
Samuel Tugumisirize, the Butimba village chairperson in Kikuube district says the affected people chose to return to their land and cultivate maize, beans, tomatoes, sweet and Irish potatoes since they are uncertain when the pipeline activities will resume.
Tugumisirize says it is unacceptable to keep the land and houses idle.
“Many people have been asking me on whether they should use their land and I gave them a go ahead because the land is idle. However, those whose unfinished buildings were affected are stuck because they were assured that they would only compensate only what was valuated during mapping and valuation exercise,” Tugumisirize explains.
Kirungi Kadri, the Hoima District Chairperson says the suspension of the oil pipeline activities have since triggered mixed feelings among the affected residents.
He reveals that government hasn’t engaged the affected communities on the next course of action, adding that the PAPs have to keep track of the pipeline process through regular sensitization, which is not done.
Total Uganda contracted New Plan Limited to carry out the mapping and valuation exercise.
However, government suspended the oil pipeline project in September 2019 following the collapse of Tullow-Total deal, which slowed the project. In 2020, government entered a joint venture partnership and resumed the project. The new deal was expected to be signed early this year.
However, the Energy and Mineral Developments Minister, Mary Goretti Kitutu Kimono says the matter was left to the president, saying she has nothing much to comment on the matter at the moment.
The Ugandan section of the pipeline is about 296km and passes through 10 districts, 25 sub-counties and 172 villages, of the total length of 1,443km from the proposed pump station in Hoima to Chongleani terminal near Tanga port on the Indian Ocean.
Artisanal gold miners in Kasanda, formally Mubende district are calling for more awareness and sensitization on other methods in gold extraction to completely phase out mercury use which is hazardous to environment and harmful to human health.
According to artisanal gold miners, most of them still use mercury in extraction of gold despite its visible dangers on their health and environment.
Ivan Kauma, a member of Kitumbi-Kayonzo Miners’Association (KKMA) in Kasanda says though borax method has been introduced, the miners are still stuck on old technology of mercury use which calls for intensive trainings.
Mr.Kauma explains that many artisanal miners are used to mixing mercury with gold ore before exposing the mixture to the heat to separate the gold from the rock. He explains that the miners are poisoned by mercury vapor released in the process of heating.
Bernard Mutesasira, another gold miner notes that most miners use mercury without protective gears and that the washed water polluted with mercury is just poured on the ground; contaminating the soil and underground water.
“Those who have been in the business have complained of absorption of mercury into the skin causing corrosive skin, headache, back pain and constant shaking which is highly attributed to the use of mercury,” Mutesasira says.
Joyce Katusiime, a woman miner dealing in buying and crushing the ore in Lubali mining site in Kasanda says though the demonstration on how Borax works has not yet been done, the theory trainings they have had so far show that use of borax is better if adopted by all the miners.
She explains that much sensitization is needed to ensure that gold miners work in a mercury free environment in addition to further awareness rising on the effects of mercury.
National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) with support from the Global Environmental Facility(GEF)-Uganda, a small grants program under United Nations Development Program(UNDP) has been working with other partners and government to reduce mercury use and promote use of borax as an alternative technology in Kasanda and other mining districts in Uganda.
Peruth Atukwatse, the officer in charge of chemicals management and climate change at NAPE is delighted that the artisanal gold miners now know and appreciate the dangers associated with use of mercury and are willing to uptake other safer alternative technologies.
She says the introduction of Borax is in line with Minamata Convention on mercury which was adopted in 2013. The convention, which Uganda is a signatory, set clear time-bound targets to phase out the manufacture, export and import of mercury and mercury added products.
Ms. Atuwatse explains that as NAPE, they aim at reducing the health and environmental risks of mercury and they will continue to sensitize miners on borax use until mercury use is completely phased out. She says borax is advantageous over mercury since the former increases productivity and high gold recovery that results in better overall economics of miners, borax is readily available on the market, cheap and its use in mining legal in Uganda.
The survey carried out by NAPE and other partners between July and August 2018 established that the levels of mercury pollution in the blood of miners, soil, and water and food crop contamination were very high in the mining districts of Busia, Buhweju, Mubende, Namayingo and Karamoja.
Following the rise in water levels that have left many displaced in Uganda, Mr. Frank Muramuzi, the Executive Director National Association of Professional Environmentalists, NAPE is appealing to people residing and working close to environmentally and ecologically sensitive areas to vacate voluntarily.
While speaking to Community Green radio early this month, Mr. Muramuzi said continued human activity along ecologically sensitive areas does not only pose danger to the environment but to human life as well.
“I appeal to the community to promote, protect the environment and leave the wetlands willingly before the presidential directive in regard to these areas is forcefully implemented,’’ cautioned Mr. Muramuzi.
Mr. Muramuzi also took a swipe at big business people, locally referred as investors for continuously reclaiming swamps and wetlands for development. He explained that these business people get approval from government agencies like the National Environmental Management Authority, NEMA to operate in wetlands and swamps.
“NEMA has issued licences to investors who are carrying out developments in wetlands and swamps. We call on government to desist from sanctioning such developments in environmentally sensitive area,’’ he said.
Mr. Muramuzi also noted that the construction of dams on major water bodies have become a threat to the flow of water; a reason NAPE strongly opposes the construction of dams.
Mr. Muramuzi believes the rising water levels currently experienced are as a result of degradation and encroachment of wetlands and forests for cultivation.
This year, Ugandan minister of state for Energy and Mineral Development Mary Gorreti Kitutu warned that the residents around Lake Kyoga would be affected since Karuma dam was releasing 950 cubic meters per second and the entire water was going to the lake.
Water levels for major water bodies across Uganda have gone up in recent months from 12.00 meters in 2019 to above 13.4 meters, in the case of Lake Victoria, a mark last recorded in 1964, while Lake Kyoga is projected to exceed the highest historical water level of 13.2 meters.
This has led to submerging shorelines, swamps and flood plains, displacing thousands of people and flooding infrastructure.
More than 9, 000 people have been displaced by the rising water levels of Lake Kyoga in Nakasongola district,central Uganda. Others have been displaced in Masaka, Buvuma, Mayuge, Jinja and Wakiso districts by the surge of water volume in Lake Victoria. People in Ntoroko District in Western Uganda have also been displaced by increased water volumes in Lake Albert.
Human rights activists have asked the security operatives to respect human rights as measures are being enforced to curb the spread of corona virus.
The Human Rights Officer at Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) Hoima Regional Office, Hope Bagota said the commission has received many complaints of human rights violations during the period of COVID-19. She said the commission is currently investigating cases of torture by security agencies and other human rights violations so that the victims get justice.
Bagota explains that the respect of human rights is enshrined in article 221 of the Constitution of Uganda and security agencies should work in line with that.
“Human rights such as right to fair hearing, freedom from torture and others cannot be taken away by state or any other person at any circumstance,” she explained.
This was during the radio talk show on Human Rights that was held at Community Green Radio Kiboga and organised by National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) with support from Fund for Global Human Rights on May 21.
Others that attended the radio talk show included ASP Francis Magumba, the Community Liaisons Officer for Albetine Region, Surgent Lawrence Byansi, the Community Liasons Officer for Kiboga Central Police station and JescaNanyondo, a community member from Mulagi Sub County in Kyankwanzi.
During the show, many listeners accused securing officers of harassment and use of excessive force during the lockdown.
“LDUs always ask for evidence from pregnant mothers on whether they are pregnant, women in early stages of pregnancy have had rough time explaining this,” said Mildred Atuhaise from Kasanda district.
“Why do you have to wait for the COVID-19 curve to flatten for the human rights perpetrators to be charged before court yet they continue to abuse people’s rights,” Annet Kengonzi from Kaiso Tonya in Hoima district asked.
Jesca Nanyondo also mentioned that in most cases women have been the victims of torture during the lockdown and curfew due to their traditional roles of providing food and care for the families.
“Sometimes women are caught up when they are from looking for food or medicine for the children. However, it has been hard explaining some of these cases to police officers on duty,” she noted.
In defence, ASP magumba said people have misinterpreted the presidential directives and they sometimes provoke security operatives.
However, the Human Rights Officer, Bagota said all these cases, backed by evidence, should be reported to the commission so that they can be followed up.
Nanyondo appreciated the show and called upon NAPE to organize more talk shows so that people can have a better understanding of their rights and have interactions with security operatives and human rights activists.
Joan Akiza, the senior Gender and Legal Officer at NAPE noted that rights of vulnerable persons such as Persons with disabilities, women and children should be protected and it’s sad that mothers are dying as they walk to health facilities due to the ban on public & private transport. She promised to organize more talk shows aimed at sensitizing communities on how they can enjoy their rights during the covid-19 crisis.
In the recent press briefing, the Acting Chairperson UHRC, said the commission had so far received 128 complaints of human rights violations, some of which are the cases of torture by security agencies.
National Association of Professional Environmentalists, NAPE has contributed to Kiboga district COVID 19 Task Force to help fight against the Coronavirus.
NAPE, with support from Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, provided hand washing water tanks, Infrared thermometers, sanitizers and face masks.
The items were handed over to Hajji Umar Mawiya, Kiboga district Resident district Commissioner, who is also the Chairperson of district COVI 19 Task Force. Present at the handover was also the District Chairperson, Israel Yiga and the function was held at Community Green Radio Offices on May 21.
Frank Muramuzi, the NAPE Executive Director explained that the organization thought it wise to support the district that hosts the Community Green Radio as a way of helping communities prevent the spread of the virus.
“We got support from our development partners and secured these items and today we are handing them over to the task force for use by the listeners of the radio”, explained Mr. Muramuzi.
During the handover, Mr. Muramuzi also emphasized the need for promotion of environmental conservation by stopping encroachment on wetlands especially in the current situation where the country is experiencing floods and rising water levels especially at Lake Victoria.
The RDC Kiboga District Mr. Mawiya commended NAPE and Community Green radio for supporting the struggle in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic by donating and giving back to the community.
“This donation is timely. In our district budget, we had budgeted for only 2 infrared thermometers because these days they are very expensive. I want to thank you for giving back to community and having communities at heart,” said Mr. Mawiya.
Mr. Mawiya also applauded the radio for playing a great role in alerting the public about Covid-19 and Environmental conservation.
“We also want to thank you for being pro-community. Once you touch the environment, you have touched people’s lives”, he added.
The Kiboga district chairperson Israel Yiga also appreciated NAPE for the donation and applauded the radio for changing the mindset of the community about Environmental conservation, advocating for the rights of the masses through daily programmes that sensitize the public.
“The number of people and homesteads that have planted trees has greatly increased compared to previous days meaning that the community has greatly adopted the messages about conservation” said Yiga.
It’s disastrous to encroach on rivers, lakes and wetlands as stressed by the Executive Director National Association of Professional Environmentalists, NAPE Mr. Frank Muramuzi
VIDEO: Frank Muramuzi, an environmentalist on the way forward following the rising water levels of Lake Victoria. #NBSMorningBreeze #NBSUpdates #StaySafeUG
Posted by NBS Television on Tuesday, April 21, 2020