25 January 2013

Uganda: Sheema Stone Quarry Risks Closure Over Pollution

National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has threatened to close Sheema stone quarry over what it calls serious pollution.

Massive machines are used to crash big rocks as trucks ferry away stones to different destinations. Blinding clouds of dust rise high up from the site and can be seen from afar. The resultant noise made by the big machines can almost be heard a kilometer away.

And it never gets any worse than this for the residents of the area. They have lodged several complaints about the noise, dust and the health risks associated with that.

Sheema district acting environmental officer Patrick Turyatunga acknowledged receipt of several of the resident's concerns at his office.

He says he has visited the site several times and admits that the situation "is very bad".

"I have been to this place many times to see for myself the real situation and pollution is clearly visible," he says. "We have tried to warn the owners to change but they have refused, so we decided to take the matter to NEMA."

Workers at the site, including Danish expatriates dressed casually, can be seen wandering around the quarry doing different assignments like rock drilling, blasting and loading.

The quarry operated by Nincontra Construction and Civil Engineering Company Ltd employs more than 100 workers.

Among this workforce are drillers, casual labourers, cooks, drivers and mechanics.

The quarry is located in a down-stream wetland surrounded by a few grazing farms and some residential houses dotted in the neighborhood.

Started in the early 1990S, it is located at Kamurinda in Kyangyenyi sub county Sheema district.

NEMA western region coordinator Hebert Nabaasa who visited the area on Thursday told New Vision that the environment watchdog might "close the quarry very soon".

Nabaasa said that during his visit he did not find the Environmental impact assessment certificate displayed at the site of the quarry as required by the law.

He added that the quarry could be operating without the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate which means they are operating in contravention to the NEMA Act.

"There is a lot of pollution to the environment going on at this quarry. We may be compelled to stop all activities on this site if these people don't have a compliance agreement with us. This will be done to address major issues of environmental concern,"Nabaasa warned.

The quarry is contaminating the water in the wetland at the site. Besides, the workers have no protective gear yet stones are blasted into the air.

The environment coordinator did not find any of the managers at the site at his time of visit. He failed to get them on phone too.

"We may be forced to close the quarry if we don't meet the owners of the quarry and sort out environmental concerns," he reiterated.

Efforts to get a comment from the owners of the quarry were futile as no official phone contacts could be availed to the press.

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