River Namatala, a major source of water for people in eastern Uganda, is being threatened by pollution.
Charles Wakube, the District Environmental Officer, says waragi distillers in Mbale are using the river as a dumping ground for molasses. He says the dumping of the waragi waste into River Namatala has increased in frequency, putting the lives of thousands of people and animals who depend on it for survival, at risk.
Waragi is produced from molasses, which is a byproduct of sugar production. The molasses are sold fairly cheaply by sugar factories and are used in distilleries along rivers and swamps throughout Uganda. The residue from the crude distilleries is dumped into the waterways, emitting a foul smell and killing plants and fish in the area.
It is estimated that there are abut 400 waragi distillers camped in Musoto village in Mbale, about a kilometer from the river. They have created tunnels for the flow of the discarded molasses, directly into River Namatala.
Charles Wakube says that in addition to causing adverse health problems, the polluted river is killing rice paddies and farms that are irrigated by it.
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Wakube says the district plans banning the production of crude waragi because of the adverse effects to the eco-system.
George Famba, the LC1 chairperson of Musoto village, says the pollution of the river has robbed residents of their major source of drinking water.
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Despite this the Acholi Mbale Distillers Association, which is involved in the waragi business, remains defiant.
The association's chairperson, Santos Okello, says the distillers were displaced by their homes in the Acholi sub-region by the Lord's Resistance Army and they have no other means of survival. He says they won't abandon the waragi trade until government gives them an alternative source of livelihood.
Okello says each member of the Acholi Mbale Distillers Association is licensed and pays 40,000 shillings to operate in Mbale.