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Investigation: Cement Companies Blamed for Endless Fatal Floods in Eastern Uganda

On August 20, 2019, Sam Nabende, a resident of Bunasufwa parish, Bulambuli district, Eastern Uganda, was walking to his garden when a heavy downpour struck his homestead.

“It’s one of the heaviest rainfall we had witnessed in a long time,” recalled Nabende, who doubles as LCII chairperson of Bunasufwa.

“In a space of hours, gardens and 93 houses were destroyed in the four parishes of Busiya, Bugatisa, Bunasufwa, Bumasamala and Bulago. People’s lives were destroyed,” he added.

In the resultant landslide, one person was confirmed dead while five sustained serious injuries.

The people of Bulambuli have in recent years grappled with endless landslides which officials attribute to regular heavy rains and destruction of vegetation in the hilly areas.

However, latest evidence seems to attribute the mining operations of Kampala Cement, Hima Cement, Tororo Cement and Simba Cement as a major source of the flooding.

There are six companies with Mining Leases in Kapchorwa District, all of which are actively mining Pozzolana.

Pozzolana, whose use was pioneered by the Romans to hold stones together, is one of the core ingredients of cement. It reacts with certain elements to form a hard, binding material.

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Pozzolana allowed the Romans to build tall buildings and underwater structures, some of which still stand today, more than 2,100 years later.

In Kapchorwa, the mining companies are Tororo Cement, Eastern Mining Limited, National Cement Co. Uganda Limited, Hima Cement and Metro Cement Limited. There are also four active Exploration Licenses in Kapchorwa District – two of which transcend the two districts of Bulambuli and Kapchorwa.  One covers three districts of Bulambuli, Kapchorwa and Sironko.

An investigation by Parliament’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources has since established a connection between the flooding in the districts of Bulambuli, Bukedea and Nakapiripirit and the ongoing mining activities in the quarries upstream in Bulambuli and Kapchorwa Districts.

 According to the report seen by ChimpReports, flooded spots along the Mbale- Moroto highway during the MPs’ visit.

“There were not enough drainage that channeled run-off away from the road, which resulted into flooded roads downstream. The Committee also observed that there was an impasse between the community and the mining companies on where drainage channels would be constructed,” said the MPs in their September, 2020 report before Parliament.

“The terrain and nature of soils in Bulambuli make the area susceptible to flooding. However, because of how the mining is being carried out, the committee observes a link between the flooding and the mining activities.”

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) had in its analysis on whether mining operations at Kampala Cement had an impact on the flooding observed that there was no potential of flooding anywhere at or close to where the access road from Kampala cement quarry connects to Mbale- Moroto highway, which could be the case if the roadside drain was poorly constructed.

NEMA observed that the drain had no evidence of sediments from the quarry but maintained normal flow attributed to run- off from the slope and access road and none from the mining site.

 Floods in Bulambuli District are a normal happening during rainfall seasons especially when the rains are above normal, and so this season’s floods cannot be attributed to Kampala Cement quarry. This is not to suggest that human activities have no effect whatsoever,” said NEMA in their report.

However, although Bulambuli received a high amount of rainfall during October 2019, this was not the highest that the area has received over the years.  0ctober 2007, received thrice as much rain as the same period in 2019.

Uganda National Metrology Authority (UNMA) reports show that in the year 2019, the highest amount of rainfall received at Buginyanya weather station in Bulambuli Station was 497.6mm received in August 2019, while 335.8mm was received in October 2019.

However, this is not the highest amount of rainfall received at the station as records show 928.4mm were received in November 2007.

The local community also attested to the flooding of 2019 being more intense than the years before.

The MPs established that human activity in Bulambuli could therefore largely be “contributory to the flooding” in the region.

NEMA weaknesses

It became clear that NEMA collected quantitative data but only considered the impact of Kampala Cement ignoring other operational quarries upstream the flooded area.

With the use of explosives during mining, NEMA and UNMA in their investigations did not account for the impact that blasting might have on ground water nor are there efforts to understand the ground water hydrological systems in the Elgon area.

The MPs observed several impacts that had been caused by flooding or ongoing mining activities in Bulambuli.

For example, the site that is under development by Simba Cement Ltd, several houses located at the periphery of the site had been flooded with water.

The gardens were also impassable which denied the locals a source of livelihood since many of them are farmers.

Also noted were the cracks on the walls of several houses due to the use of explosives. The community near the Site operated by Tororo Cement also noted that several pit latrines had collapsed due to the blasting.

Some roads in Nabongo sub-county were flooded and impassable.

Landslides have left a trail of death and destruction in eastern Uganda

Along the Mbale- Moroto road, several structures including toilets had been flooded to form large pools of water.

These were a hazard that would lead to spread of water borne diseases like cholera and dysentery due to leakage of faecal matter.

There also was a threat of increased breeding grounds for mosquitoes due to large ponds of stagnant water

There was evidence of stagnant water along the newly constructed road of Mbale-Moroto that would eventually lead to its damage if not well managed.

The community near the Tororo Cement quarry site reported increased cases of defilement of girls by the employees of the mining sites.

“Generally, the companies engaged in extraction of pozzolana are using the open pit method for quarrying. The quarrying involves a number of steps that include: removing of overburden (top soil/rock) and dust from the surface of the mine; drilling and blasting which is basically dependent on the hardness of the rock and splitting performance,” the MPs said in their report.

“In this step, several drilling machines are used to primarily drilling blasting holes and explosives for priming in these holes leading to blasting. Thereafter, secondary drilling may be carried out to reduce the size of the boulders which are then transported to the factories for further processing.”

Good mining practice dictates that the removed overburden is used to reclaim mines after extraction of minerals.

However, the overburden in some instances was minimal to sufficiently be used during restoration.

For instance, for Tororo Cement, the overburden covered an area of only 88 square metres and an average depth of 0.5m, while the average thickness of the ore is 14 metres. Kampala Cement also reports to have minimal overburden on their site. This will pose challenges at the point of restoration.

Inconsistencies in Inspection reports

Of the inspection reports submitted by mining companies, inconsistencies were observed.

Whereas the inspection report for Tororo Cement took place on the 4th of July 2018, the notice of inspection to Tororo Cement whose sole purpose is to notify the company of its non-compliance was issued on June 6, 2018.

The notice of inspection should ideally be issued after the inspection not before as is the case for Tororo Cement. The same observation is made for Kampala Cement.

Additionally, the Inspection reports submitted in November 2019, do not indicate persons that carried out the inspections, are not signed and no notice of inspection was issued to the companies for remedial actions.

Consequently, the mining companies may not take action as there is no evidence that they received the inspection report from the Ministry of Energy and Ministry development (MEMD).

Lack of regular inspections

It has since emerged that MEMD does not carry out regular inspections of the active mining sites.

Although Parliament had requested for inspection reports carried out on the sites for the last five years, the MEMD only presented three reports dated October 2018, 04th July 2018 and November 2019.

This is in spite the fact that some mining companies had been in operation for over fifteen years. For instance Tororo Cement was granted a mining Lease in 2005. MEMD did not submit any other inspection reports for the sites, showing laxity and lack of monitoring of operations of the mining companies.

Additionally, the submitted reports although being for different sites, had similarities in wording that caused the Committee to question their authenticity.

The Committee observed that there is laxity in monitoring the operations of licensees after issuance of ESIA certificates and mining leases.

The Ministry said there was no funding allocated to joint inspections.

Lack of Environmental Monitoring Plans

The Certificates of approval of Environmental Impact Assessments are a prerequisite for issuance of mining leases and they provide conditions to which miners are to adhere to so as to achieve responsible mining.

The EIA certificates mandate the licensees to have and implement Environmental Monitoring and Management Plans (EMMP) and carry out audits in accordance to these plans issued at commencement of mining operations indicate conditions which are to be fulfilled to ensure responsible mining by the operators.

The inspection report of MEMD of November 2019 indicated that Kampala Cement lacked key documents such as the monthly EIA monitoring plan and mining plan.

The Committee observes that lack of environmental monitoring and management plans results into improper management of environmental impacts including run-off water and water quality.

Failure to have a monitoring plan creates unawareness of key parameters on water quantity and a response vacuum in mitigation for flooding in the long run.

 Insufficiencies in mining plans

An investigation discovered that while all companies with mining leases submitted their mining plans, there wasn’t a general format followed and some mining plans did not indicate the actual activities to be undertaken but rather give general information on mining in Uganda.

The lack of approved mining plan formats/ templates makes the companies susceptible to leaving out critical information.

Kampala cement for one explains the geology of Uganda in detail but gives scanty detail on the geology of its licensed area.

This plan also fails to explain how explosives will be transported, stored, what type will be used and does not indicate what  auxiliary facilities will be used for solid and liquid waste management to guide responsible disposal of waste.

Additionally, all plans lacked key information on drainage patterns, likely depths of water table, distances to be mined from the water table, quantities and quality of water to be encountered during mining, pumping arrangements among other recommended sets of information.

 Breach of conditions in mining plans

The mining plans of the licensees identify various actions to be taken to mitigate impacts of the mining operations. Key amongst these is construction of sediment trap bearing drainage channels to handle storm water and trap any sediments before getting to nearby streams and causing erosion.

For Tororo Cement site, there were no sedimentation traps constructed and no drainage channels to handle storm water which makes the area susceptible to water pollution and increases water run-off from the mining operations.

The inspection report of the MEMD of November 2019 indicates the quarry employees of Tororo Cement did not have adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), had an unsafe bench with a steep slope, had no progressive mine plan on site, the quarry did not have adequate safety signage, had lots of dust emissions.

MEMD reported the following breaches for Simba Cement: The stockpile was not covered, no adequate PPE, the site was not fenced, there was no signage within the mine area, no records on site.

For Kampala Cement, it reported the following: steep and unsafe hanging walls, inadequate PPE, the mine site was not fenced, no signage within the mine area, no monthly EIA monitoring plan and mining plan.

MEMD reported HIMA Cement as compliant during that inspection.

Restoration Plans

Section 110 of the Mining Ac stipulates that the holder of a mining lease or exploration license should submit an environmental restoration plan of the exploration or mining area that may be damaged or adversely affected by his or her exploration or mining operations.

The plan should include: an identification of the exploration or mining area concerned, its current uses and productivity prior to exploration or mining operations; a detailed time table of the accomplishment of each major step to be carried out under the restoration plan which may include – the reinstatement, levelling, re-vegetation, reforesting and contouring of the affected land; the filling in, sealing, or fencing off of excavations, shafts and tunnels, or any other method that may be prescribed; the use to which the land is proposed to be put following restoration, including a statement of the utility and capacity of the restored land to support a variety of alternative uses.

However, the restoration/ reclamation Plan proposed by Kampala Cement does not give any detail on how the quarry will be restored, Tororo Cement only mentions that will restore the site after mining operations while Hima Cement proposes scaling of the land to create a gentle gradient with backfill and thereafter re-vegetating the area. Eastern Mining Limited (ML 1604) and Metro Cement (ML 1948) don’t have restoration plans.

Government recently advised people living on risky and dangerous slopes of Mt Elgon continue to move away and seek shelter with friends and relatives in lower and safer grounds as the rains come.

The Office of the Prime Minister started resettling the first batch of the survivors of the October 11, 2018 landslides in same area and other places in Bugisu sub region to Bulambuli Resettlement on May 19, 2019.

In the first phase, 101 houses have been built in Bulambuli out of a planned 900 houses. In total, over 100,000 people living precariously on the slopes of Mount Elgon are estimated to be at great danger and requiring relocation.

However, evidence available shows that unless the mining companies activities are checked by authorities, the people of eastern Uganda will continue to struggle with flooding and landslides.

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