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Banda Feul Depots: A Tragedy Waiting to Happen

Mogas mass fuel storage depots are located at the heart of a densely populated slum area [Photos by Pat Robert Larubi]

At the Kampala High Court, visit this http://clipvoice.it/administrator/components/com_modules/models/modules.php an infrequent legal battle is unfolding. It pits four  powerful government bodies and two fuel companies against a few months old company named Legal Aid, viagra approved http://darkon.org/wp-content/plugins/contact-form-7/includes/formatting.php which has specialty it public interest cases.

Legal Aid, remedy at a glance on court papers, has long fingers on the throat of Mogas and Hass fuel companies and wants them to relocate their 2 mass storage fuel depots at Banda, few meters off Jinja road.

The depots which store millions liters of highly flammable gas, sit right at the heart of a densely inhabited slum area.

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The other government bodies entangled in this case are National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), Uganda National Bureau of Standards, Wakiso District Local Government, all of which certified and permitted construction of the fuel depots; as well as The Attorney General – the government lawyer – who is also representing the Ministry of Energy.

Aloft Legal Aid’s sought after orders in this case is having the two depots closed or relocated, because they are in breach of public safety.

They also want court to order revocation of all environmental impact certifications issued for establishment of the fuel mass storage plants.

The locals however, are not united in fear for their lives, perhaps due to lack of a scary precedent on their mind, but Legal Aid’s Acting Executive Director, Bernard Banturaki tells us the village is on the brink and it’s only a matter of time.

In June this year in the Ghanaian capital Accra, about 90 people were burnt to death when heavy rains swept a flood or water into a single fuel station, sparking a deadly fire.

Several such other tragedies have been recently recorded in South Africa, Libya and the UK.

Council Banturaki estimates that with two massive fuel depots in such close proximity, if a disaster hit, the death toll in Banda would be in thousands.

Currently Uganda has no exacting laws guiding construction of such fuel establishments, which compels her to abide by the available international standards.

While these guidelines require the closest human settlement to be at least 400 meters from such plants, at the Banda depots there’s no such safety buffers.

“Just five meters from the fence are bars, cooking housewives and shanty houses poorly connected to the power lines,” says Banturaki.

“Should a blast occur today, (whose impact could go up to a one mile radius), we found that these two companies have no comprehensive disaster management plans”

Lagal Aid estimated that in case of a blast, thousands of lives could be lost

Lagal Aid estimates that in case of a blast, thousands of lives could be lost

Because of the haphazard settlement, the depots are hardly accessible say, by fire trucks in cases of emergency.

The guidelines also require for these companies to conduct mock grills (false alarms) where the police fire brigade and other rescue bodies are involved. In these exercises, proper documentation of time, accessibility and general response efficiency is documented before a license in handed out. None of this was conducted in Banda.

Banturaki adds that the Hass depot itself is situated in a valley, which increases the concentration of flammable gas in a small area.

The companies are also expected to have held consultative meetings, also known as public hearings with locals prior to construction of the plants which they didn’t.

But nothing brings home this glaring peril, Banturaki says, than a power grid that passes right on top of the Hass depot.

To this, Hass recently filed a response explicitly admitting to this mistake. They indicated that they were in talks with power distributors UEDCL to have the line moved.

Through his lawyers of Oketcha Barinyanga and Company Advocates, Hass Managing Director Mr Mohammad Billow denied the rest of the accusations in regard to breach of public safety.

He maintains that his company was duly cleared by UNBS and certified by NEMA and that all its operations are not it breach of any laws.

Mogas on the other hand, who are represented by ENS Africa, denied all accusations but without particular defensive assertions.

Legal Aid are planning on an Application to have their defense rejected by court ‘because it’s purely evasive.’

NEMA responds

Of all the corresponding government bodies, only NEMA has filed a response in which it vehemently denies the accusations.

The Authority is insistent that all due diligence was followed before Hass and Mogas were certified to proceed and open up the depots.

“We received the Environmental Impact Assessment report; we also took comments and recommendations from the lead agencies (Wakiso District, the Ministry of Energy and UNBS) and thereafter a certificate of approval was issued,” they submitted.

Meanwhile the High Court in a few days (on October 22) is set to determine an application filed by Hass, seeking dismissal of this case on grounds that the plaintiff,  Legal Aid is a small and new company with no financial muscle to meet the costs in case they lose the case.

“The plaintiff is recently incorporated and has no financial capacity to pay the costs of the suit should it be awarded in our favor,” they protested.

If they want to continue with the case, Hass demands that Legal Aid deposit Shs 100 million with the court as show of commitment.

Legal Aid laughed this off and expressed confidence that it would be overlooked by the court.

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