KASANDA ARTISANAL GOLD MINERS EMBRACE MERCURY FREE ALTERNATIVES AS NAPE LAUNCHES A DEMOSTRATION SITE TO PROMOTE MERCURY FREE GOLD MINING

Artisanal gold miners in Kassanda district in central Uganda are actively embracing Borax use as National Association of Professional Environmentalists(NAPE) steps up efforts to promote mercury free Gold mining.

Ssempala Herbert Edward, the Manager for Kitumbi-Kayonza Miners Association (KKMA) says with several trainings from NAPE on the dangers of mercury, the miners have started changing the mindset to Borax use.

“Miners are now willing to switch to the use of borax an alternative to mercury but we want a permanent trainer here. If NAPE can recommend a trainer who is an expert in Borax use, the association will be able to employ him for a month to acquaint our miners with mercury free methodology skills,” Ssempala said.

Ssempala was speaking at the official launch of the mercury free demonstration site and at the same time receiving a ball mill machine and accessories on behalf of the miners in Kassanda District. The items were delivered by NAPE to be used as a training center for artisanal miners in Borax use in gold mining that is less harmful to human health and the environment on 7th December.

While handing over the machine, Mrs. Carol Aguti, the NAPE Board Member, who represented NAPE said the miners should intensively change their attitude from use of mercury since NAPE has helped to put up a demonstration site.

She said they should use the site to train all the miners on gravity concentration technology and using Borax now that the government is already in the process of phasing out mercury.

“The problem with miners is change of attitude, but what you should know is that it is expensive to treat yourselves but cheap to protect yourselves. So NAPE is here to sensitize you, please sieve this opportunity,” she said.

The Kassanda district Natural Resources Officer, Clare Kamagara said miners should adopt the use of Borax for the good of their health and the environment since its safe and also asked KKMA to emphasize use of protective gears.

She said the miners should consider safety first and work hand in hand with government and NAPE to ensure mercury free gold mining.

The Kassanda District Community Development Officer, Ssebulime Gozanga said he was happy to visit the mines upon invitation by NAPE since they lack enough facilitation as a district to do spot checks.

 He said he had observed the miners are working without safety equipment like gloves, overall, gumboots, and helmets which puts them at a risk of touching and inhaling mercury that is dangerous to their health. He said the miners should put their lives into consideration and work with NAPE to ensure that mercury is slowly phased out.

Peruth Atukwatse, the Program Officer in Charge of Chemicals Management at NAPE said mercury use among Kayonza miners is still high which prompted NAPE to put a demonstration site where the miners have been trained in an alternative where Borax is added to the concentrate at the final stage after gravity concentration through direct smelting.

She said in addition to several trainings on the impacts of mercury and the need to shift from its use, the demonstration site will act as a learning centre for the miners but also to demonstrate to government that there are alternatives to mercury that should be promoted. 

KALANGALA ISLANDERS DEMAND GOVERNMENT TO LEAVE THE REMAINING LAND FOR FARMING AS SEVERE HUNGER AND FOOD INSECURITY HIT IN COVID LOCKDOWN

Severe hunger and food insecurity experienced by Kalangala Islanders during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has pushed the communities to rescind the decision of converting their land from palm oil growing to food growing.

Communities say the introduction of palm oil growing in the area persuaded many households to switch from fishing and subsistence farming to growing palm oil trees and there is no enough land to grow food for local consumption.

Dorah Gwosekera, says COVID-19 preventive measures have exposed the extent of food insecurity at households as many families were depending on one meal a day. She says food shortage has been worsened by COVID-19 since people were caught unprepared to save food and money yet there was increased number of people at households.

“Many households were not secure enough in terms of food apart from a few that are engaged in food growing yet the children were at home and everyone was not working. Communities largely depend on fish for their livelihood and a few are in subsistence farming. Some had abandoned fishing to palm oil growing. This has rendered people into untold suffering fending food for their families,” she said.

Prossy Nalubuye, the Vice Chairperson for Bujumba Sustainability Development Association(BUSDA) says COVID-19 has taught the communities the importance of embracing food production. She urged the government and palm companies to stop persuade people to give away their land for palm oil and instead focus on sensitizing them on large scale food production.

“Palm oil companies have been persuading people that this monoculture cash crop will get them out of poverty. But the story is different, people are poorer. Therefore, government should come up to support food security programs.

She says the association has supported many households with vegetable seeds to embrace kitchen gardening so that they can get what to eat.

The large plantations of palm oil in areas previously covered by natural forest has not only impacted severely on food insecurity but robbed them of forest resources like mushrooms, medicinal herbs and firewood.

“Now I have to walk deep in the forest to look for mushrooms yet they were everywhere. I used to sell 20kg tin of mushrooms at 130,000 shillings. This is good money. But these days they are hardly seen,” said Frida Namusoke.

Allan Kalangi, the Sustainability School Manager at National Association of Professional Environmentalists(NAPE) says its high time the islanders embraced the idea of increasing food security at households.

“The population is growing yet you are giving away your land for palm oil growing. What will you feed the next generation? You need to start now to think beyond palm oil growing,” he said.

CLIMATE CHANGE REFUGEES BACK TO GRASS AS LAKE ALBERT CONTINUES TO CAUSE HAVOC TO THE SURROUNDING VILLAGES

When Moses Byarufu, a resident of Kasenyi village lost his two pieces of land to oil developments in Buliisa district, he used his 58 million shillings compensation money to construct an 8-roomed permanent house at Wanseko landing site.

Wanseko being a busy place, Byarufu had strategically constructed a house for both residential and commercial purposes. And indeed, it had started fetching him more than 400,000 shillings per month from rentals and this had prompted him to resign on his job as a potter at Kigwera Health Centre 11 to cater for this and other businesses.

“My land was taken away by government to pave way Central Processing Unit Project Kigwera village and road construction under Uganda National Revenue Authority in Buliisa Town Council. I bought a plot and constructed a house at Wanseko. I then resigned on my job that was earning me 90,000 Uganda shillings,” he narrated.

However, hardly a year after construction, the dreams of a 38-year-old father of 7 were shuttered after the overflowing water of Lake Albert submerged the business premises at Wanseko. This brought him back on the knees and struggles of what to feed the family.

“I put in 75 million shillings to finish that house which is far beyond the compensation. I have now resorted to riding a motorcycle to feed my family which is also in a rented house. Life has become hard. One may think this oil money is cursed,” he narrated.

Byarufu is one the business community members at Wanseko landing site that are crying foul as the lake continues to submerge their business premises.

The area now looks isolated with boats floating on top of water weed in front of abandoned buildings. Shops, restaurants and a fish market are among the business premises that have been submerged by rising water levels.

Grace Katusabe, a fishmonger at the landing site says the rising water and COVID-19 pandemic have affected her business leaving her with no source of income and heavily indebted.

“Early this year during a market day, we were chased by security officers saying they don’t want people to gather due to COVID-19 pandemic. I had just got a loan to put in my business. When the businesses were put to halt, my business was affected and my money wasted. The rising water levels at Lake Albert have also displaced me so life is not easy. We now eat one meal a day because COVID-19 got me when I had just got a loan and I had not saved money,” she narrated.

The case is no different from Kaiso landing site. The beach management unit house has also been submerged and other houses that were constructed near the lake.

Kyamanywa Alfred, one of the former beach managers says when they were constructing the beach, it was not anticipated that it would at one time be submerged. The beach was used for cleaning fish before taken to other markets and it was used by community members as a meeting place.

The houses of some of the members of Kaiso Women’s Group, which is supported by National Association of Professional Environmentalists(NAPE), have already been affected. Constance Nyamisana whose house is a metre away from the water levels says she is worried of losing her shop to the water levels and is pondering the next move.

“The water is submerging our houses slowly but the conditions are not good. People have made makeshift houses in the upland where they are sleeping with the whole family. Prices for small poles have increased to Uganda shillings 5000 per pole. They lack water and other basics needs,” she said.

Most of the affected persons and facilities are within the 200-meter buffer zone recommended by National Environmental Management Authority(NEMA) Act for lakes. Though this time the rising water levels are going beyond the buffer zones, encroachment has happened as mandated authorities like NEMA and the respective district environment offices and land boards look on.

While visiting the area, Allan Kalangi, the Sustainability School Manager at NAPE, said the government should have sensitized the communities and forewarned them on the need to protect the buffer zones. He, however, urged the communities to learn from this disaster and spearhead the fight against environmental destruction.

“This time I don’t put a blame on the communities. The government should have protected the buffer zones and forewarned the communities. But even the beach management unit shelter was constructed with in the buffer zones with support from government,” Kalangi said.

Thousands of people have been turned into climate change refugees by rising water levels on Lake Albert, Lake Kyoga and Lake Victoria.

Frank Muramuzi, the Executive Director National Association of Professional Environmentalists, NAPE says people residing and working close to environmentally and ecologically sensitive areas to vacate voluntarily.

GRASSROOT WOMEN IN BUNYORO FORM A COALITION TO PROTEST BUGOMA FOREST GIVEWAY

Grassroot women in Hoima and Kikuube district have formed a coalition to protect Bugoma forest against sugarcane land use.

The coalition dubbed “Women Coalition 4 Bugoma Forest” was formed during a women lobby and advocacy meeting that was held at Bugoma Jungle Lodge in Hoima Kikuube district on 30th November. The meeting was organized by National Association of Professional Environmentalists(NAPE) in partnership with National Association of Women in Development(NAWAD) and Womankind.

During the meeting, the women said changing the land use of Bugoma forest to sugarcane growing will directly affect their survival and livelihood.

They are worried that taking away the forest could escalate climate change impacts like change of seasons, flooding and drought urging that forming a coalition will help them join the fight against destruction as one voice.

“We depend much on this forest for rain since most of us derive our income from agriculture, our water sources come from this forest, we harvest the forest resources like mushrooms and honey for food and sell, get traditional herbs for medicine and collect firewood,” Mbabazi Addah a resident of Kabwoya sub county in Hoima district said.

Lovisa Namatovu, a resident of Nyairongo village in Kabwooya sub county says they are living in fear of being evicted from their land since the boundaries between the forest and community land are not clear.

“Recently, some unknown people put mark stones in front of my house. we don’t know the next step, so time in now to take action as women. When we lose our land we shall suffer because men tend to abandon us when things turn around. If government cares about the plight of women, they should leave the forest as it is,” Namatovu said.

Alice Asiimwe, a resident of Kaseeta B village says they have been protecting the forest for long for their livelihood and feel frustrated that it has been given away to the investor for sugarcane growing.

“I don’t think the investor has come for the forest only. He is coming for us too to be evicted from our land! our survival is on the land so if they chase us, how are we going to survive? Why do they want to chase women who have been protecting this forest? We need peace. Let them come and measure the boundaries,” said Asiimwe.

Asiimwe noted that the local leaders have kept a deaf ear on the concerns of the local communities and they need to take advantage of President Museveni’s campaign visit in the area to express their fears and thoughts about the forest.

“The president is coming on 19th December to look for votes from us, we hear the forest has a big hand from above. This is the time to understand all this. We shall write a petition to the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner demanding to meet the president. We believe he will be able to listen to us,” she added

Esther Turyaheebwa, who lives in the camp for Internally Displaced People(IDP) said their life has never been the same since eviction from their land in 2015 by the same Company-Hoima Sugar Limited- which is destroying the forest. She said the communities around Bugoma forest are heading to similar challenges if they don’t come up to fight.

“I feel more worried when I hear of another possible eviction because I felt if the court case fails we may shift to these other areas and settle there. We had land for cultivation and food security before we were evicted. But now we are struggling to get what to eat. You better wake up!” she said.

Lilian Akello Kitoma, a resident of Purongo town council in Nwoya district said women in their area have been greatly affected by large scale rice farming and human-wild life conflict warning that people adjacent to Bugoma may face the same if they don’t act.

“Investors bought our land and in turn women are offering cheap labor to them because men sold off the land without our consent saying married women don’t come along with land. Those who have land to grow crops are sleeping in the gardens guarding crops against animals,” she said.

Joy Rufunda, the chairperson of Blind Women Association in Hoima suggested that women should seek audience with the Bunyoro Kingdom Prime Minister, Andrew Byakutaaga to explain their position as women on the forest degradation since it was the Kingdom that sold the forested land to Hoima Sugar Limited.

Robina Tibakanya, the Hoima District Coordinator for Women Living with HIV/AIDS also called upon health organizations to join the fight since the impacts of forest degradation like climate change and food insecurity directly affect people living with HIV/AIDS whose life is fragile.

Sostine Namanya, the Gender and Food Security Officer at NAPE said women have been left out in matters concerning the forest, a reason they came up with a dialogue to have their voice.

Jenifer Nakitende, a Field Officer from NAWAD said women should change their mindset to alternative livelihoods like making charcoal briquettes, adding value to their produce, mushroom growing and making herbal medicine gardens as they continue to fight for Bugoma forest.

The dialogue climaxed with the launch of Alternative Livelihood Research in which women from Hoima and Buliisa districts participated in identifying alternative livelihood options available for women; and a walk to the forest where women were carrying placards that carry messages of protest against degradation of Bugoma forest.

According to an official from National Forestry Authority, boundary opening exercise was halted due to the prevailing political situation in the country.

WOMEN TRAINED IN BEEKEEPING AND KITCHEN GARDENING TO IMPROVE ON SUSTAINABLE RURAL INCOMES IN HOIMA AFTER COVID-19 ECONOMIC SHOCK

When COVID-19 associated national lockdown began in March 2020, Norah Ninsiima,45, a tailor and a businesswoman dealing in clothes in Buseruka trading centre in Buseruka sub county in Hoima district did not see it coming. She was not adequately prepared in terms of food security and savings that would enable her and 6 children negotiate and survive through the severe challenges brought by the lockdown.

Ms.Ninsiima says when the businesses were ordered to close, she too closed her business yet it was her major source of income.

      “I would sell my clothes and buy food, pay house rent and also take care of my necessities. But when the lockdown started, it heavily affected me. I was not prepared in terms of food and savings. I had just paid school fees and was broke. I almost failed to feed my family; I depended on my neighbours for food since they are farmers,” Ninsiima narrated.

Ms.Ninsiima is among 50 rural women from Hoima district who benefited from a training on how women can engage in beekeeping and kitchen gardening for sustainable alternative livelihoods which was organised by National Association of Professional Environmentalists(NAPE) in Hoima from Monday 11th to 14th October.

The women were engaged in practical training on how to grow vegetables in sacks, jerry cans and bottles and maintain small vegetable gardens within their homesteads. They were also taken through the process of beekeeping and visited apiaries so that they can replicate and get alternative livelihoods.

Deborah Nakalanzi, an experienced Ktichen Gardening trainer from Kulika Uganda and an urban farmer from Wakiso district encouraged women to embrace kitchen gardening since its affordable and has sustainable income.

“My kitchen garden in my backyard was very helpful during the lockdown. I grow cabbages, spinach, pumpkin, coriander, green pepper, carrots, different food spices, onions, garlic and many other types of vegetables in my yard. I used to feed my family and also sell from home. This saved visits to the markets during the lockdown and also saved me from spending money,” she said while demonstrating to women how they grow vegetables in sacks.

“Kitchen gardening has potential to help women earn a sustainable living; giving them social and economic empowerment. Despite the mobility restrictions, there was no need for me to go to the markets because everything was in my compound and backyard. And the nutrition of my family was not affected by low incomes during the lockdown,” she added.

Jesca Buteeraba,50, an experienced beekeeper from Butimba village in Kizirafumbi sub county, Kikuube district says beekeeping is a promising alternative livelihood that enhances household food security and women’s income. She said it is a good venture for women since it does not take a lot of time and can therefore be taken as an alternative livelihood.

“The lockdown began during harvesting season when I was extracting my honey. I kept selling as usual because my honey is always on order. It is on high demand, people within my community buy it off before I look for outside market. Therefore, my income was not anywhere connected, said Buteeraba as she toured women through her apiary which is about 1km from her home.

Sostine Namanya, the Gender and Food Security Officer at NAPE said the impact of COVID-19 pandemic measures to curb the spread have disproportionately impacted on the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of women.

She says it is important to engage and train women in sustainable livelihoods so that they cannot be affected in future.

Sostine said NAPE will continue to train women so that they actively engage in beekeeping and kitchen gardening as alternative livelihood. She said those who have been trained will be followed up and supported.

ENVIRONMEMNTAL ACTIVISTS VOW TO DIE FIGHTING TO SAVE BUGOMA FORESTS

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.

EXPERIENCED ARTISANAL GOLD MINERS IN BORAX METHOD TRAIN KASSANDA MINERS DURING AN EXCHANGE LEARNING FACILITATED BY NAPE

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.

NAPE IN A CAMPAIGN TO RAISE PUBLIC AWARENESS ON CHEMICAL USE AND WASTE MANAGEMENT IN KASANDA AND KIBOGA DISTRICTS

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.

COMMUNITY AND COVID-19: HOW COMMUNITIES ARE STRONG AND RESILIENT TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC

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.

RESIDENTS RETURN TO THE EARMARKED OIL PIPELINE LAND AFTER A LONG WAIT

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.