Sand mining could trigger deadly floods in Lwera

Sand mining could trigger deadly floods in Lwera
Alex Byarugaba, the parliament's Natural Resources committee chairperson at one of the sand ditches in Lwera wetland last year. Courtesy Photo

Continuous sand mining activities in Lwera wetland pose a serious threat to transport along the Kampala-Masaka highway. Lwera, a stretch covering 20-kilometres from Mpigi to Kalungu district has been degraded by sand mining activities, destroying the entire Lake Victoria catchment area.

The sand mining, which has triggered public uproar in the past, is done by a number of companies, among them, Ark Uganda Limited, a company owned by Pastor Samuel Kakande, Freedom Multi Company, Seroma Limited and Parkson Hongkong Investments.

The Companies have stationed dredgers in the middle of the wetland and scooped tonnes of sand more than 10 metres underneath the swamp, from an area covering more than 100 kilometres across the highway.

The activities have created dangerous open pits that are filled with water now on the verge of crossing through the road, the main gateway to Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gerald Ssenyondo Kikyamu, the LCIII Chairperson of Lukaya Town Council says that although sand mining existed in Lwera for many years, the use of heavy machinery has turned it into a deadly activity that is leaving the terrain bare.

Apart from dangerous pits filled with water, there are fears that Lake Victoria may submerge the road because of sand mining near its shores.

James Musisi, a resident of Kamuwunga village fears that many of them could be displaced by the sand mining activities. In 2016, hundreds of residents were displaced from Kamaliba, Kamuwunga and Balatira villages in Lukaya town as a result of floods. Musisi says that the flooding was a result of unregulated sand mining activities in Lwera.

This publication visited a site managed by Ark Uganda Limited and found pits near the lake with some disguised as fish ponds. Workers at the site declined to comment on the matter when probed on measures for restoring the spots and referred us to their offices in Kampala. Others sites were heavily guarded by Police and not accessible to the public.

Water and Environment Minister Sam Cheptoris said that the National Environment Management Authority-NEMA had ordered all companies excavating sand in Lwera wetland to restore the dug pits.

We couldn’t reach authorities of National Environment Management Authority for a comment. However but Mary Goretti Kitutu, the State Minister for Environment said that companies involved in sand mining are licensed to do so and as a geologist, she doesn’t see any danger of mining sand there.

Kitutu explained sand deposit in Lwera wetland happened in 1962 floods and they will reoccur around 2050 to refill the place.

A report by Natural Resources Parliamentary committee of 2016 revealed that the miners were not paying royalties because sand is not considered as a mineral under article 244 (5) of the Uganda Constitution. The report further revealed that the miners had affected fish stocks within Lake Victoria since Lwera wetland acted as a breeding area. It also recommended for banning sand mining but nothing has been done to date.