I have more than five years’ working experience in the Media industry.
I wield a skillful pen as a Journalist, and I'm presently a Freelance features writer at the "Features Desk" of the “New Vision”- Uganda’s premier Newspaper.
Before I joined the New Vision, I had worked as a Broadcast Journalist with Signal FM radio in Mbale, Eastern Uganda.
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By Richard Wetaya
The Namisindwa cave in Matuwa,
Clean and safe drinking water is a hard to comeby commodity in many hard to reach and distant villages in Bududa District, Eastern Uganda. In many of the villages, water shortage is a part of daily life, notwithstanding the fact that Bududa is richly endowed with rivers and other abundant water resources.
Fresh water sources in villages like Bushegi, Bunabuniu in Bushika subcounty and Bunakasala in Bulucheke subcounty are few and far between. As I moved around, I noticed there were many abandoned and non functional domestic water points.
Many of the hilly area’s potential for water supply is principally through rain water harvesting. Making do with harvested water is not bad in itself, but the containers I saw the villagers using to collect water were far from clean. In effect, this puts the lives of villages at a risk of e-coli and water borne microbes associated with diarrrhoea.
When the dry season sets in, usually at the threshold of each year; the few water sources in villages like Bunanyuma, Bushegi and Bunakasala are left half dry or completely dry.
Most of the water springs and wells as it seems, dry up due to the drought.
The little water the villagers struggle to fetch is itself far from clean but that does not seem to bother the children and people I saw queuing up to draw water. Unwittingly, they also expose themselves to water borne pathogens, which the World Bank says contribute to the high child mortality rates world over.
According to water aid.org, 12,000 Ugandan children die each year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water.
These unprotected water springs are our lifeline. It is the only water we have, rationalised Piyo Kuloba, a resident of Bunakasala village. “What do you expect people here to do? They have no choice but to use the little spring water at their accessibility however unsafe it may be. The springs are not protected and there are no boreholes or piped water systems in most of the villages around Bunakasala. During the dry seasons, the situation exacerbates as villagers are compelled to move long distances to get water. Moving from a hilly area to fetch water downhill is a tall order. When the rains come, the situation in a way improves because people can at least harvest water, though most do not have big containers that can store water for long,” notes Kuloba.
Water from river Manafwa is also in high favour with many people especially those living alongside its banks. I bore witness as children from Namasho village in Bulucheke subcounty drew water from River Manafwa using dirty containers for home usuage. All the while, other children swam in the very water. My attempts to dissuade those drawing water fell on deaf ears. Seemingly, Domestic animals also pollute the river’s waters going by the animal excrete I saw near the river’s banks.
In 2010, a ministerial statement presented to Parliament revealed that River Manafwa was contaminated. Most of the pollution the statement noted was from human feaces emanating from the pit latrines constructed near the river. In many respects, water from river Manafwa is still unsafe for usuage considering the continuous dependence on the river’s water’s for activities such as bathing and washing. That in essence means people living along the river’s banks are invariably at risk of water borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, skin diseases, eye infections and infestinal diseases like schistosomiasis.
In some parts of Bududa, ill advised traditional attitudes still govern the usage of water, especially water from river Manafwa Unboiled water from the river is traditionally thought of as tastier than treated water. As such some people would rather drink it, than treated or boiled water.
“Many people use river Manafwa as a primary source of water. It is used for household consumption because people have waited for the piped water and the gravity water systems in this area as promised by the government for long. The government needs to redeem its pledge to build a gravity water system from the nearby mt. Elgon area. That needs to be fast tracked. The ignorant belief that water from river Manafwa is more tastier has been there but that can be stemmed through concerted educative drives in the villages concerned,” notes Wilson Wangota, an elder in Kushu village, Bulucheke subcounty.
Families living in the hilly and distant areas are hard pressed in going downhill to fetch water. The problem is areas downhill are also grappling with problems of access to safe and clean water. There is almost no guarantee that one will find safe water when they head downhill.
The gap between Bududa’s population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and those with access has gotten wider through the years. Manifestly, Bududa is amongst the districts where safe water coverage is still hovering below the 64% national average and where access to safe water has stagnated.
Five years back the situation seemed better.
A 2010 report by the Directorate of Water Development, Ministry of Water and Environment, showed that 66 % of Bududa’s population had access to safe and clean water.
Recent records from the Ministry of Water and Environment however paint a grim picture. Recent accounts show that access to safe water in Ugandan rural areas has stagnated at 65%, in the past two years, yet Uganda’s target is to increase access to safe water in rural areas to 77% in 2015 in line with its millennium development goals.
“The government’s investment in the water sector especially in the rural areas needs to be improved. Interventions also need to be fast tracked especially when people are facing a problem like it is in Bududa. The government as well needs to invest in water purification schemes for the rural areas. Communities should be helped to protect their wells. Access to safe water is a critical disease prevention investment and a recipe for good health. It can go a long way in helping communities in Bududa and other areas around the country to confront the health based poverty trap. With the construction of the first phase of the Bududa-Nabweya Gravity Water Flow Scheme, there will hopefully be a new lease of life in the above sectors,” says John Okumu, a water and sanitation engineer in Manafwa.
According to UN Water.org, Investments in water and sanitation services result in substantial economic gains. The return on investment of attaining universal access of improved drinking-water is estimated to be 2 to 1. To cover every person worldwide with safe water and sanitation is estimated to cost US$ 107 billion a year over a five-year period.
The Bududa district Community Development Officer in charge of Water and Sanitation, Anthony Wakholi says the district in unison with the Government is working on a gravity water flow system, which will pump and generate water from Mt Elgon.
“Water will be supplied to different areas using this system. It will cover 6 sub counties, namely Bukigai, Bududa, Nabweya, Bushiribo, Bushiyi and Bulucheke. The district has developed protected springs, groundwater wells and gravity flow systems before in some sub counties like Bukibokolo. There is also the Bukalasa gravity flow scheme, which covers 3 sub counties. Drilling boreholes in hilly areas is a hard task. That explains why there are few of them. Rain water harvesting as recommended by the government has however been gaining currency amongst the people. As regards the usuage of water from river Manafwa, people do not do it on purpose. It is largely because they have no choice and because they are averse to messages dissuading them from using that water,” Wakholi says.
Wakholi however says some of the water problems in Bududa are sometimes brought about by the residents themselves.
“There is generally a problem of poor water supply management in some of the villages. Counterproductive activities like the cutting of underground water pipes in some villages has adversely affected the sector. These pipes transport water down from the hilly areas but certain mischievous people have continuously tampered with them. In some areas, people have continuously cut the water pipes to irrigate their crops,” Wakholi says.
Many people’s livelihoods have also been affected as a result of the lack of water in many of Bududa’s villages.
In Bunakasala for example, crop diversification has become a problem. Villagers barely grow crops that depend on rain or water to flourish. The lack of water has in some ways also led to a reduction in the usuage of land in many of the villages, though families still subsist on staple crops that grow without much rain.
The early part of Saturday (last week) got me curiously wending my way through Boma Ward, the once famous and glistening Mbale suburb. Boma ward-commonly known as Senior quarters is found in Wanale Divison.
Many people, who grew up admiring the beauty and peace of this place, feel it has, in many ways, lost its sparkle. To all appearances, they are right. For starters, Senior quarters, Mbale was and probably still is the hub of Mbale’s rich, more like what Kololo is to Kampala.
Therein, you will find residential homes for Mbale’s rich and famous. Stephen Wekomba, owner of Mt. Elgon Millers is on that A-list. He owns several rental houses and other buildings in the area.
Senior quarters is also home to several senior civil servants and many of Mbale’s upscale and affluent hotels, to wit Mbale Resort hotel, Crown Suites, Kayegi hotel and Mt Elgon hotel.
Senior quarters is also where you will find the famous Mbale Presidential lodge. It is a place almost every student wants to visit, especially when they know the President is around Mbale. Here you will also find Mbale’s most popular and classy night hangout spot, the Thatch gardens, owned by the famous Mbale Doctor, Dominic Martin Waburoko. Through the years, Thatch gardens has obtained a footing as Mbale’s number one happening place, hosting parties, concerts, weddings and conferences.
Whilst it is fair to state that Senior quarters has gotten more residents through the years, it is out of the question to state that it has improved infrastructure wise. Moving around, I bore witness to many of the quarter’s infamous poor roads. Many residents I had spoken to earlier had lamented about the poor state of the roads in the area, principally the road from the Presidential Lodge to town via the Resort Hotel. That evidently is not the only bad road here. The road from the Presidential Lodge to town via Mooni has also been in quite a sorry state for some time.
“Good roads used to be this area’s claim to fame in the days of old. A little tarmac was laced on the road between Mooni to the area where Mount Elgon Hotel is located but it was substandard. The road was heavily pot holed, yet the President uses it whilst going to rest at the Lodge. Concerned residents speculated that the President’s vehicles have strong shock absorbers and he never felt the impact of the pot holes whenever his car rode through the road,” Fred Bwayo, a resident, says.
Sam Wamutu, Chairperson of the Boma ward development committee says a feasibility study has been done and the road, right from Mbale’s regional block is going to be worked on in due course.
All that awaits is the funds to be released, Wamutu adds.
The Senior quarters of today also has quite a number of old and dilapidated buildings.
“In the good old days, you would be hard pressed to find old and unpainted buildings in this area. There is increased apathy on the part of the owners of some of the old buildings” Bwayo says.
Lots of new buildings are being constructed but they are evidently juxtaposed with the old ones.
In the colonial days, Senior quarters housed the colonial administrators sent to Mbale to oversee the governance of the Eastern region. The area according to old Legend had state of the art recreational facilities wherein the colonial overseers invariably went to parlay.
“Senior quarters was unquestionably Mbale’s cleanest suburb, especially in the times when Mbale was the cleanest town in East Africa. It was serene and its lush greenery was second to none. Many people always wanted to come and visit on account of that. There were no old buildings and bad dusty roads as is the case today. The place lost its glory, just like Mbale town did,” states Wangota Khaukha, an elder in Mooni, an area neighboring the quarters.
Tales are told also of how Semei Kakungulu used to frequent the quarters, often coming to consort with and consult the colonial masters. Kakungulu it is said planted many of the area’s existing eucalyptus trees, just like he did in many other areas in the East.
“The trees Kakungulu planted added to the beauty of Senior quarters. The road leading up to the Presidential Lodge was a boulevard, with well manured trees on each side. Obote as well was fond of Senior quarters. During his Presidency, he always visited and hosted visitors at the lodge. The road was in a good state in the 80’s. Much as the area has lost its splendor, we are happy Hotels like Resort and Kayegi have been taken root. Resort particularly is a modern hang out,” Khaukha says.
Senior quarters is also the place where you will find the famous Fairway Primary school.
Almost everybody who grew up in the early 90’s in the East heard of this prominent school. It was always in the best of the bunch academic wise.
Though it has lost some of its sparkle, it still stands in a good stead with many people.
“Fairway is one of the few schools existing in Senior quarters. Understandable being that the area is mostly residential. There is also Boma primary school and 4 to 5 other private schools,” Wamuttu says.
Security wise, Boma ward is safe and sound, albeit there have been sporadic incidents of crime reported, especially in areas neighboring less affluent suburbs like Mukhubu, Mooni and Busamaga.
Wamutu says whilst there have been security lapses; the general peace of the area has not been compromised a lot.
“That problem is being looked into. Most of the area’s security problems are caused by thugs emanating from neighboring suburbs,” Wamutu says.
In terms of sanitation, the area has not done badly though Wamutu says they are waiting for the area’s sanitary sewer system to be connected to the main Namatala carriage system.
Though land prices have been fluctuating through the years, an acre of land in Senior quarters goes for about 150-200 million.
By Richard Wetaya
If there is, at present, a suburb in Mbale enjoying unprecedented growth, it is