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POLITICS OF FOOD: In Uganda People Use a Dangerous, Centuries-old Technique to Mine Salt

LAKE KATWE is situated in Kasese District in South Western Uganda. It is one of about 52 explosion crater lakes found in Queen Elizabeth national park, an internationally important area of savannah that is home to a wide range of species. Several streams drain into the lake, but it has no outlet, so intense evaporation during the dry seasons leads to the water becoming extremely salty.

The salt mining lake is the chief producer of salt in Uganda. It was formed as a result of volcanic eruption about 10,000 years ago. From above it presents beautiful scenery and forms one of the major tourist attractions in the park but the beauty fades as one gets closer to the lake.

The lake is uniquely partitioned into various “plots” called salt pans. The pans are square like, measuring nine feet wide and two metres deep. They are dug using hoes and demarcated using earth and pieces of wood.

For centuries people near Lake Katwe have mined salt by hand. And salt mining remains their only means of livelihood. Salt mining is one of Uganda’s oldest industries still surviving.

Extraction of the salt from Lake Katwe is done by both men and women and involves standing waist or chest deep in water for hours at a time. The air is infused with the bad egg smell of hydrogen sulphide gas and traces of ammonia.

The miners work without protective clothing and have to device means of protecting themselves from the toxic water. The water eats away at their skin. The water causes an itch forcing the miners to instinctively scratch, developing into a wound which widens over time. Their bodies are full of bruises and they use superglue and place a small plaster over the wound to prevent the water from sipping into the wound.

In an effort to protect themselves from the toxic water men tie plastic bags around their genitals or wear condoms which they fasten with rubber bands so that they dont fall off. Some women put flour inside their vaginas. These strategies have little effect and reproductive health problems are common.

Sources: http://www.monitor.co.ug/artsculture/Reviews/691232-1269578-12jprtsz/index.html

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2010/nov/19/salt-miners-lake-katwe-uganda

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