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WASH sector actors should aim to reach 100% safe water coverage and it is against that target that performance should be measured. The further the sector falls below the 100% mark, the more work there is to be done. Such was the advice of the Ugandan Minister of Water and Environment

What will it take for Uganda to attain 100% access to safe and affordable water? For the foreseeable future, many stakeholders in the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector will be racking their brains to find an answer to this question. 

This follows an impassioned appeal by the Minister of Water and Environment, Professor Ephraim Kamuntu, to all WASH actors to aim for 100% access as their target – nothing less. The Minister was closing the 2013 Annual Water and Environment Joint Sector Review meeting (29-31 October), at the Commonwealth Resort, Munyonyo. He referred to the appeal as a “flagship” undertaking – among three others. 

In the undertakings for 2013/14, participants had resolved to increase coverage from the current 64% to 66%. But the Minister argued that setting such a target meant that 34% of the population would continue living without access to safe and affordable water.

He urged participants to use the human rights approach, whereby it is everyone’s right to access safe and affordable water.  Thus, from the human rights perspective, sector actors should be aiming at 100% coverage and that is the figure against which performance should be measured i.e the further below 100% the sector finds itself, the more work there is to do.

“With 34% of the population still walking long distances to fetch water, we end up spending a lot of resources on the consequences of not having access to safe water,” he said.

He enumerated some of the consequences including:

  • Children not attending school
  • Children being defiled and sexually abused on their way to or from sources far away from home
  • Women suffering under the burden of domestic/household chores
  • Numerous incidents of diseases relating to use of unsafe water

Minister Kamuntu recommended that one of the ways to attain 100% safe water coverage is through “earnest undertaking of rainwater harvesting”. He also recommended that people need to be sensitized about the need to maintain functionality of water sources. He decried the lack of maintenance of facilities which leads to their failure within just a few years of installation.

The Minister concluded that provision of water to all Ugandans would depend greatly on the degree of attitude, commitment and orientation.

This appeal comes hot on the heels of a policy directive issued by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Water and Environment in November 2012 in which all Chief Administrative Officers were asked to ensure that ALL villages have access to clean and safe water supply. The directive also urged local governments to prioritise the provision of water to all unserved villages in rural areas, small towns and all government institutions over the next two financial years – 2013/14 and 2014/15. The directive was anchored in the concern that the provision of water and sanitation in rural areas and small towns had stagnated at 64-65% over the years.

The Minister’s appeal also comes just two years ahead of 2015 the timeframe for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) within which the Ministry of Water and Environment has set clear targets for access to safe water – 77% for rural population and 100% for the urban population. According to the Ministry’s golden indicators, access is measured by the percentage of the population with access to an improved water source within 1kilometre for rural areas and within 0.2kilometre for urban areas.

Additionally, there are the ever-present challenges which always seem to hamper progress towards set targets. Speaking on behalf of the WASH sector development partners, His Excellency Dan Frederiksen the Danish Ambassador to Uganda outlined some of the key sector challenges including:

  • The declining budgetary allocation to the WASH sector – from 3.7% of the national budget in 2007/2008 to 2.4% in 2013/14.  
  • Delays in improving the MWE structures – the DWRM lacks adequate staff and office space, plus the formalisation of the de-concentration structures (Technical Support Units and Water Management Zones) has not yet been realised
  • Inadequate capacity at district level
  • Delays in approving the revised Water Act, which affects the work of Water Management Zones and Catchment Management Organisations
  • Good governance issues: Delayed follow up on the findings and recommendations in audit reports and that annual report from the Auditor General.

The Danish Ambassador also highlighted the need to invest in rehabilitation and repair of water and sanitation infrastructure which are largely worn out. He called for higher standards of operation and maintenance and capacitating Water Supply and Sanitation Boards (WSSBs) and Umbrella Organisations.

With all this at the back of their minds, many WASH sector actors in Uganda will be grappling with a volley of questions such as: Is it possible to attain 100% access to safe water? What does it take to reach such a seemingly ambitious target? What are the enabling factors and how can actors capitalize on them? What hindrances stand in the way of progress towards that target? And if at all the target is attained, how can the gains be sustained? 

The IRC/Triple-S call

Since its inception in 2010, the IRC/Triple-S initiative has argued that it is not enough to increase access and safe water coverage, without paying attention to the sustainability of water supply facilities. There has been a focus on building new systems mainly because there is a high demand for first-time access to safe water, especially in rural areas.

But as the Minister Ephraim Kamuntu observes, the new facilities fail too soon. In Uganda, the functionality of rural water supply facilities has stagnated at 80%-84% over the last ten years, which is still lower than the target of 90% by 2015. This means that nearly 14% of rural water sources are non-functional, which leaves a sizeable part of the population unserved. In order to ensure sustainability of rural water services, IRC/Triple-S recommends three major issues to consider

  1. Adopting a Service Delivery Approach. There must be a shift from one-off projects to services. This means envisaging a service in which policy, institutional, planning, financing and governance of the sector all support water services that last for rural populations.
  2. Supporting a learning and adaptive capacity for water service delivery.This means a sector with the capacity to learn, innovate and adapt to changing circumstances and demands necessary for the continuance of service delivery for rural populations.
  3. Improving harmonisation and alignment for water service delivery.This means greater harmonisation of efforts at both operational and national levels, as well as better coordination and alignment of these efforts behind government-led strategies for service delivery to rural populations.

Other flagship undertakings that the Minister Kamuntu urged participants to consider include:

  • Greening the economy by planting trees all the time
  • Improving sanitation and hygiene through increased latrine coverage.
  • Sensitise people about the benefits of having a latrine and washing hands
  • Stop encroachment on wetlands and forest reserves.
  • A wetlands atlas must be in place by the next Joint Sector Review.

 

Lydia Mirembe

27 November 2013

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