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Published on: 28/12/2017

Children at Kasenyi borehole in Kabarole Uganda

The purpose of installing boreholes and other water supply facilities is to provide water services to citizens. Each borehole serves an estimated 300 people. When a borehole breaks down, the intended beneficiaries often turn to unsafe water sources. The longer it takes to rehabilitate the borehole, the more suffering the users endure – especially women and children. Moreover, every non-functional facility is tantamount to idle capital of not less than UGX 20,000,000 (USD 5500). 

In 2016, IRC Uganda rehabilitated ten boreholes in Kabarole district, an effort to ensure a safe and reliable supply of water for over 3000 people, which in turn would improve health and livelihoods for the benefiting communities. IRC Uganda worked with the Kabarole District Hand Pump Mechanics Association (KAHASA) to identify and assess the boreholes that required rehabilitation.

In Uganda, the Operation and Maintenance (O&M) of rural water facilities is based on the Community Based Management System (CBMS), which requires communities to take responsibility and authority over the development and management of the facilities. However, actors who are supposed to ensure the smooth-running of CBMS may not always perform their duties as expected, sometimes leading to a break down in service. Water users especially have failed or deliberately refused to pay for water supply services, which means that there are inadequate or no funds for O&M of point water sources.

To ensure that the rehabilitated boreholes remained functional and reliable, IRC Uganda introduced the pay-as-you-fetch management model, which required all water users to pay for every drop of water fetched. For that purpose, each rehabilitated borehole was metered and a paid caretaker appointed to collect the funds. Additionally, a functional Water User Committee (WUC) was constituted for each borehole.

The rehabilitated boreholes have since remained functional, with minimum downtime. Even when they break down, repairs are done immediately because there are ready funds to meet the cost of repair. A recent visit to some of the boreholes revealed that water users have warmed up to the idea of pay as you fetch. The rehabilitation of boreholes has restored their access to safe water which they are now using for their household and economic activities.

Mugusu Market borehole

Employment opportunity for a caretaker 

Mugusu Borehole caretaker

The Mugusu market borehole has been in existence for over twenty years. Given its urban location, it is a busy borehole, serving a large population. Before IRC rehabilitated the borehole in 2016, it had been non-functional for three years. The futile attempts to repair the borehole had caused pipes to fall further down, requiring them to be fished out. A special tool was fabricated for this purpose. The repair of this borehole was costly as it required experts to do the job, and the district local government could not incur the expense – which is why it had taken such a long time to rehabilitate. It also required more pipes since the water table is lower here. It is estimated to have cost over UGX 7.5 million (USD 2000) to repair. Since it was repaired it has broken down once - the cylinder and the rubber seal needed tightening and the pump buckets had worn out.

The management of the borehole has since been streamlined. The WUC is fully constituted and they work closely with the sub-county authorities and the DWO. The chairperson and the treasurer are women – which fits well with the ministry requirement to put women in positions of responsibility in CBMS.

The repair of the Mugusu town borehole has restored access to safe, affordable and reliable water for over 300 people. The caretaker, James Mujuni says that on average, he registers 300 jerry cans a day, each sold at UGX 100 (less than half a dollar). The water is mainly used for household consumption and commercial purposes. The borehole is accessed by women, school children, vendors, and farmers. The elderly and the school children can access water free of charge - especially school children who pass by to get some drinking water on their way to or from school.

Most importantly, the repair of Mugusu borehole has provided employment to James Mujuni, the caretaker who was previously struggling to make ends meet, as a small scale cabbage grower.

Read Mujuni’s story on the IRC website

Burungu - Birayoroba borehole

Providing safe and reliable water and opportunities for local economic development

The Burungu community has used this borehole since 1974. Over the years, maintenance of the borehole has taken different shapes. Sometimes the community would apply to the sub-county authorities who would intervene with rehabilitation works. Most of the time they would get help from politicians, especially those who were looking for votes during the election period. Occasionally, community members would contribute and give money to a hand pump mechanic who would come to assess and repair the borehole. However, community members complain that the hand pump mechanics used to cheat and charge them exorbitantly.

When IRC Uganda intervened in 2016, the borehole had not functioned properly for a year. The slab was hanging, having been broken during UNRA roadworks. The casing pipe was broken. The position of the handle and the drainage system had to be relocated. As a result, users took the risk to cross the busy highway to search for water in the valley on the other side. Some children lost their lives!

As the community members were keen to have a safe and reliable source of water, they heartily welcomed the pay-as-you-fetch management model introduced by IRC. This model ensures that there were funds for O&M whenever required. Women and children were particularly pleased because they were relieved of the burden of going up and down the steep hill to fetch water from the valley. They were also tired of crossing the busy highway.

With the rehabilitation of the borehole, more people are accessing safe affordable water in a safe environment. More than 300 people use the borehole, paying UGX 100 (less than half a dollar) for two twenty-litre jerry cans. The borehole is also serving nearby health facilities like Maranatha Health Centre; Burungu Primary School; and household level agriculture projects.

The Local Council 1(LC1) Chairperson, Christopher Makuruki reports that the water is of good quality, people are paying for it willingly. The community members had a meeting and agreed to have an account for the money collected. The users have also formed an association and are looking to open an account. Some community members were putting the caretaker under pressure to allow them to borrow the money but he refused because there were no clear guidelines on how to use the money.  There is a need to put in measures to safeguard the funds. There is a dream to make it a Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO), which will also contribute to improving the community’s economic well-being.

Monday DBH, Kakooga-C Parish, Rwimi sub-county

A more orderly and respectful community of users

Monday Deep Borehole in Kakooga-C Parish serves about 150 households. Residents of Kakooga have owned this borehole for ten years, sometimes with extended periods of downtime. Before the IRC intervention, the borehole had been broken for two years. Users had resorted to nearby unsafe and unprotected springs. Management of the borehole had always been a challenge. People used to take water forcefully without paying for it. If the caretaker locked the borehole, they would break the chain and steal the padlocks. They didn’t care much about the sanitation at their source and always did their laundry there. 

Then Kabarole Hand pump Mechanics Association (KAHASA) sensitized Kakooga residents about the need to rehabilitate and maintain their clean water source. KAHASA with funding from IRC Uganda rehabilitated the borehole and introduced the pay-as-you-fetch management model. This changed the outlook for the borehole and its users.

Upon rehabilitation of the borehole, a Water User Committee (WUC) was fully constituted, and women were given key positions of vice chairperson, treasurer, and caretaker. A caretaker was appointed and is paid 10% of the collection from the user fees. People are paying willingly. They pay UGX 50 per jerry can, but there is an option of paying UGX 1000 (less than half a dollar) and one fetches until it is depleted. The WUC and the users meet regularly at the source to discuss affairs of the borehole and to account for the users. There are bylaws governing the use of the borehole, especially with regard to sanitation. There is a timetable for fetching water which is 7.00 am to 8.00 pm, and it is strictly observed.

The WUC also involves other stakeholders like the Village Health Teams (VHTs) who educate users about WASH and issues of health like malaria, pregnancy, Community Led Total Sanitation Plus (CLTS-Plus) among others.

Chairman Agaba Ambrose observes, “People are now more respectful. They are happy to pay for water and they participate in the affairs of our borehole. It looks like thugs left the area. We are more organized and we enjoy good and safe water.”  

Kasenyi deep borehole, Kasunganyanja Parish - Kibiito sub-county

The qualities of a good water source caretaker

This borehole was constructed by the District Local Government in the year 2000. For 16 years the source has been managed by successive committees. Each of the villages was represented on the committee. Whenever the borehole broke down, the committee would collect money from user households to repair it. If the money collected was not enough the LC would top up the collection. Those who defaulted would be arraigned in the LC1 court and they would be fined UGX 2,500 shillings each. If there was no breakdown then there was no collection and water was free. October 2016 was the only time they ever got funding from outside the community. It would not take more than three days for the borehole to be repaired.

However, these effective management techniques dwindled over time. When the borehole was repaired by IRC and KAHASA in October 2016, it had had six months of complete downtime. There were no funds to repair it. Thus, IRC and KAHASA introduced the pay-as-you-fetch model, which users adopted willingly.

The borehole serves a very big population. It serves nine villages including Kasenyi, Kasunganyanja, Kitozi A, Kitozi B, Kanyambi, Nyabwina A, Nyabwina B, Kyenyilumba, Kaburaisoke, Ngatyaga. Some of the villages are up to 4 km away. Before the rehabilitation, all these villages fetched from a hand dug well in Kasunganyanja village. Over 500 jerry cans are filled every day. It gets even busier when there is a wedding or a funeral. People mainly use the water for a wide range of duties including: economic, bricklaying, household use, watering and spraying animals.

One of the biggest challenges with this borehole is that it serves such a big urban population. The caretaker must be strong in character. The current caretaker, who also donated land for the borehole, is paid UGX 40,000. While she appreciates the motivation, she says she is now an old woman and can no longer deal with stubborn people. She says she would like to now concentrate on her less demanding businesses. She is ready to give up the role to another community member, but emphasises that a good caretaker must possess the following qualities:

  • Reside in the trading centre
  • Be a native of the area
  • Be literate and able to keep records
  • Possess the good qualities of handling people
  • Transparent and accountable

Kisolire borehole, Kisolire village, Kicucu Parish, Kibiito town council

Old habits die hard – even in water supply

The source was installed in 2010 during the campaign period leading up to the 2011 general elections. Then LCV chairperson Mugisa Michael gave the borehole in exchange for votes. From the beginning it was free of charge to fetch water from the source. And when it broke down the politicians helped to repair it.

But one time it broke down and no politician came to the users’ aid. The 54 households that use this borehole resorted to sources that were a long distance away. Ten months later, IRC stepped in and KAHASA did the rehabilitation. After the repair in 2016, the WUC was formed and trained by KAHASA but the bad habits from the old era still persist. When the hand pump mechanic told them about pay-as-you-fetch model, the community members asked him why IRC and KAHASA didn’t construct a new borehole instead of rehabilitating one provided by the political leaders.

Even when the borehole was metered to enable accountability, the villagers vandalized it. They broke the chain and stole the padlock. Out of frustration, the LC1 chairperson Leocadia Kohenera decided to remove the meter and keep it to prevent it from being destroyed.

“It is better to protect the meter from vandalism. It would be sad for IRC to return and find both the borehole and the meter broken beyond measure,” Kohenera says.

There is an enduring mentality that water is provided freely by the government. There is still some resistance to payment for water services. In fact, some of the boreholes have reported incidents of vandalism where the meters, chains, and padlocks were stolen from the borehole. However, there are some key achievements emerging from the rehabilitation of boreholes and introduction of the pay-as-you-fetch model:

  • Increased access to safe water – for over 3000 people
  • Good and efficient collection of money by the caretaker
  • Funds readily available for rehabilitation whenever required
  • Maintenance no longer worries service providers and service authorities
  • Job creation for the HPMs and the caretaker. Apart from the payment for labour costs, each borehole pays UGX 30,000 (USD 8) for routine servicing and is expected to make an annual pay to the HPMA of UGX 100,000 (USD 27) for major servicing and repair. On average each caretaker is paid UGX 100,000 (USD 27).
  • Recognition and appreciation of the Hand Pump Mechanics Association (HPMA) as a reliable service provider
  • Increased acquisition of business skills and management by HPMs
  • Increased involvement of the District Water Office and the Sub County Chiefs as service authorities – supervising and coordinating service provision

 Lessons learned

  1. Professionalisation of CBMS will go a long way in improving functionality and sustainability of water supply services
  2. To introduce the pay-as-you fetch approach successfully, it is important to involve all key stakeholders such as the political leaders at village and sub county level, technical leaders, private sector actors
  3. Water users appreciate the need to pay for water services especially where the service providers (i.e WUCs) demonstrate a high level of transparency
  4. Technical skills in managing water sources is key and the presence of HPMs is fundamental.



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