Uganda joins campaign to keep plastic pollution out of water bodies

Uganda, on June 25, joined the ‘Clean Seas Campaign’, demonstrating the country’s commitment towards curbing the flow of marine litter and plastic waste entering lakes, rivers, and the ocean.

The Clean Seas Campaign, launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2017, has been a catalyst for change, transforming habits, practices, standards, and policies around the globe. According to a statement from UNEP Friday, with now 63 state partners, the ‘Clean Seas Campaign’ is a global movement devoted to end marine plastic pollution from source to say.

“Commitments by signatory countries cover more than 60% of the world’s coastlines, with a growing membership from countries like Uganda working to protect other critical and connected water bodies. Individual pledges of action have reached more than one million,” the statement said.

The landlocked East African country of Uganda is part of the Great Lakes region with its largest freshwater eco-system, Lake Victoria. Uganda shares the water bodies with Kenya and Tanzania which, is the source of the iconic River Nile that flows 6,69kilometerses before ending in the Mediterranean Sea.

“However, Lake Victoria and its related ecosystems are threatened by the catastrophic effects of the triple planetary crises – biodiversity breakdown, the climate emergency, and rampant pollution – from decades of unsustainable production, irresponsible consumption, and insufficient waste disposal,” UNEP noted.

For Uganda, UNEP observed that 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.

UNEP said about 1 in 5 of the fish in Lake Victoria had ingested plastic, shows a recent study, while another research study has recorded microplastics in surface waters in several sites on the lake.

Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, UNEP’s Director and Regional Representative for Africa said: “When it comes to plastic pollution, it is critical to focus on the importance of all water bodies – lakes, rivers, wetlands, and ultimately, the ocean – that suffer from the negative impacts of both plastic, and other types of pollution. These include ghost fishing gear and excessive nutrients from agricultural run-off.”

Koudenoukpo added; “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.”

Dr. Tom Okurut, the 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 attract billions of shillings to unclog annually; sums that would have otherwise been invested in other critical social services,” Okurut was quoted as saying.

Spurred by the need to address dangers like carcinogenic exposure from ingesting microplastics, Uganda has been inspired to tackle plastics through the law and seeking national and international partnerships.

“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,” Okurut added.

Uganda is already one of 30 other countries represented in the Tide Turners Plastic Challenge, a Clean Seas Campaign initiative that educates young people around the world about marine litter and plastic pollution, giving them the tools to change their personal behaviour, inspire their communities, and create a better future for the planet.

In March this year, Flipflopi, the world’s first sailing boat made from 100% recycled plastic, joined forces with the ‘Clean Seas Campaign’ on an expedition by sailing around Lake Victoria with stops in Kenya, Uganda 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.

The ‘Clean Seas Campaign’ contributes to the goals of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter, a multi-stakeholder partnership that brings together all the actors working on marine litter and plastic pollution prevention and reduction.

The ocean makes life on earth possible, helping to regulate our climate, providing the main source of protein for more than a billion people and generating much of the oxygen we breathe.

Marine litter and plastic pollution pose an existential threat to ocean health; it’s time to turn the tide.

The ‘Clean Seas Campaign’, part of UNEP's broader work on tackling marine litter and plastic pollution, shows that 80% of plastics that find their fate in the ocean come from land-based sources.

At least 11 million tonnes of plastic are discarded into our seas annually - an amount that is projected to nearly triple by 2040 without urgent, large-scale action.

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