SIRONKO – A child half-naked stands at a source of ‘safe water’ at the slopes of Mt Elgon in Bubolo village in Zesui sub-county in Sironko district.
And in the neighbourhood Ms Zeuria Nabujejere, 43, carrying a baby bends to fetch water that flows from Mt Elgon at another source.
Although this water collected from a banana leaf looked dirty with black particles, Nabujejere insisted the water was fit for human consumption.
This running water flows naturally from the ridges and people living down the slopes just collect it for domestic use in their homes.
When PML Daily approaches her, she simply says “Fe kunywa mezi egga, kugakozesa kudeka ni kusinga malayi gegali mabbi dda]” Loosely meaning We take this water, we use it for cooking and washing, it is safe water,”
Ms Nabujejere says as pupils they drank from this water and that pupils of all primary schools surrounding the area today also drink the same water.
“Our parents and relatives drank this water, we saw them on many occasions at this running water fetching and nobody ever got sick. We don’t need to boil our water not even treating, it is safe,” said Ms Nabujejere.
Although I was surprised when he heard that people from Mt Elgon take water directly from run offs around the mountain in rural mountainous sub-counties neighbouring Mt Elgon, I did not speak back.
I stood still, looked at the woman fetching water from the running stream, I wanted to speak back but an inner voice restrained me when I saw a group of pupils and adults come to line up at the same stream to fetch water for drinking and domestic use.
The looks on their faces left no doubt in my mind that at some stage, I would order them to stop taking the dirty water direct from the running stream but I could not speak it out.
Ms Nabujejere is not alone, most residents of Mt Elgon region drink from this water that flows from Mt Elgon and flows naturally along various ridges as children also prance about in the same water while animals drink the same water.
Whereas there are reports that there is an increase in incidents of diarrhea, dysentery, skin diseases and cough Mt Elgon area, residents still share this water as this is the only “clean” source of water for the people.
Although Water is a necessity for all living beings, and access to safe water is a basic human right and the world experiencing exponential growth in all areas with advances in science and technology, 40% of people experience water scarcity according to Borgen report
The country of Uganda is no exception; 8 million Ugandans lack access to safe water and the lack of clean water affects the health of the Ugandan people, their productivity and their economy.
The report adds that the stress of economic growth over the last two decades in Uganda has put an enormous strain on the land and its resources and that approximately 19 percent of Ugandans only have access to streams, ponds and unprotected hand-dug wells as sources of drinking water.
The Gold standard magazine [https://www.goldstandard.org/projects/access-clean-water-communities-uganda] says having no safe water access forces communities to use unsafe sources such as streams to get their water like in Mt Elgon- which has to be boiled to make it safe.
A magazine,water.org, that writes on Uganda’s water and sanitation crisis says that Uganda has experienced two decades of economic growth, leading to large population movements from rural areas to informal settlements around urban centers.
“High population growth stressed the water and sanitation services that exist means 7 million Ugandans lack access to safe water and 28 million do not have access?to improved sanitation facilities,” says the magazine in part dated October 2018.
Eng. Andrew Wasukira, the Sironko district Water engineer said although they have spread safe clean water across the district, there are places where people are deliberately using dirty flowing water for drinking and domestic use.
Mr Wasukira said with the intervention of the Project for Improvement of Access to Safe Water in Sironko District, the water burden is lightened and that safe water coverage in the district has risen from 65% to 77%.
Dr Nicholas Wabomba, the District Health Officer for Sironko said he is aware that a number of people are still using unsafe water direct from running rivers.
“And some people have had diarrhea diseases caused by this contaminated water especially children under the age of five and we insist that people stop drinking from these contaminated water sources because it has become dirty and unfit for drinking,” said Dr Wabomba.
He says many people are treated at the hospitals, health centre IIIs with fluids, nausea medication, diarrhea medications and that they are let to go back home without knowing that water is the cause of these illnesses.
Dr Peter Nabende, the retired Sironko DHO says when people drink contaminated water, besides having diarrhoea-related diseases like cholera and dysentery they will also suffer from waterborne diseases like Bilharzia.
Dr Nabende revealed that WHO data indicates that more than five million people die each year from diseases caused by unsafe drinking water, lack of sanitation, and insufficient water for hygiene and that over 2 million deaths occur each year from water-related diarrhea alone.
But Nabujejere like other residents staying at the slopes of Mt Elgon insist that the water is clean, does not cause any disease and was used by their parents, grandparents long ago who lived for many years without getting sick.
But Dr Nabende adds that People think of disasters as being mudslides and fires or storms, but that this is a disaster right t Elgon sub-region is alarming and calls for urgencnt interventions to save life.
Dr Gideon Wamasebu, the DHO Manafwa [ now retired] says that the greed and reckless nature of human activities at the Mt. Elgon water catchment area has killed and destroyed the quality of waters that flow from Mt Elgon.
“There is a lot of algae under the water and the black particles seen are symptoms of heavy pollution and silting, the algae can disappear with time but this leaves behind disastrous effects,” said Dr Wamasebu.
An ecological study on the water quality analysis from selected rivers at Mt. Elgon national park  also says massive encroachment beyond the bamboo zone has endangered the ecological functions of Mt. Elgon at a great rate.
“We took water samples from rivers inside the park, park boundary and outside the park for Physico-chemical and bacterial examination and it was deduced that due to massive encroachment, farming and settlement, the rivers had a high number of dissolved solids that contaminated the waters,” reads the ecological study report in part signed by Mr David Ogaram.
The report says that River Manafwa that supplies water to Mbale municipality, Tororo, Mbale and Butaleja was the most contaminated water with a total of 59.7 mg per litre total dissolved solids while Chebonet River in Kapchorwa stood at 22 mg/litre, Sisiyi stood at 25.3mg/litre while Soloko River was at 32.3mg/litre.
Ms Sarah Bisikwa, the Manafwa district natural resources officer [Environment officer] says even application of fertilizers to the gardens on the upper slopes of Mt Elgon also contaminates all the waters, making them unfit for drinking and domestic use.
“We need to do due diligence in trying to create symptoms and structures that kind of filter out dangerous germs and bacteria from our sources of water that we get like from the running water, so there is need to preach ‘drink water boiled water in our rural areas in order to save our people,”
According to a 2017 World Health Organisation report, 80 per cent of the people who have to use unsafe and unprotected water sources live in rural areas with around 159 million people collecting their drinking water from surface water such as ponds and streams.
Data from UNICEF indicates that more than 700 children under five years die every day from diarrhea linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation.
It is also true that a poor water supply impacts health by causing acute infectious diarrhea, repeat or chronic diarrhea episodes, and non-diarrhea diseases, which can arise from chemical species such as arsenic and fluoride.
The author, David Mafabi is a veteran journalist and PML Daily senior writer
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