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.