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Safe, clean drinking water remains elusive for many

Ms Nabukwasi fetches water from the hills at a hilly spot in Soti village for drinking with her child.. Photo by David Mafabi)

KAMPALA – Mary Nabukwasi carrying a baby bends to fetch water from the slopes of Mt Elgon in Soti village in Bulambuli district.

And like other women staying at the slopes of this mountain, Nabukwasi walks a distance of about 4Km downhill to fetch water from this flowing stream for domestic use.

The well that flows from the mountain throughout the year, attracts hundreds of people from upper Bulambuli who draw their water.

As Nabukwasi draws water, a mass of mud from the gardens, food leftovers and faecal, also flows through the water.

It is clear that the contaminated water flows from an underground stream. It comes all the way from Mt Elgon and goes through many villages.

“We often use this water for bathing, washing, cooking, and drinking because there is no other source of clean water, this is what we use for everything even when it is deemed dirty for human consumption,” Namagidini says.

Dr Muhammad Mulongo, the District Health Officer for Bulambuli says surface water sources are often dirty and hazardous to drink.

“People must boil this water before drinking it or treat it before use in the homes and without this, we shall have many people getting sick from diarrhea-related diseases or waterborne diseases,” said Dr Mulongo.

He explained that there is also an inverse relationship between maternal and newborn survival and access to improved water sources and that women need safe water during pregnancy, of course, but it is also essential for safe delivery and postpartum and newborn care.

“And do you know that safe water and careful hygiene practices can also prevent neonatal sepsis, a blood infection that occurs in the first weeks of life, which is one of the top three killers of newborns,” said Dr Mulongo.

When President Museveni launched the Uganda Vision 2040 in 2013, he hinted that the government’s target is that every Ugandan should access clean and safe water by 2040. However, while there is still time, the progress is rather slow.

Many Ugandans, especially in rural areas, still have to walk long distances to access water, share water sources with animals or generally do not have safe water.

Nabukwasi is among the eight million people in Uganda who do not have access to safe water and who do not have access to improved sanitation facilities, according to the 2015/16 report released by Water Aid, an international organisation.

Another report by water.org says 61 percent of Ugandans who lack access to safe water and 75 percent who do not have access to improved sanitation facilities.

A recent report from Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi survey says three out of four households access drinking water from an improved source and that eight out of 10 household’s harvest rainwater.

The report released in June this year says on average it takes rural households over an hour to collect water and that only seven out of ten households treat their water to make it safer to drink

The report released in June adds that piped water is the ideal water supply service but the high cost of investing in such networks is harder to justify in sparsely populated rural areas than in the more dense urban settlements.

“In many cases, even in urban areas, investment in piped networks and their maintenance has not always been able to keep up with rapid population growth and urbanization and as a result, both in rural and urban areas, many people are forced to make difficult choices, balancing considerations of cost, time and convenience against health and hygiene. Like should you risk drinking water from the lake, which is free and easy to access, or spend time and money collecting water from an improved source that is further away?” the report adds.

The research covered 1, 741 Ugandan adults aged 18 years and above living in rural and urban areas with mobile phone coverage in all the 50 counties through random sampling method and conducting computer aided telephonic interviews with results of +/-2.4 margin of error and 95 percent confidence level.

Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi (Voices of Citizens) uses mobile phones to regularly collect information from a broad cross-section of Tanzanian, Ugandan and Kenyan citizens and the initiative allows survey data to be gathered quickly and efficiently, at low cost, to inform citizens of what’s going on and to support policy-makers to be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of citizens.

Eng. Richard Cong, a commissioner at the Ministry of Water and environment says access to safe and clean water and basic sanitation is a right and one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations. It is a condition for human life.

A child stands at the well in Soti village. Although dirty, the water is used for domestic use by everyone. (Photo by David Mafabi)

He revealed that goal six of the UN General Assembly on new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in September 2015, requires countries to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030.

While speaking at the release of a new study report titled; The Impacts of Climate Change on food security and Livelihoods in Karamoja sub-region in March at Sheraton Hotel Eng Cong said this goal is premised on the fact that water scarcity or availability determines the quality of life.

“Safe water is essential to sustain life and a satisfactory (adequate, safe and accessible) water supply must be available to all human beings, and the government is moving in the direction where every Ugandan will have access to safe and clean water,” said Eng Cong.

Mr Paul Mafabi, the director of environment affairs, Ministry of Water and Environment says water is a fundamental human need and that each person on earth requires at least 20 to 50 liters of clean, safe water a day for drinking, cooking, and simply keeping themselves clean.

He explained that polluted water form the mountains isn’t just dirty—it’s deadly and that many people die every year of diarrheal diseases like cholera, dysentery and many others are seriously sickened by a host of water-related ailments—many of which are easily preventable

Mr Mafabi said the United Nations considers universal access to clean water a basic human right, and an essential step towards improving living standards.

He revealed that education suffers when sick children miss school. Economic opportunities are routinely lost to the impacts of rampant illness and the time-consuming processes of acquiring safe water where it is not readily available. “And children and women bear the brunt of these burdens,” he added.

Government committed to safe water supply

The government has breathed hope in Ugandans after the cabinet gave a green light to government to borrow Shs 950b for construction of safe water sources.

Mr Frank Tumwebaze, the minister of ICT and National Guidance October 3 said cabinet has given the government the green light to borrow up to $251m (about Shs950b) for construction of safe water sources in more than 20 districts, municipalities, town councils and refugee-hosting areas across the country.

Dr Tom Okurut, the executive director National Environment Management Authority [Nema] said although safe drinking water is increasing in the country and that soon everyone will be able to access safe water.

According to the 2015 Uganda Bureau of  Statistics report [2015/16], safe water production was 93.8 million cubic metres compared to 87.3 million cubic metres produced in the 2012/13 representing an increment of 7.5 per cent]

Mr Okurut says that the country requires 55 billion cubic metres, but it is projected to have only 37 billion cubic metres by 2020 and the decline has been attributed to different forms of environmental degradation.

“It is critical to create awareness in the masses on how to protect the environment and safe water sources.”

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