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Water Corporation, Uganda Breweries top polluters of Lake Victoria, says Nema

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Uganda Breweries water purification plant at Port Bell. The beer maker paid Belgian firm Waterleau Ush7 billion ($3.55 million) for a wastewater treatment plant that became operational in 2005. Photo/MORGAN MBABAZI 

By JULIUS BARIGABA

Posted  Friday, January 23   2009 at  19:15

The National Water and Sewerage Corporation and leading beer and spirits maker Uganda Breweries Ltd are still the major polluters of Lake Victoria, says the National Environmental Management Authority.

Uganda Breweries case is even shocking as the firm still discharges vast amounts of untreated waste into Lake Victoria despite investing in a multi-million wastewater treatment plant a few years ago,

“Not all UBL wastewater goes through the plant. All backwash water is discharged raw into the environment,” said Onesmus Muhwezi, head of environment monitoring at Nema.

The beer maker paid Belgian firm Waterleau Ush7 billion ($3.55 million) for a wastewater treatment plant that became operational in 2005.

Another Nema audit done in October 2008 — a copy of which The EastAfrican has obtained — reveals that the National Water and Sewerage Corporation, Ngege Fish Factory and a number of factories are guilty too.

Ngege discharged effluent above recommended levels while the National Water and Sewerage Corporation — which treats only 10 per cent of all waste — is said to be the lake’s single largest polluter, releasing 15,000 cubic metres of inadequately treated sewage into Lake Victoria’s Murchison Bay daily from its Bugolobi sewer plant.

According to Nema audits and on-spot monitoring reports that The EastAfrican has obtained, the UBL wastewater treatment plant is equipped to handle only effluent from the factory line.

The factory discharges 1,165 cubic metres per day. Of this, the amount of chemical oxygen demand (COD) and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) content as of December 2008 audits exceeded permissible limits.

COD determines the amount of organic pollutants in the water, while BOD determines how fast biological organisms use up oxygen in a water body that is considered to have high presence of hazardous chemicals.

On-spot checks at the factory’s Port Bell premises revealed a staggering percentage of effluence within the discharged backwash.

In terms of its toxicity, the water’s pH, at 10.6 per cent is way higher than the standard of 7.0 per cent, while COD levels, at 671mg/l, were far above the normal rate of 100mg/l. The audit also reveals that BOD levels were equally hih standing at 314mg/l instead of the acceptable 50mg/l.

Experts at Nema and the National Association of Professional Environmentalists suggest that current production at Port Bell has overtaken the capacity of the factory to treat the amount of effluent that is generated by the brewery, making UBL a big polluter of Lake Victoria.

Efforts to get UBL’s response were futile. Both officials authorised to speak to the media—the company’s corporate relations director and the spokesman — were reported to be either out of the country or out of office.

Ideally, NWSC, responsible for the supply of much of the water consumed in Kampala, as well as to handle all waste generated around the city, is meant to treat up to 70 per cent of it, while 30 per cent left to natural treatment in wetlands before it returns to the water system, but this is way beyond NWSC capacity.

With public concern running high over this state of affairs, NWSC is set to acquire two new sewer plants — at the cost of $60 million with funding from the African Development Bank and Germany — that will handle all waste within the Nakivubo channel before releasing it back into the water system. Currently, Kampala’s 1.2 million population depends on one sewer.