"You know, right now we are standing on top of ten feet of plastic." Overheard in Kampala, Uganda at a Rotary International Meeting. Fall 2007.
Market Day, Kampala Uganda
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King.
The road between Kampala and Entebbe
"One of the enduring images from my first trip four years ago was the huge amount of plastic "grocery" bags discarded along the road and in particularly at the trading centers," says Rhodes. "The multi-nationals had introduced them in Uganda only a few years before. As they have no infrastructure for hiding their waste, it was just dumped alongside the road.
"The impression I had was that there was no recycling of the plastic bags--with the exception that children would wrap them tightly into a ball and use them as a soccer ball. To its credit, the Government outlawed the use of these plastic bags about two years ago.”
Kampala and Environmental Justice
Travel with me to Kampala and its environs to examine the issues confronting east African communities as they battle towards attaining environmental justice.
Throughout this virtual journey, I will be incorporating a few of the 17 principles of environmental justice authored by Robert Bullard, who is recognized by many as the "Father of Environmental Justice."
Without a doubt, the very first principle captures the essence of the movement: 'Environmental Justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction."
Living Earth: Enhancing Plastic Waste Collection in Kampala District
XVII. Environmental Justice requires that we, as individuals, make personal and consumer choices to consume as little of Mother Earth's resources and to produce as little waste as possible; and make the conscious decision to challenge and reprioritize our lifestyles to insure the health of the natural world for present and future generations.
Last January Living Earth, in partnership with Plastics Recycling Industries Uganda Ltd and DED (German Development Services) launched “Enhancing Plastic Waste Collection in Kampala District,” a project designed to address challenges identified in a December 2008 baseline survey. That survey had identified the following concerns:
* Insufficient space to store recyclable plastic waste, particularly in impoverished urban areas,
* Inadequate tools and transport to collect and dispose of plastic waste,
* Blockage of drainage channels by plastic waste leading to cholera outbreaks,
* A lack of awareness amongst communities regarding the consequences of plastic waste dumping,
* Communities have 'solutions' imposed on them, rather than being given the tools to learn and develop their own solutions,
•Lack of coherent and cohesive strategy guiding waste management activities in Kampala and Uganda as a whole.
The project has begun working on the following steps in implementing its program:
*Facilitation of 80 sensitisation workshops in 20 districts of Kampala,
*Creation of 15 community-based sustainable plastic collection businesses,
* Establishment of Public Private partnerships between local communties and Plastic Recycling Industries,
* Promotion of bio-degradable plastics,
* Improvement of the economic benefits of plastic waste management.
The Living Earth project is one of many based in Uganda, which clearly reflects the tenets of ecojustice, both in its identification of the underlying causalities and its recommendations for addressing them.
XVI. Environmental Justice calls for the education of present and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental issues, based on our experience and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives.
Beyond education at the community level on polythene bags, waste management and disposal, more and more Ugandans are aware of climate change and air pollution caused by carbon emissions from imported "boda bodas" (cars and motorcycles) which are often old and in need of servicing.
"Sensitisation can help prevent issues such as the recent killing of the National Forestry Authority (NFA) officials, breaking down of buildings constructed in wetlands, the persistent use of banned polythene bags and driving cars in dangerous mechanical condition."The public needs to understand the value of conserving nature New Vision, Kampala. September, 2009
"Everything from used cars to old coal-fired power plants are sold to developing countries. Some see this practice as dumping old technology the same way countries have paid to dump their garbage and hazardous waste in poor countries, says Fanta Kamakaté, senior scientist at the International Council on Clean Transportation. "Yet, there’s a need for mobility in developing countries," she says. The pollution problem must be balanced with the need for transportation, a classic case of economics versus the environment." Transboundary Dumping of Hazardous Waste
"Transboundary dumping of hazardous waste refers to the export, often surreptitiously, of hazardous waste by developed and industrialized countries to developing nations, usually sub-Sahara African countries. Hazardous waste, though undesirable, is the inevitable by-product of industrial development and several manufacturing processes. If improperly managed, these wastes may result in substantial adverse human health and environmental effects. Proper management of hazardous waste however requires the establishment of treatment and disposal facilities such as waste incinerators and landfills. While these facilities may be desirable and often required by law, public opposition, more than physical, technological, environmental and economic factors tends to stifle the siting of new facilities and the expansion of existing ones. This phenomenon which is highly prevalent especially in industrialized countries is not unexpected because hazardous waste incinerators and landfills are good examples of LULUs – locally-unwanted-land-uses, which nobody wants in his or her backyard, an example of the NIMBY syndrome (not-in-my-back-yard). The success rate of siting these facilities especially in the U.S. is so dismal that it seems impossible to site them “in anybody’s backyard”.NIMBY thinking ignores the fact that the areas of the world where hazardous wastes are ‘dumped’ totally lack the infrastructure or the incentive to deal with them.
Until recently, for example, Toyota Japan shipped used vehicles unimpeded by any regulations regarding age and condition of the vehicle. All that Ugandans understood was that they were finally accessing a means of transportation which would expedite travel, expand their horizons, and elevate their status in their community and beyond.
XIV. Environmental Justice opposes the destructive operations of multi-national corporations.
Paradise Lost? The Mabira Forest
So what will it be? Forests or factories? Multinationals, like ADM, Unilever, and Cargill seem to win every victory in the non-industrialized south, not only by striking lucrative deals with corrupted leaders to extract and export natural resources but also, more recently, to convert huge swaths of land into vast agri-fuel farms of palm oil plants and sugarcane.
True, in 2007 Ugandans won a small victory. The previous year, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni had announced plans to clear 1/4 of Mabira Forest, some 20 miles outside Kampala, to expand the sugar growing capabilities of the Sugar Corporation of Uganda (SCOUL) which is owned by the multinational Mehta Group.
One of the largest 'natural' forests in Uganda, the Mabira is considered by many in Uganda to be one of its natural wonders and is beloved for its value as the source of rivers, home to rare species of birds, plants and animals, and a valuable eco-tourist destination. (Ugandan Eco-tourism is the second largest foreign exchange earner) Additionally, it serves as a water catchment for Lake Victoria, the world's largest fresh water lake and the source of Nile.
After a violent demonstration in May 2007, the Government of Uganda dropped its plans to give away parts of the Mabira for commercial sugar cane production. Museveni, however, just last month bent to pressure from the Metha group and, according to Kampala's New Vision Online, his Cabinet has now agreed to give away part of Mabira forest for sugar cane growing.
In response to this decision, Kaggwa Proscovia of Makerere University's Conservation Biology department and a member of Pro-biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU) comments in an incredible discussion curently underway at New Vision: "It’s a pity our leaders can not easily understand and quantify the price of Mabira Forest. This is why they can plan of exchanging it for mere sugar!. Do they think its just land, shrub, and trees? Mabira is more than this. What about its ecological importance? Does this sound as an "abuse" to our leaders. Is our government prepared to house all the butterflies, monkeys, squirrels, birds housed by this forest? As climate change continues to escalate, with declining water levels, one wonders whether sugarcane will replace Mabira to play its current ecological role and water catchment. How will sugar cane contribute to water restoration in Lake Victoria, to be able to achieve this government's plans of overcoming energy crisis? Will all these dams along the Nile, be run by Sugar? Is there new science? Please let us know. I would advise that our leaders come back to their senses. They must not run away from nature because they are part of it."
V. Environmental Justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.
"Rotary is providing an organizational structure for grass roots efforts to serve the greater international community--and allowing these grass roots efforts to flourish as natural systems, human systems," says Rotarian Rhodes. "Our strength is that we are not hierarchical in these actions. Organizations do not direct the effort--people without portfolio do, community to community. And that is a strength."
What Rotarians are fascinated with, and what Rhodes views as perhaps one of their strengths, is their commitment to providing support 'to a culture we know little or nothing about, by how we balance cost and impact, by how we apply a concept like "sustainability" to the things we do."
"There is none of the heavy handed tactics of the governments, and none of the profit driven greed of the multi-nationals," he says.
Rotary volunteers ponder over questions like how in the world do they go about shipping a container of books to Uganda, a land locked country "where our goods would have to pass through two potentially corrupt customs ports and make the arduous journey across Kenya? We have no authority, no money to speak of, no group leaders." And then, there is the question if perhaps the better option is to somehow locate books which are more in synch with the type of English Ugandans speak, with a cultural context they could readily relate to.
VIII. Environmental Justice affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment. It also affirms the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards.
A young Kampala girl drinks Fanta, produced by the multinational corporaton, CMB at a Kampala wedding.
Fanta is one of the hundreds of products distributed by the Century Bottling Company (Coca Cola) in Uganda, products which include Coke, Sprite, Stoney and Krest in 300ml, 500ml and 1 litre bottles. Fanta, like most soft drinks, is composed of ingredients known to cause diabetes and obesity, unnatural ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and/or sucrose, citric acid, sodium benzoate modified food starch, and artificial flavors and colors like yellow 6 and red 40.
CBC owns numerous facilities in Uganda, and is currently rumored to be in negotiations with other locally owned beverage companies.
Earlier this year, CBC Uganda launched a $1 million promotion "Brrr and Win With Coca-Cola Golden Crowns" designed to 'benefit' more than two million consumers with instant wins of cash, T-shirts and caps AllAfrica Uganda: Coca-Cola Launches $1 Million Promotion
“When we get up in the morning, we go into the bathroom where we reach for a sponge provided for us by a Pacific Islander. The towel is provided by a Turk. We reach for soap created by a Frenchman. In the kitchen, you drink coffee provided by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African, and you butter toast from an English-speaking farmer. And before you’ve finished breakfast, you’ve depended on more than half the world....This is the way our universe is structured. This is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of the universe ... Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” Martha Luther King, excerpted from The King We Need. Shambala Sun.
Enviromental Justice Links
The Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University
The Indigenous Environmental NEtwork
National Organic Movment of Uganda
Almost 4 decades ago, the EPA was created partially in response to the public health problems caused in our country by environmental conditions, which included unhealthy air, polluted rivers, unsafe drinking water and waste disposal. Oftentimes, the answer has been to locate factories and other pollution-emitting facilities in poor, culturally diverse, or minority communities. EcoJustice diaries discuss environmental justice, or the disproportionate impacts on human health and environmental effects on minority communities. All people have a human right to clean, healthy and sustainable communities. Please join EcoJustice hosts on Monday evenings at 7PM PST and let us know if you are interested in contributing.