At least eleven million Ugandans lived in urban centres and cities in 2021, up from just three million in 2002, according to Uganda Bureau of Statistics. The creation of new cities and administrative units has boosted the appetite of more Ugandans craving to live in towns. Kampala alone hosts at least four million people during day.
This rapid growth of urban population has placed immense pressure on the surrounding natural assets and ecosystems, including land, wetlands, and vegetation. Poor waste management, air pollution, and wetland degradation have become common place in Ugandan urban areas. This hinders the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 11, which aims to create inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities.
The growing number of households and businesses in urban areas has led to a rise in solid waste generation. Faced with inadequate funding, many urban centres have no infrastructure to manage the overwhelming amount of waste produced.
Consequently, informal dumpsites near residences have emerged, contributing to the spread of diseases and environmental degradation. In 2022, a World Bank brief on solid waste management noted that over 90 percent of waste is either disposed in unregulated dumps or openly burned in low-income countries.
Due to the inaccessibility or excessive cost of waste collection services in Kampala, households and businesses tend to dispose of waste poorly by burning, throwing waste in drainage channels, or leaving it unattended, which poses a threat to the environment. Poor waste disposal, particularly of kaveera (polythene bags), blocks the drainage channels, causing them to flood and overflow into the surrounding areas during rainy seasons.
Air pollution is a significant challenge in urban areas, caused by industrial emissions, car exhaust fumes, dust and burning of household waste. The 2021 World Air Quality Report ranked Kampala among the most polluted cities in Africa. Pollution exposes residents to non-communicable diseases like lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease. Additionally, air pollution is a threat to environmental sustainability by contributing to the occurrence of acid rain, which is harmful to the natural ecosystem.
Wetlands in urban areas of Uganda have suffered severe degradation due to the rapid development of informal settlements (slums) and encroachment, partly attributed to high housing costs in urban areas, poor urban planning.
Wetlands encroachment reduces the value of water cleansing and catchment services, increasing the likelihood of flooding. A 2021 paper found that almost three quarters of wetlands in Kampala and Wakiso had been lost in a space of three decades. In Kampala, all cultivated agriculture is in wetlands. Little wonder, there is worrying severity of flooding in Kampala, resulting in property destruction and loss of lives.
Government has implemented several initiatives to promote environmental sustainability in urban areas. In 2022, the Ministry of Local Government distributed garbage trucks to 12 of the 15 new cities to collect garbage from the newly constructed urban markets, to improve waste management.
There is also a push for the use of sustainable public transport like the electric buses (Tondeka) and electric motorcycles, which do not emit harmful gases since the buses use clean energy to facilitate transportation of residents around Kampala.
To improve waste collection in Kampala, KCCA signed a memorandum with solid waste management contractors namely, Nabugabo Updeal Joint Venture, HomeKlin Uganda Limited and Kampala Solid Waste Management Consortium to collect rubbish for free in 35 slums, and at a small fee from other parts of Kampala.
Despite the government’s efforts, there is still a need for further initiatives to ensure urban areas become more environmentally sustainable.
What should be done?
- Sustainable waste management practices like recycling and the construction of modern landfills and incinerators to reduce the amount of waste produced.
- There is need for adequate urban planning to deter informal settlements, particularly in wetlands. This can be achieved through strict enforcement of current policies in place.
- Establishment of public parks and gardens can help reduce air pollution by absorbing carbon dioxide and other harmful gases.
- Sustainable transportation systems should be encouraged, including usage of public transport means such as buses. Making other mobility means such as walking and cycling safe is important to reduce private cars usage to reduce car emissions.
- The adoption of green production technologies should be encouraged to reduce industrial emissions. Industries should be encouraged to use cleaner and more sustainable technologies to reduce their environmental impact. This can be incentivized through tax rebates and other forms of government support.
Promotion of environmental sustainability in urban areas of Uganda requires collaboration between the government, civil society, and the private sector. To achieve this, it is imperative to adopt green urban development initiatives in Uganda, which can help mitigate the negative impacts of urbanization on the environment.