In Busimbi village, Lwengo district, many families spend hours each day walking long distances to fetch clean water.
They are facing a crisis of shortage of safe and clean water after many of the water sources were contaminated, putting them at risk of contracting water-borne diseases.
Besides Busimbi, the other villages in Lwengo facing water crisis are Malango, Kengwe, Kitongole, Kiteredde and Bamunanika.
Deus Nakavuma, a resident of Busimbi village, explained the struggle she undergoes to get clean and safe water. She says she spends more than 4 hours walking to look for clean water from a nearby source which is approximately 6 kilometres away from her home.
Given this situation, Nakavuma says she bathes twice or thrice a week and the scarcity of clean water in the village has forced the locals to share water with animals.
“Women are facing it rough; For men they don’t care, they want to find food on the table. We have food in plenty but our problem is water and poor roads as you can see,” she says as her face shows an expression of anguish.
A spatial map developed by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) indicates that 11 million people live without access to clean water in Uganda, leading them to make difficult and risky choices.
Unsafe water is one of the largest barriers to eradicating extreme poverty.
Elias Byayano Amahoro, a resident of Kikanika village in Kyazanga sub county, Lwengo, says that most villages in Kyazanga depend on “dirty water” which takes a long process to purify for home use.
“Imagine walking for more than 6 kilometres looking for water and sometimes you come back home without it. You can find approximately 160 people lining up and waiting to fetch water,” he says.
Amahoro believes the government can do something to change the situation, saying that this is an issue which cannot be ignored unless the people in this area have been abandoned.
“The water is not safe at all but we have nothing to do, we use it as it is. The worst thing is we fetch it from far away,” he says.
While the government says water coverage stands at 63% nationally, in 130 sub-counties (out of 1,024 countrywide), it is also below 39%.
Equally, there is disparity in the functionality of water facilities across districts. This in turn affects people’s livelihoods and in the long run affects national efforts to achieve sustainable development goals.
Scovia Njenda, a resident in Busimbi village, uses three jerry cans in a day and this is not enough but given the hardships in accessing clean water points, she has to use it sparingly to prepare all house activities such as cooking, bathing among others.
“I have six children and we need to wash, bathe, drink and cook but the water is not good for drinking. My children bathe twice or three times a week and the rest of the days they just wash their feet and faces,” she says.
Njenda walks at least 8 kilometres to get to a clean water source which is located at Kyazanga town council, a situation which is very tiresome not only for her but for the entire family.
She says she had resorted to buying water but a 20-litre jerry can go for between Shs1,000 and Shs1,500, depending on location. This is expensive for a family that lives hand to mouth.
A study conducted by Makerere University Institutional Repositor in 2021 in Kyazanga and Malongo Sub counties in Lwengo showed that there was only one reliable and all-season source of water.
It revealed that on average, families spent three hours a day searching for clean water and in extreme cases travelled distances of up to 20 Km.
Schools, the study revealed, were also significantly affected with pupils spending substantial school time searching for water for personal use at school and for teachers.
Benon Mporanzi, a priest at Kikanika Church of Uganda in Lwengo, says the locals are living at the mercy of God in regard to clean and safe water in the village.
“We have plenty of food. When it rains all farming activities move on smoothly but the main issue is safe water for drinking. We are the supporters of NRM [party in power] but we don’t know what we did wrong, “he says.
According to Mporanzi, they have on several occasions raised this issue with the responsible authorities but their pleas seem to have fallen into deaf ears.
“One can fall sick and you look for water and you fail to find clean and safe water for drinking. We thought the government had the ability to extend water to some of these areas. If God can open the eyes of our leaders, perhaps this matter can be addressed,” he says.
No solution in sight.
Oliver Kyoheirwe, Councilor representing Kyazanga sub county who led us on a tour of some of the water stressed villages in the district says women have been hit hardest.
“Women are the most affected people in some of these areas because men come home and want to see everything is fine. Some women spend more than three days without bathing or washing and you can easily see the situation,” she says.
Lwengo has 1,471 domestic water points which serve a total of 210,844 people according to a report from the district’s water department. It currently has only 15 functioning valley dams and 149 bore holes, according to the same report.
301 water points have been non-functional for over five years and are considered abandoned.
Fred Lugalambi, the district water engineer said there is no scarcity of water in Lwengo but the type of water in the district and the quality is where the issue lies especially in the affected sub counties.
“It is alkaline with minerals to the extent that even cattle cannot drink it. We have ponds but there are a lot of minerals. You cannot use [that water] to cook food. Some bore holes were constructed but did not last long. They start absorbing these minerals,” he says.
He says they want to rectify the situation but lack funds.
In the 2022/2023 national budget, Shs 622 million was earmarked for provision of water in rural areas, but the district officials said this money can only construct a few wells and boreholes yet the demand for permanent water sources in the district is very high.
At least Shs 4 billion is needed to address the water challenge in the district, according to the district officials. The main cause of the water crisis in the district is environmental degradation, high level of salinity among others.
Last financial year, the district was able to install five water tanks of 30,000 litres in addition to two big dams and two bore holes using government funds. This, the officials say, is a drop in the ocean.
Lugalambi says the National Water Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) is responsible for ensuring safe and clean water in the district. Ibrahim Kitatta, the Lwengo district chairperson, too, blamed NWSC for the water crisis.
“In the 21st century, people still share water with animals. Our roads are pathetic. In most of the areas people are buying water which is very expensive. People in Lwengo are poor, we have no access to proper medication,” he says.
But the NWSC Public Relations Manager, Samuel Apedel says there is a massive project that is being undertaken in the district to address the shortage of clean and safe water.
Apedel says some of the areas in the districts are outside their jurisdiction, adding that it is only urban centres and municipalities that are handled by NWSC. Small towns and rural areas are catered for by the Directorate of Rural Water, which is under the jurisdiction of the minister of Water and Environment.
“NWSC only goes where the government has sent them. So those areas you have mentioned are not under our jurisdiction,” he says.
While officials can trade blame on who is responsible for the crisis, the affected people in Lwengo want tangible solutions to their unending predicament. For now, they can only sit and wait.
The story is produced by The Nile Post with support from the Media Challenge Initiative (MCI) and DW Akademie.