For three years the Guardian newspaper, in partnership with the Panos Institute and Barclays bank, has been tracking an Amref/Farm-Africa project to improve the lives of the 25,000 people in Katine sub-county in Uganda.
Water supply is one of the project interventions.
The Katine project is funded by donations from Guardian and Observer readers and Barclays. The Guardian has set up a multimedia project website that serves a dual purpose of transparency and awareness raising:
- to show how donations are being spent and what impact is being achieved
- to discuss and raise awareness about the wider issues of international development.
Below is an article by Amref’s water and sanitation officer, Leonard Kasule, describing issues around costs, technology choice, capacity building and sustainability of water supply in the Katine project.
Providing safe water in Katine
In any rural community, the most essential basic need is access to adequate safe water. In Katine the community has done whatever is within their means to address the water shortage, given the circumstances under which these people are currently living. They have dug open and shallow wells and protected them with logs. However, this does not necessarily mean that water from such sources is safe. Given the topography of the area, during the rainy season run-off water washes faeces into open wells and springs, rendering the water unsafe, especially for drinking.
The directorate of water development, (the arm of the Ministry of Water responsible for rural and urban water supply in Uganda) has set guidelines that any practitioner is supposed to follow before allocating a new water source. The guidelines refer to six critical requirements, which include a capital cost contribution by the community towards materials, which depends on the technology deemed most suitable to that area (for example, materials costs for boreholes would be around UShs 200,000, shallow wells UShs 90,000 and springs UShs 60,000 – around £66, £30 and £20 respectively); at least a 30% improvement in sanitation and hygiene in the area and an offer of land where the water source is to be drilled. The main problem is that the overall cost of putting up a safe water source, be it a borehole, shallow well, spring or even a gravity flow scheme, is very high and is not affordable by most communities in rural Uganda. The current cost of a borehole – materials and digging – is about £5,200. The willingness to pay for safe water is very high in Katine; this is demonstrated by the overwhelming response by the communities during the allocation of new water sources. But what they can afford is not enough, which is why Amref has had to meet the costs in the sub-county.
While there are different ways to provide adequate safe water in Uganda, a number of factors have to be taken into consideration before deciding which is suitable for a particular area. In the north-east region of Uganda, where Katine is found, the most suitable and sustainable option for safe water is digging deep boreholes. This is due to the fact that the topography and terrain is generally flat, semi-arid and characterised by short shrubs, with a very low water table, which means springs and shallow well technologies can be unreliable.
Technologies, such as gravity flow schemes and reliable springs, cannot be used to provide adequate safe water in this region. The other alternative would be rain water harvesting, but, as those who have been to this region will be aware, it is rare to find permanent housing, where iron roofs serve as catchments. (Amref has managed to install rain water harvesting tanks on some of the schools in Katine.) The few shallow wells that are non-seasonal are located along swamps, and the springs that are found in a few areas in this region are artesian in nature and, thus, seasonal.
The people of Katine are very knowledgeable and enterprising. The trauma they have gone through over the past 20 years, from insurgency to cattle rustling by the Karimojong, has left them financially unstable and, therefore, unable to construct safe water sources or contribute adequate money or land towards them.
Villagers have the potential to become self-reliant in future if they can be equipped with the most relevant skills and knowledge on how best to address their problems. And this is the reason why Amref is putting a lot of emphasis on “software” (training) activities in its work in Katine.
A well designed borehole can last for more than 15 years, but, along the way, repairs and new parts will be needed to ensure effective performance. Water user committees are instituted before a water source is drilled or constructed. Amref has helped with the formation of these committees in Katine and trained them to monitor the water sources that we have constructed. Amref has also trained the committees to monitor sources created by the government and other organisations.
Committee members are selected from among the community. They are trained and equipped with relevant skills to effectively manage, operate and maintain the facilities. Issues, such as the enactment of by-laws governing effective water use, sanitation and hygiene improvement around the well compound, fencing with both a live fence (a hedge) and poles are addressed. Above all, the committees are responsible for collecting the user fees – a regular contribution from anyone using the source towards the operation and maintenance of the facility.
Community ownership of all the facilities that development projects and governments establish is the key to sustainable development. In Katine, I am glad to say that we are on the right track, for there is evidence of ownership, willingness to contribute towards operations and maintenance, and the ability of communities to plan and prioritise their needs. For example, the villagers who used the Omulai borehole, in Katine parish, were able to replace the chain when it wore out. As long as the finances of a community are improved, the community will be able to help itself. The government will not need to take over this aspect of the project, apart from committing itself towards addressing any gaps and other community demands and needs that will continue to come up after the project has wound up.
In Uganda today, the water sector is one of the best performing and well-funded sectors. There are about 60 water sources that serve the communities with relatively safe water in Katine sub-county. So far, the project has been able to construct eight new boreholes, five shallow wells and three springs and rehabilitated five springs and repaired three boreholes. The other water sources are those constructed by other development agencies and the government. The major problems in ensuring adequate provision of safe water are the continuous reliance on donor funding, high population growth and the costs of the operation and maintenance of the available facilities.”
See also: Richard M Kavuma, A partnership approach to improving water coverage in Katine, The Guardian, 17 Feb 2010
Source: Leonard Kasule, The Guardian, 01 Feb 2010