FROM a distance, the hilly rural area appears engulfed in a mist. Until you get to the settlement, 12km on the winding Kapchorwa-Sironko Road, you may not understand the suffering this community has endured since Tororo Cement Industry established a stone quarry in their area five years ago.
The vast hills in this poor neighbourhood are endowed with Pozzolanic rock, a prime ingredient in cement manufacture.
A stroll around the settlement unveils the rude reality that what appears like mist from a distance is actually dust spewing from the stone crashing activity in Kaserem Stone Quarry.
The over 4,000 inhabitants in Kawowo sub-county, Kapchorwa district, have to endure the deafening noise from the quarry.
Before long, your eyes become teary due to the dust circulating in the air. Chronic eye infections and cough have become the order of the day.
The use of dynamite to crash the stones results into flying stones and tremors that have damaged the nearby buildings.
Kawowo LC3 chairperson, Stephen Sabila, says nobody is against the project, but they are concerned about the investorâ€™s failure to mitigate environmental pollution.
â€œThe district leadership has held several meetings with the investor. He promised some changes, but nothing has been done,â€ says Sabila.
â€œI appeal to the President to come to our rescue. It seems the district leadership has been compromised,â€ Sabila adds.
The mining regulation 2004, clearly spells out the responsibilities of the mining investor, which include periodic environmental impact assessments.
â€œBefore commencement of work, the holder of the exploration licence shall be obliged to show the likely environmental effects, the duration of the environmental effects and their prevention and mitigation,â€ the instrument states.
It is real hell for Hajara Cheselem, a four-year-old albino, who lives 200 metres away from the quarry. Seated on the verandah of their mud-and-wattle hut, Cheselem barely opens her eyes that are caked by a whitish discharge, a sign of an eye infection.
Her parents, Issa Kapchomoru and Jalia, also have eye infections and blink rapidly.
Felicitus Chesang, another resident, says: â€œWhenever the dynamites explode, my house cracks. I am compelled to fix it almost everyday.â€
George Kipsiro, another resident, believes, his wifeâ€™s two miscarriages were a result of the blasts and tremors from the quarry.
Research indicates that prolonged exposure to quarry dust increases the risk of lung cancer and eye infections.
Dr. David Okumu, the Tororo district health officer, says tremors could result into premature births from 28 weeks of pregnancy.
â€œWe advise pregnant women at 28 weeks and above to avoid doing arduous tasks, but always settle in one place and patiently wait for the baby to change position,â€ says Okumu.
He says since the baby in the womb is old enough at 28 weeks and above, a deafening tremor is likely to force it to come out prematurely.
However, Okumu says a tremor cannot cause a miscarriage or (inevitable abortion) between one to three months, unless the mother has been physically hurt on the belly, or has malaria or sexually transmitted infections.
According to the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission â€“ Australia, ingestion (swallowing) of quarry products may result into abdominal discomfort and gastro-intestinal infections.
The commission also says on its website that quarry dust may irritate eyes, causing watering and redness.
It may also irritate the nose, throat and respiratory tract and can exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.
Because quarry dust may contain crystalline silica, the website notes, repeated inhalation of high concentrations may cause scarring of the lung (silicosis), lung cancer and chronic bronchitis.
When Tororo Cement Industry set up the quarry, many residents, especially the youth, welcomed the project, hoping to get employment. However, they were wrong. None of the locals has been taken on.
â€œI have lost count of how many times we have gone to the authorities at the quarry asking for employment, only to be turned away,â€ says William Kipsiro, a resident.
Sabila says his efforts to convince the quarry management to recruit some of the youth have yielded nothing.
â€œSince its inception, all the workforce comes from different parts of the country,â€ he says.
Mzee Peter Boyo recounts how the industry started the quarry in 2004.
â€œThey hired a young man who went round claiming he wanted 10 acres of land to construct a house,â€ Boyo recollects.
Boyoâ€™s neighbour sold 10 acres to the young man at sh500,000 per acre (sh5m). Months later, he says, they were shocked to see Tororo Cement ferrying in their equipment.
Although this was strange, the community consoled themselves with the hope of jobs for their children. â€œBut we were wrong,â€ says Boyo.
Months after the crushing equipment had been installed, the pollution started. Forty families have since sold their land to the investor and relocated elsewhere.
â€œBut some have not been so lucky,â€ says Boyo. â€œAfter selling their land some of them bought plots in urban centres, but life has become difficult since they have nowhere to grow food,â€ says Boyo, who has vowed never to make such a mistake.
â€œI will never sell this land. I am ready to die here,â€ says the old man, who owns over 20 acres.
When contacted, Tororo Cement Industryâ€™s managing director, SK Gagran, declined to comment. However, Kapchorwa district chief administrative officer, Patrick Longeya Otto, says they are aware of the plight of the people of Kawowo sub-county.
â€œWe have made a formal communication spelling out the scale of pollution among other dangerous environmental concerns, but we have not got any response from the ministry,â€ says Otto without stating when the complaint was lodged.
Otto could not reveal how much royalties the district gets from the quarry. However, Sabila revealed that the sub-county recently received a sh3m cheque from the district.
He says the royalty, which is normally remitted twice a year, varies between sh1m and sh3m.
â€œAs a sub-county, we donâ€™t know how much the district receives from the quarry,â€ says Sabila.
According to the Mining Act, the Government is supposed to collect taxes from mining firms and remit 17% to the host districts.
The district is then expected to remit 65% of the money back to the sub-county, where the mining is done.
Tororo residents trapped in quarry dust, tremors