Noise Nuisance Can Get Personal
Outdoor theatre common in Uganda.

Noise Nuisance Can Get Personal


Ivan is clearly not amused by the noise pollution in Uganda.

By Ivan Kibuka-Kiguli
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First published: May 21, 2010


The ability to make and detect sound provides humans with the facility to communicate with each other as well as to receive useful information from the environment. Noise is a word that we use to mean unwanted sound. The level to which noise annoys a receptor may determine how they respond.


Besides being an annoyance, excessive noise is detrimental to our health.  It is for this reason that personnel who work in environments that are considered excessively noisy are legally required to be equipped with noise protection gear and trained in its proper use, at the cost of the employer.

Sound pressure is measured in units called decibels (dB).  Addition of sound pressure levels is logarithmic, so an increase of about 3dB is equivalent to doubling the sound pressure.  If a portable generator is producing, say, 85dB, turning on an exactly similar generator next to it will result in about 88dB. To put this scale in perspective, a ‘quiet’ bedroom at night might see levels of 40dB or less,  noise levels on Kampala Road during rush hour traffic may reach 80dB while 108dB may be encountered in a night club and a jet at take off may produce in excess of 120dB.

In Uganda, and Kampala in particular, the noise nuisance seems to have reached critical levels. For example last Christmas, a senior army officer fired in the air in an attempt to disrupt what he perceived as excessively noisy night prayers at a neighbouring church. Sound waves can travel by diffraction and so can get around obstacles. The biggest culprit here are the low frequency sound waves (from e.g. bass speakers/subwoofers, car exhaust mufflers, etc).  Low frequency noise reduces poorly with distance, can travel with ease around all shapes of obstacles and because it has higher mechanical energy, can produce secondary noise sources near the receptor.  Mid-frequency (for example normal human speech) and high frequency sound (from for example treble speakers/tweeters, singing birds, etc) is easier to block.

However, the easiest way to control noise is at the source. That is why well-designed night clubs and sound recording studios are usually almost totally enclosed and lined with sound absorbing materials on the walls and ceiling. Compare these with an open truck full of discotheque standard speakers driving through Nateete playing adverts (often spiced with music clips) at high volume. While conducting any loud business, it is worth giving a thought to individuals who may find the noise we make intolerable. It is for this reason that laws exist to regulate how much noise we emit into the environment.

Next time NEMA (The National Environment Management Authority) officers come to warn you about your noise, please cooperate for the good of us all. When noise gets too loud, it tends to get personal and injurious to our health. When issues become personal, confrontations are inevitable.

By Ivan Kibuka-Kiguli
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First published: May 21, 2010
The author is a pollution control equipment engineer/consultant in Kampala.