The Ugandan government has sanctioned the phosphate project in the Eastern district of Tororo. Three years after the president of the republic of Uganda commissioned it, the project is due to commence this year. It is based in the sub counties of Osukuru and Rubongi. Guangzhou Dongsong Energy group a Chinese firm is the one charged with the execution of this multi-billion investment. The firm has already committed $47.6m of the $ 620m and paid in capital. Human resource, machinery and other facilities have been put in place to assist in the commencement of the project. Out of the phosphate extractives, will be fertilisers besides many other products. Osukuru industrial complex will comprise of power plant of about 12 megawatts, a rare earth minerals mining plant, a steel manufacturing factory, sulphuric acid factory, glass making plant and phosphate fertiliser plant.
Like in many areas across Uganda where mining is happening, environment-related hazards will eventually befall Tororo district if the mining and processing are not well managed. Initially, during mining, the land is carved and all the living things on the land eventually will be killed. During mining, the land is disrupted which disturbs the natural sediment hence replaced by mounds of spoil. This disruption affects the hydrogeological characteristics of the area which eventually disrupts the flow of water in the mining area. We have experienced such in the mining districts here in Uganda especially Kasese. The occurrence of a high rate of weathering of metamorphic rocks leads to eroded downstream during the flooding seasons which ultimately results in the narrowing of river channels. In the recent years, such scenarios have led into river bursts leaving many people dead and thousands displaced. This has on many occasions occurred to river Nyamwamba in Kasese district.
Radioactive materials which are often coupled with the mining and phosphate like radon/ uranium/ radium leave higher radioactive materials on the mine zones. A study by Florida Institute of Phosphate Research completed in 1986 specified that foodstuffs grown on these mine parks don’t posture risk to human health but an increase in radon gas emissions within any structure built on the mined out land suspects it for human habitation subsequently. During the process of turning phosphates into usable forms, phosphoric acid very acidic water is produced. Such acidic water must be neutralised and well managed before releasing it to the environment. A byproduct called phosphogypsum which is marginally radioactive with limited uses is also produced during the process. Its radioactive nature makes it difficult usable and in some cases, the stacks keep leeching in water bodies which pose danger to water bodies and their inhabitants. In 1986, an 18-month extraction test on Matiava’s rich phosphate resources in the Pacific Ocean polluted and damaged fish habitats reaching a magnitude that people could not eat lagoon fish for ten years.
Tororo is not exempted from such unfolding if the project is not well managed. The government of Uganda and key stakeholders should find measures to handle hazards that may endanger the environment during/after mining and processing.
Brian K Katabazi
Associate Director, Centre for Energy Governance
Img Source: New Vision