Stop that noise!

A promotions van drives by, its four loud speakers blaring news of a concert that is scheduled to take place over the weekend.

Along the same street, dozens of hooting cars—many in a dangerous state of disrepair—compete with each other to beat the rush hour traffic. A car alarm goes off, then a second, and a third.

At taxi ranks, hundreds of vehicles assemble to load passengers who are called to get on board. In the noisy St Balikudembe, Uganda’s biggest market, almost every vendor asks passersby in a sing-song voice to take something off the shelf.

Heard enough? Wait—there’s more.

Along the streets of Kampala, born-again Christians stationed at strategic spots are preaching—while in the distance, a call to prayer for Muslims is sounding over a public address system. The question is, could anyone who wants to pray in Uganda’s capital find a sufficiently quiet spot to do so?

Much has been said about the dangers of water and air pollution. But, Ugandan authorities are also concerned about noise pollution—particularly as evidence mounts of the links between poor health and an unremitting din.

According to the World Health Organisation, noise can induce stress and sleep disturbance—not to mention loss of hearing. Paul Kiwanuka, a doctor in private practice, says noise is also associated with changes in blood pressure and general fatigue, and that it can affect the development of children.

In an effort to bring noise levels in Uganda down, the Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment passed a set of “Noise Standards and Control” regulations last year. As news of these rules appears to have passed most Ugandans by, however, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) issued a reminder earlier this month about the need to cap noise levels.

“The purpose of these regulations is to ensure the maintenance of a healthy environment for all people in Uganda—the tranquility of their surroundings and their psychological well-being—by regulating noise levels,” said Doreen Kabasindi Wandera, the environmental audit and monitoring officer at Nema.

The regulations prescribe the maximum permissible noise at areas such as construction sites, and places of entertainment and worship. They also stipulate the volume that public announcement systems can operate at—although fire brigade, police and ambulance sirens are exempt from controls.

“Now, any person whose works or activity is likely to emit noise in excess must apply to Nema for a license,” said Wandera.

People who have complaints about noise pollution can contact their local authority or Nema, or file a case with the police. The new regulations allow environmental inspectors, local councilors and police officers to confiscate pieces of machinery or other items that are causing too much of a noise.

Those who contravene the rules may face a fine of up to $10 000—or up to 18 months imprisonment.

“With this notice (the announcement earlier this month) ... some members of the public who did not know their rights are now coming out to claim them,” observes Wandera—this despite the fact that excessive noise can sometimes be short-lived, making it difficult to prove the offence.

Many of the complaints relate to noise at places of worship, entertainment centres, mines and quarries. Certain Christians claim the noise control regulations are a violation of their constitutional rights.

“The constitution gives us freedom of worship and different people do so in different ways. Some pray quietly while others prefer to shout out loud. Is there a problem with that?” asks Tom Malaba, a church-goer.

“We do not worship everyday. We make noise, but positive noise,” he adds.

Malaba also questions whether government really has enough manpower to police the noise regulations effectively: “These Nema people sent out a notice banning smoking in public places. They are yet to stop public smoking. So how will they stop us from worshipping?”

However, for those who live near a stone quarry in Muyenga—a suburb south-east of Kampala—the rules have not come a moment too soon.

Residents such as Joseph Tamale have long complained of the noise from blasting at the quarry. “We have reported the issue of this stone quarry to the authorities for many years, but nothing is being done,” he said, adding “I cannot move away from here. This is my family house. Something must be done to stop this.”—IPS

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