Uganda: Water and Sanitation for All Still a Dream

by Paul Tajuba, originally posted on July 8, 2016


An underground stream flows through many small shacks made of poles, mud and rusty iron sheets in Katoogo, Kinawataka in Kampala, with an artesian just about five metres from Robert Kiyimba’s shack.

An artesian well is a well in which water rises under pressure from a permeable stratum overlaid by impermeable rock.

It is this artesian well, flowing freely throughout the year, where hundreds of people in this slum draw their water- at no cost.

“We save a lot of money with this artesian well. Life would be expensive if we were to include [on daily expenses] buying tapped water at Shs200 per jerrican,” Kiyimba, a casual labourer and a father of three, says.

But as Kiyimba draws water freely, a mass of rubbish made out of polythene bags, food leftovers, cigarette butts and children’s faecal matter, builds just above the same shacks and walkways adjacent their water source especially during rainy season, often flowing into the well.

“We often clean this place but some residents continue to dump polythene here. It is no harm though because we only use this water for bathing, washing … and not drinking. We buy a jerrican specifically for drinking,” Kiyimba, whose shack lays in a gully, says.


But Dr Asuman Lukwago, the ministry of Health permanent secretary says while Kiyimba and his colleagues think they are getting free water, instead they are exposing themselves to waterborne diseases, including bilharzia, diarrhea, trachoma, typhoid and scabies which will not only affect their health but also finances.

He says due to pollution emanating from industries around Kampala, it is not safe for people to use such water and this explains why water borne diseases plague the country, especially during the rainy seasons.

Last year, more than 400 suspected typhoid cases plagued the country which medical practitioners attributed to taking contaminated food and water.

According to a 2012 World Bank Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) report, poor sanitation costs Uganda an estimated $177 million annually (equivalent to about 1.1 per cent of GDP) because of premature deaths due to diarrhoea, malnutrition and diseases such as malaria and measles. Each year, diarrhoea claims 19,700 Ugandan children under the age of five years.

Kiyimba says last year, he spent more than Shs150,000 treating malaria that had infected his family.

Recently, utility body National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NW&SC) battled to restore water supply to its 139,000 clients in Gulu District. The affected customers had dry taps after a severe three-month drought drained Oyitino Dam, which was supplying the greater Gulu District.

Paul Rackara, the NW&SC Gulu branch manager, said water supply dropped towards the end of March and April from 2.3 million cubic litres to a meagre 1.5 cubic litres in a week as opposed to 4.8 million litres of what the utility body supplies to its clients.

James Bataze a senior metereologist from Uganda National Meteorological Authority warns of harsher weather conditions resulting from global warming.

Uganda is mandated under the UN global agenda to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030.

This is a commitment embraced when the UN adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), last September at the expiry of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000.

SDG goal six dictates that all states “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030 a higher demand from MDGs whose priority was to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

But according to Dr Wilberforce Kisamba Mugerwa, the National Development Plan (NDP) chairperson, having a universal coverage of water in the next 15 years should not be a hard call since it has been given priority in the National Development Plan II. The NDP is the government’s priority plan document and it runs for five years. NPDII runs from 2015/2016 financial year to 2019/20.

Dr Mugerwa says, for instance, the Authority has recommended that government increases access to safe water in rural areas from 65 per cent currently to 79 per cent and urban areas from 77 per cent to 100 per cent by 2030.

He, however, says attaining the above require everyone’s effective involvement and a well-coordinated financing mechanism, meaning the donor community’s hand will be handy.

Lydia Mirembe, the communication and knowledge management advisor IRC Uganda, an international organisation working in the water sector, says attaining universal water coverage should be the easiest goal in this global agenda.

“Since water is a transboundary issue, government should work hand in hand with other countries to protect water sources shared across as well,” Mirembe adds.

According to 2015 Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) report, Uganda has a wetland coverage of 4,500 square kilometres (1.9 per cent of Uganda’s total area), and a legion of lakes and rivers, including Lake Victoria, George, Edward, Albert, Kyoga and River Nile, the longest river in the world.

Robert Bakiika, the deputy executive director Environmental Management for Livelihood Improvement Bwaise Facility (EMLI), a local non-government organisation involved in environment conservation, says the only impediment to attaining universal water coverage and sustain it will be encroachment on water reservoirs and rain makers like forests.

Uganda, according to State of the Environment report 2008, loses 90,000 hectares of forest cover annually, which according to experts, increases water evaporation and long dry spells among others.

Ray of hope

But environment watchdog, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), breathed hope in some Ugandans when the authority launched a restoration of all wetlands in the country starting with Lubigi, northwest of Kampala.

Most of the restored areas now have papyrus and other wetland flora and fauna growing.

Attaining total restoration, provide universal water access sustainably, former Water and Environment minister Prof Ephraim Kamuntu says government will need to increase its budgetary allocation to the sector, since without water, there is no life.

The government in the 2014/15 Budget allocated 3 per cent of the Shs24 trillion to Environment ministry, a figure Prof Kamuntu said was small and cannot enable his ministry to protect water sources or avail water to all. As a result, Prof Kamuntu says many women and girls continue to walk long distances in search for water on their heads “instead of using the” for thinking”.

When government fails to act, the the likes of Kiyimba spend a lot in hospital bills. Any penny spent on seeking avoidable health expenses, impacts on the saving abilities of the Kiyimbas of this world.


According to the 2015 Uganda Bureau Of Statistics report, Uganda has a total of total of 4,500 square kilometres of wetland coverage.

Annually, Uganda loses 90,000 hectares of forest cover, as reported in the State of the Environment report 2008.

According to a 2012 World Bank Water and Sanitation Programme report, poor sanitation costs the country an estimated $177 million annually.

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