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NEMA Proposes Heavy Fines, Jail Sentence for Air Pollution Offences

The draft regulations include emission limits for industrial sources, cars, trucks, motorcycles, and other mobile sources, layout odor standards and requirements for indoor air, and address worker protection. They also establish a permit and compliance program for industrial sources and associated fees.
According to available data, exhaust fumes from vehicles, burning domestic trash and dust top the air pollutants in most of Ugandan urban centres.

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The Uganda National Environment Authority (NEMA) is proposing heavy fines and jail terms to persons who are found guilty of polluting air and committing other related offences.  

The proposal is part of Uganda’s first air quality standards and regulations that are currently being developed by the authority with support from the United States of America Embassy and Kampala Capital City Authority.  

The draft regulations include; emission limits for industrial sources, cars, trucks, motorcycles, and other mobile sources, layout odor standards and requirements for indoor air, and address worker's protection. They also establish a permit and compliance program for industrial sources and associated fees.  

According to the draft accessed by Uganda Radio Network (URN), NEMA prohibits the emission of objectionable matter or obnoxious smell including smoke, gases, vapors fumes, grit, and dust by any person or company.  

“Any person who fails to develop and implement an air quality monitoring programme and air quality management plan commits an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand currency points (400 million shillings) or imprisonment not exceeding five years or both,” the draft regulation reads in part. 

For a body cooperate or companies, NEMA proposes that a fine not exceeding one billion shillings be imposed and in case of a continuing offence, the body will be slapped with an additional 40 million shillings in respect of each day or part of the day.    

However, an officer from NEMA who preferred anonymity says the matter is still under discussion. “The money is much because the regulations are targeting persons and companies who emit huge amounts of pollutants. But there is room for discussion," added the source.

In the same development, the regulation also seeks to outlaw open burning of garbage and other combustible material that emits air pollutant that affects the quality of air. However, there is no penalty stipulated for this particular one.

According to available data, exhaust fumes from vehicles, burning domestic trash and dust top the air pollutants in most of Uganda's urban centres.

Dr. Tom Okurut, the Executive Director NEMA, says the air quality standards will set parameters and limits for the protection of public health and set limits beyond which industries and other facilities should not exceed.   

Dr. Okurut adds that the standards will also regulate vehicular emissions and set health and safety standards for air-related exposures at workplaces. 

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As part of the regulations, Okurut notes that they intend to re-echo the need for government to put a permanent ban on importation of vehicles that are more than 8 years old. He says they had earlier made this proposal but it was kicked by parliament that settled for 15 years.   

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During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the countrywide lockdown, NEMA undertook a study to establish the extent of air pollution originating from the transport sector. It was discovered that the sector contributes close to 60 percent of the nitrogen exhaust emissions within the Kampala city centre.   

This, according to Dr. Okurut means that regulating the emissions from vehicles would greatly reduce the air pollution around the city.  

In Uganda, it is estimated that over 30,000 people die annually due to air pollution-related illnesses while ambient air quality levels in monitored urban centres are estimated at over 5 times the WHO annual guidelines.  

In a statement sent to URN, two US air quality scientists, Amy Zimpfer and Anondo Mukherjee, state that if the regulations are developed there is hope for a promising era ahead for air quality in Uganda.   

“Thanks to recent efforts to develop air quality legislation and improve air quality monitoring. Uganda has the potential to become an air quality management leader in East Africa and beyond,” the scientists stated.     

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