Uganda has today become the first African country to join the United Nations Clean Seas Campaign to curb the flow of marine litter and plastic waste entering lakes, rivers, and the ocean.
The Clean Seas Campaign was launched by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2017 and has so far had 63 countries across the globe who are asked to commit to efforts aimed at ending marine plastic pollution from source to sea.
“We welcome Uganda the second landlocked country, and the first in Africa as it joins the Clean Seas Campaign. This is not just about seas but about all our water bodies and how they deliver vital services that support our very well-being. As part of the partnership, UNEP is also pleased to support Uganda on a national action plan to tackle litter and plastic pollution,” said Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, UNEP’s Director and Regional Representative for Africa.
Uganda is part of the Great Lakes region with its largest freshwater ecosystem, Lake Victoria. The water body, shared with Kenya and Tanzania, is the source of the River Nile that flows 6,695 kilometres before ending in the Mediterranean Sea.
However, Lake Victoria and its related ecosystems are threatened by the catastrophic effects of the biodiversity breakdown, the climate emergency and rampant pollution from decades of unsustainable production, irresponsible consumption and insufficient waste disposal.
For Uganda, this pollution takes the form of waste, such as plastics and fishing gear, and nutrients from agricultural run-off, degrading ecosystems services and threatening the health and livelihoods of its communities.
About 1 in 5 of the fish in Lake Victoria had ingested plastic, shows a recent study conducted by researchers in Tanzania. Biao says when it comes to plastic pollution, it is critical to focus on the importance of all water bodies that suffer from the negative impacts of both plastic, and other types of pollution.
Commenting about Uganda becoming the first country in Africa to join the campaign, Dr. Tom Okurut, Executive Director of Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), emphasized the cost of continued use of plastics on both aquatic life and human health.
“Plastics clog drainage systems which attracts billions of shillings to unclog annually, sums that would have otherwise been invested in other critical social services.”
Spurred by the need to address dangers like carcinogenic exposure from ingesting micro plastics, Uganda has been inspired to tackle plastics through the law and seeking national and international partnerships, says Okurut.
“Many factors have delayed enforcement of plastics ban in Uganda, but I have confidence that joining the global Clean Seas Campaign will go a long way in developing conviction among Ugandans and other global citizens to adopt more sustainable alternatives,” added Okurut.
As part of the clean seas campaign, earlier in March, Flipflopi, the world’s first sailing boat made from 100% recycled plastic made a stop over in Uganda as it sailed around Lake Victoria. It also stopped in Kenya and Tanzania.
The expedition drew attention to the plight of the lake and the need by the East African Community to end the unnecessary single use plastic scourge that is threatening the region.