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The story behind functionality figures

Published on: 04/02/2014

It takes at least two months to repair a broken water source in rural areas of Uganda. This was revealed by a study conducted in 2012 by IRC Uganda in eight districts of Alebtong, Kitgum, Lira, Nwoya, Kabarole, Kamwenge, Kasese and Kyenjojo. The study was conducted to assess the performance of rural water service delivery models in Uganda.

The findings showed that 40% of the water users had experienced an interruption in their water service in the last two months preceding the study. The interruptions were mainly due to seasonal variations or breakdown of the water facilities. Breakdown of the facilities accounted for more than half of the interruptions. Repair of the broken facilities in the districts of Alebtong, Nwoya, Kabarole and Kyenjojo took up to two months.

The reality behind national statistics

On the other hand, the Annual Water and Environment Sector Performance Report published by the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) in 2012 showed that functionality rates for rural water facilities in the districts where the IRC study was conducted varied from 72% to 82%. MWE defines functionality as the percentage of improved water points that are providing water at the time of the spot check.

Taking the functionality figures for Alebtong (72%) and Kabarole (82%), one would rate the performance of the district as being average and would have an impression that close to two-thirds of the water facilities are providing water as required. However, it was noted that despite the relatively high functionality in the districts, only 26% of the households in Alebtong and Kabarole had a reliable water source -- a reliable water point being one that provided water 95% of the time or was only broken down for a maximum period of two weeks in the whole year.

Rethinking functionality as an indicator

A functionality rate of 82% is impressive but does not tell the story of the situation before or after the spot check. Yet functionality is the primary indicator used to measure performance of a water facility in Uganda. As a result the story of hundreds of water users who have to bear months of service downtime and spend one quarter of their productive time fetching water is hidden behind the rosy picture of functionality percentages.

As part of this study, IRC Uganda in partnership with the MWE developed a set of service delivery indicators to tell the complete story about the actual service that rural populations receive. A summarized draft set of these indicators can be accessed below. The indicators use national policies and guidelines in Uganda to describe how water services should be delivered and supported at the water user level, service provider and service authority levels.

The full report on the analysis of the performance of Service Delivery Models in Uganda can be accessed below.


Peter Magara
National Learning Facilitator Triple-S Uganda