In poor areas of Uganda's capital Kampala, water is difficult to obtain. Photo: Slum Dwellers International


Water shortages a problem in fast-growing cities like Kampala

Lack of clean water and sanitation is often associated with conflict-affected, arid landscapes and lack of water sources. But the problems are actually greatest in the cities, according to a new report from the World Resource Institute. In Kampala, the rapid population development has meant great challenges for the city's infrastructure.

The Ugandan capital Kampala, together with other cities in East Africa - as seen by Nairobi and Dar es Salaam - has had a large population increase. Since the 1990s, the number of inhabitants has doubled.

The living space today extends over more than 800 square kilometers, at the same time as the slow expansion of infrastructure has led to over half of Kampala's population today live in slum areas. The UN defines a slum area where people live in cramped conditions, without easy access to water and sanitation and with inadequate protection against forced eviction.  

In Kampala, most people do not have a sewer connection, and in slum areas you often have to buy tap water, which leads to many people using dirty water sources instead. In contrast to the simplified image that the water shortage is due to dry landscapes and few water sources, today it is instead a sign of the rapid urban development that is taking place in many parts of the world.

In recent years, the situation in Kampala has improved considerably. This is due to the increase in local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to democratize access to water and sewage. For example, the city council, led by Andrew Kitaka Mubiru changed focus from increased sewer connections as the only measure of success, and instead began to recognize and support different types of latrines that are clean, reusable and empty. In this way, residents can also be reached in slum areas.

But despite the positive development, good solutions to the water shortage are hampered by a short-term focus, according to the World Resource Institute. While Kampala now has a thriving sector of local and international organizations spreading new water and sanitation solutions, they rarely reach the point where the solutions can be scaled up to cover larger areas of the city.

Joseph Ddegeya is a student of environmental science at Makere University in Kampala. Via Skype, he explains that it is very true that the population in slum areas is hardest hit by a lack of water and sewage.

- Many of the capital's residents live in slum areas without public cranes. If you cannot buy clean water, you must use polluted water sources. In combination with the lack of sewage, the risk of cholera breaks out, he says.

The basic problem is that water and sanitation problems are under-prioritized, except during election periods. Then the issue becomes important, and President Yoweri Museveni has even taken on the task of building new water pipes and public toilets. This is what he has been ridiculed for. Many, including Joseph Ddegeya, do not think the president should take responsibility for such a fundamental thing.

- It is obvious voice fishing, and the improvements are seen as a priority for the slum areas when they are mainly financed by foreign donors. The state provides the land, and the donors the infrastructure.

Maria Gorret is the health coordinator for the organization Uganda Village Project (UVP), and works in the villages in the Iganga region, east of Kampala. Although she also sees the problem with the short-term projects and the unscrupulous politicians, she believes that the projects still have great value for the local population.

- The authorities do not have the opportunity to provide comprehensive service outside urban areas, and most villages are completely dependent on a borehole for all their water. You usually have to travel for an hour to fetch water, she says.

UVP works to conserve water sources and disseminate information on proper water management. The organization has also realized the short-sightedness of some of its projects, which according to Maria Gorret are mainly due to lack of resources.

- Even if project periodn for a village is three years, we work long-term. For example, we teach the locals to dig their own wells. Then they get the opportunity to increase their water supply themselves, even after the project is bred, she says.

After the conversations with Joseph Ddegeya and Maria Gorret, it sounds as if there is an even bigger problem than a short-term project focus. Organizations such as UVP, which works to promote access to clean water and sewage, work with limited resources and at the same time want to expand their activities to as many people as possible. That is why you do not work on a project for more than a few years. Instead, the problem is that state authorities and city councils do not have time for urbanization, and to provide Kampala's residents with basic infrastructure. In rural areas, infrastructure is even more downgraded, and almost non-existent. But the question is whether there are even incentives for politicians to address the lack of clean water.

In order for us to achieve the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, the importance of new technologies, organizational methods and governance is often emphasized in order to increase the level of education, public health and access to clean water. But in order for the people of Kampala - and the rest of Uganda - to be able to make higher demands on basic infrastructure, it is risky for the state to rely too much on NGOs. This does not create the incentive to make public investments, which are needed for a large-scale solution to the water shortage.


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