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Accueil du site > Equipes de Recherche > Population, développement urbain et environnement en Uganda : le cas de le ville des Kampala et ses environs > Findings

Population, Urban Development and the Environment in Uganda : The Case of Kampala City and its Environs


Kampala is the only urban district in Uganda. It is built on a series of hills with relatively steep slopes separated by wide valleys. The physical expansion of Kampala has been “guided” by different physical planning schemes (in 1912, 1919, 1930, 1972 and 1994) but however housing has continued to be haphazard, unplanned and located outside planned areas and Kampala is at times referred to as “the rich man’s slum ». The population of Kampala like that of other urban centers in the country has been increasing. This has mainly been due to high fertility, natural increase, decline in mortality, internal and international migrations. Kampala has continued to be a primate city as a hub of economic, social, commercial, industrial and political activities that attract both internal and external migrants. Population is dominated by children under 18 years (44.9%), a few above 60 years (1.7%) and there are more females (51.3%) than males (48.7%). As the unlucky residents fail to get formal jobs and decent accommodation, they resort to the ever-expanding informal sector for employment and accommodation. The sector is increasingly degrading the environment through wetland degradation, solid waste accumulation, water contamination and poor sanitary conditions.

Industrialization has increased in Kampala largely due to the liberal investment policy and other macro-economic policies. The government has established an industrial estate in the degazetted forest of Namanve which has turned Kampala into an industrial capital of Uganda. Industries range from small to large scale. The small scale industries are involved in metal fabrication wood works, wine and soft drinks making. The large scale industries are involved in textile manufacture, steel rolling mills tiles and brick making, soft drinks and beer bottling, hollow ware and tannery. Though growth in industrial activity indicates development opportunities, it has had serious environmental consequences including wetland degradation, deposition of solid and toxic wastes in the wetlands and drainage channels. Drawing from the history of planning and particularly the zoning of industrial estates in and or around wetlands, industrialization over time has contributed to the influx of migrants into the city. The unemployed labour has been forced to join the rapidly expanding and disorganized informal sector. The labour influx has stimulated a rapidly growing housing sector which unfortunately unplanned and now a threat to the environment.

Water pollution, sanitation and solid waste management

According to the estimates, 55% of Kampala’s population has access to piped water, while only 8% has running water in their houses. Kampala has its raw water intake in Murchison Bay, where there is increasing pollution from the city. Water leaving the plant at Gaba is of international standard but it may become contaminated on the way, due to poor maintenance, leakages of the sewer and waste water systems. The problem of leakages is due to loss in pressure which may allow contamination to enter the pipes. The distribution of sewage and toilet facilities is uneven and varies in quality and cleanliness. The poor maintenance of the distribution system, sewer, storm water networks has created avenues for contamination in the supply network from the wide spread pit latrines and open disposal of human wastes in high density areas. The poor sanitary conditions in Kampala are manifested in the frequent outbreaks of cholera, water borne and related epidemics like dysentery, bloody diarrhoea.

One of the environmental consequences of rapid urbanization that has been neglected in planning is the amount of solid waste that is generated. Kampala generates an estimated 30,000 tones of waste per month. Inadequate supply of skips and trucks has lead to accumulation and overflowing of garbage as well as emergence of illegal dumping sites. Unconventional methods of disposal which include pits within the backyards where it is regularly burnt collect them in polythene bags and dumping them in streams, water drainage channels along the road and unattended plots have emerged. Associated to the problem of alternative duping sites by waste generators in the high collection fees levied by the private operators. To improve its supervision role and improve on waste management, Kampala City Council has taken several measures such as the decentralization of solid waste management to divisional level and privatization of solid waste collection and disposal through the tender process. However the communities have started addressing these problems through initiatives that uptake wastes for example some wastes in Kampala are converted into different resources (metal, compost, paper, etc.).

Land use/cover changes and wetlands degradation

Increase in urban population, industrialization and the associated demand for housing have led to land use/land-cover changes. Both built up and industrial uses/cover, area more than doubled between 1980 and 2002 while agriculture declined by a quarter as it was converted to buildings and industrial use. Similarly wetlands, which are mainly covered by papyrus, also reduced from 20.6% to 1.9% of land occupancy. Industrial, forest and built up land changed faster at 8.9% forest 11.4% and industrial at 15.7% p.a. respectively. Kampala’s wetlands have been greatly degraded due to the location of the district in an area of high population density, commercial and industrial development. The size and biodiversity of unconverted portions of the wetlands has drastically diminished, with some areas completely converted.

Coping strategies

The challenge of managing environmental burdens relies heavily at the household level to cope with accumulated wastes, water pollution, flooding and resolving the poor sanitation issues. On the other hand, poverty has polarized the city with pockets of clusters of poor neighbourhoods scattered around the city and metro area. In the neighbourhoods, the populations have devised livelihood strategies to cope with the burdens. The coping strategies are in response to economic, housing and environmental challenges.

Urban population growth associated with migration for economic gains has created a large group of job seekers in Kampala metro area. Unfortunately they cannot be absorbed by the narrow formal sector as most of them are untrained, untrainable and illiterate. These people have adopted different coping strategies to remain in Kampala since going back to the rural areas is inconceivable. Most have joined the ever expanding informal sector production and trade either as self-employed or employees while many engage in odd illegal activities such as drug trafficking, robbery, pick-pocketing and prostitution for a living. Other coping strategies have taken advantage of the available resources and these include urban agriculture, waste recycling and re-use. However, these activities have negative impacts associated with pollution, waste generation, sanitation and congestion.

Most urban migrants face the challenge of housing themselves due to lack of immediate employment and resources to acquire land for housing development. The current national policy of ‘enabling environment’ makes housing an even more challenging task for many households in the city.

Coupled with an inefficient urban land market, the poorer sections of the population have been pushed to marginal lands, which are mostly wetlands where relatively cheap land can be acquired in as small area units as affordable by the buyers. Subsequently housing provisioning has continued through self-building, self-help in some situations and largely taking advantage of site-based resources for bricks and other building materials. Due to limited financial resources, many house builders are only able to start with one or two rooms and many spend their lifetime in such housing. This explains the dominance of tenements in poorer sections of the population.

Since settlement of the urban poor is mainly in wetlands, infilling using all available materials including ; solid wastes and earth are utilized to reclaim parts of the wetlands to enable house construction. On the other hand solid wastes and earth bags are also laid around the house to prevent floodwaters reaching the houses. However, these coping strategies only mitigate floods to the immediate house but access in the neighbourhood remains a serious problem. Additionally, the earth/waste bags add to the pollution nuisance in the communities.