Namuwongo residents drink their way to death

By Vision Reporter

Added 15th April 2013 06:20 PM

Researchers have detected Lead, a toxic chemical in the spring wells in Namuwongo, just below Muyenga and near the shores of Lake Victoria.

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Researchers have detected Lead, a toxic chemical in the spring wells in Namuwongo, just below Muyenga and near the shores of Lake Victoria.

trueLake Victoria is under threat and the very people this water source is supposed to serve are the ones threatening its existence. Until World Environment Day, June 5, in a campaign, Save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms will run investigative articles, programmes and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s largest fresh water lake.

By Gerald Tenywa

Researchers have detected Lead, a toxic chemical in the spring wells in Namuwongo, just below Muyenga and near the shores of Lake Victoria.

Experts say the contamination of drinking water has come amid fears that untreated waste released by Kampala’s industries and the shrinking Nakivubo swamp is endangering Lake Victoria.

The contamination of spring water at Namuwongo, experts say means that impurities are seeping into Lake Victoria: “Namuwongo’s love affair with misfortunes is becoming endless,”were the words of Dr. Sarah Kyobe, the executive director of International Medical Foundation.

The area is one place in Kampala that often floods and also plays host to the frequent cholera outbreaks in the city.

Equally devastating, according to Kyobe, is a new report that indicates that Namuwongo’s water is contaminated with Lead, a heavy metal that impairs intelligence among children and causes high blood pressure as well as kidney diseases.

“It is dangerous that Lead is getting into the water,” says Kyobe, adding that untreated effluent from industries is behind pollution that is putting the lives of people in danger.

In a separate interview, Dr. Tom Okurut, the executive director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), told New Vision that there were fears that poisonous metals could be getting into Murchison Bay, which is the mouth of Lake Victoria located a stone throw away from Namuwongo.

Namuwongo is partly sitting on Nakivubo swamp, which used to separate Kampala from Lake Victoria, but has been reduced to less than half, due to massive encroachment by expansive illegal settlements.

“The high levels of Lead in drinking water puts this community at a high risk of poisoning,” states the report titled, The situational Analysis of the Health Status of the Slum Dwelling Population along the Railway Line in Bukasa Parish in Makindye. It was conducted in August last year by the International Health Sciences.

The report states that the Lead detected in the spring well in Namuwongo Zone A was above the levels recommended by Uganda National Bureau of Standard (UNBS).

“Lead in the drinking water can cause a variety of health effects,” stated the report.

“Exposure to Lead above certain levels, may result in delays in physical and mental development in children and may cause defects in their attention and learning abilities. In adults, it can cause or increase high blood pressure, cause renal toxicity (kidney disease) and long-term complications.”


Okurut pointed out that plans were underway to construct a waste treatment plant within Nakivubo swamp to clean waste from Kampala city before it is released into the lake.

This, Okurut says, will reduce the rampant pollution of Murchison Bay. “Nakivubo swamp is too small to clean out all the waste on its own,” he adds.

Another study by Makerere University identified alarming levels of Lead in yams cultivated in Nakivubo wetland through which Kampala city’s effluent flows before discharging into Lake Victoria.

Who is to blame?

Richard Kimbowa, the director of Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development, blamed untreated effluent on the lack of enforcement of discharge standards for the death of Murchison Bay and the declining water quality.

Tap water safe, but unaffordable

According to the research, slum dwelling populations along the railway line in Bukasa parish in Makindye, Namuwongo residents have taps where they buy water at between sh100 to sh200 per a 20-litre jerrycan.

“There is tap water, which is safe for drinking, but what happens on that day when someone is broke?” Asks Kyobe. “It is a serious problem and it mostly affects children and pregnant women,” says Kyobe.

Hapless residents

Deborah Nanyombe, the project manager under International Medical Foundation, says residents of Namuwongo and Kanyogoga have challenges that are pushing them to drink spring water.

“At the moment, we are creating awareness about the dangers of drinking spring water, but this community needs a lot more than telling them about the dangers of water,” she says, adding that the Government and NGOs should work together with the community to uplift their living standards.

The testimonies of the local residents support Nanyombe’s views. “I would not be staying in this place if I was employed and earning a decent pay,” says Musisi Mukisa, a resident, adding that he goes for spring water in order to save money to buy food.

A short distance away from Namuwongo, factories sitting on Nakivubo swamp keep on spewing smoke into the air, giving their neighbours something else to worry about.

“When I get more money I will move out of this place,” says Rose Zawedde, adding that the fairly rich residents live in better drained areas of the slum.

Reaction from the leaders

Dr. Ian Clarke, the mayor for Makindye, says: “The way out is to provide safe and cheap water from National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC).”

He adds: “The metered water from NWSC is cheap and affordable. People use a token sh22, which is cheap. I believe this is affordable to many people.”

Clarke says the spring well is part of ground in Namuwongo slum and that tap water supplied by NWSC is safe. “There is a high content of Lead and the solution is providing safe water,” he says.

About Lead

  • Lead occurs naturally in the environment. Lead does not decompose. However, lead compounds are changed by sunlight, air and water.
  • Lead usually adheres to the soil. Movement to groundwater will depend on the type of Lead compound and characteristics of the soil.
  • Over time, Lead accumulates in living tissues and is persistent in water.
  • Exposure to Lead can lead to death of animals, birds, fish and death or low growth rate in plants. In soft water, Lead is highly poisonous to plants, birds or land animals, long term effects on animal life are shortened lifespan, reproductive problems, lower fertility and changes in appearance or behaviour.
  • If released to the air from industry or from burning fossil fuels or waste, Lead may remain airborne for approximately 10 days. Most Lead released to air, water and soil strongly attaches to other particles and may remain there for many years.

Namuwongo residents drink their way to death

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