|Children engaged in mining activities
Important to note is that, pollution is a serious threat to human health and its impacts have already been manifested in real life. According to water Governance institute,2017, it was evident in Mubende that pollution levels in soils and water were ten times the permissible levels by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
World health organization identifies mercury as highly toxic to human health and inhalation of mercury vapor can lead to harmful effects not only to digestive system but also to nervous and immune systems more especially kidney and lungs. However, there is certain level where mercury can be less dangerous and according to NEMA, the permissible levels of mercury are at 2.0 milligrams per kilogram of soil and 0.001milligrams per litter of water compared to 8.0 milligrams and 0.001 milligrams WHO standards.
In Uganda, 50% of employees in the artisanal small scale Gold miners are women according to Auditor Generals’ report (2015) putting 100000 women at danger of harmful chemicals every day. It is evident these women engage in panning sand for gold using mercury with no any protection exposing them to chemicals. In recent study done in the mining sites of Buhweju by EMLI, women were engaged in direct washing of gold using mercury which was smuggled in Uganda and yes have no information on its dangers hence increasing their changes of being the victims to its dangers with registered eye diseases among women and children working in the mining sector.
According to the UN, the practice of mercury amalgamation in Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) is of particular concern due to the “decentralized distribution of elemental mercury utilized and its widespread handling, thermal conversion and disposal within social settings such as shops, villages, and food production areas.”
Note forgetting other pollutants, the result of recent analysis by NAPE found high concentration of lead, a heavy metal that is widely known for causing cancer in the paint on sale for home-use in Uganda. This is commonly used for painting furniture, buildings among others yet its women and children who spend much time home inhaling such pollutants.
Despite all the challenges caused by pollution, there is no quantitative data and report on this. Studies by Ugandan scientists however suggest about 14 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 14 living in Kampala have bronchial asthma which Dr. Worodria said similar results were found in one of Uganda's rural districts. Whereas, indoor pollution from smoke and other things, about 14 percent of inhabitants of that rural district had some form of chronic obstructed lung diseases.
Identifying the root cause of the problem and acknowledging it will help in beating pollution. Government should and must establish, enforce and implement laws and regulations that address the pollution especially through application of the polluter pays principle with higher fines based on a minimum value and also consider extended producer responsibility.
United Nations Environment Assembly agreed to eliminate exposure to lead paint and promote sound management of used lead-acid batteries; improve air quality globally; address water pollution; manage soil pollution; and control pollution in areas affected by terrorist operations and armed conflict. I therefore call upon fellow Ugandans and our government to implement UNEA resolution if we are to achieve vision 2040 and national development plan.