By Robert Atuhairwe and Geoffrey Mutegeki
River Kiiha, the main source of water for residents of Bwijanga sub-county in Masindi district, is being polluted by alcohol distilleries in the area.
The river on the Hoima-Masindi road is surrounded by a swamp, which has partly dried up due to the intense activity in the area. An estimated 600 gin distillers are camped about 200 metres from the river.
River Kiiha flows through the villages of Kisalizi, Kibaire, Bulindi, Bulima, Marongo, Kyawinyi and Kyabanati in Masindi as well as some parts of Hoima district.
Residents have asked local authorities to intervene to mitigate the effects of alcohol production in the area. Jane Kaahwa, a roadside vendor at Kisalizi Market which is near the distillery, said the residue from the crude distilleries have given the water a yellowish colour and a foul stench.
“We used to fetch and boil the water for drinking since other safe water sources are far, but today you cannot use the water because the stench is unbearable. We are now forced to walk long distances if we are to get water for home use,” she said.
Peter Isingoma, the co-ordinator of Kiiha-Kachukura Wetlands Conservation Association (KIKAWECA), a local NGO operating in the area to save the river from degradation, said the effluent from the distilleries directly affects the ecosystem.
He said their organisation is engaged in sensitising the community against destructive distilling methods, but called on the Government to clamp down the practice since they do not have the enforcement mandate.
James Makuru, a resident, said issuing warnings to the environmental degraders without action by local leaders was prompting others to join the trade.
The distillers, he said, pay rent to operate on the land without remitting revenues to the Government. Henry Muganyizi, the Bwijanga sub-county chairman, said despite conservation laws, locals are caught up in a cycle of poverty which makes them desperate to do anything for survival.
He said there was need for the distillers to conduct their business in an environment-friendly manner since it is a source of livelihood for many people in the area. William Nsimire, the Masindi district environmental officer, said once they get resources, they will sort out the polluters with the help of the environmental Police.
“We are conducting sensitisation on the best options and developing a wetland management plan to save the situation,” he added.