KAMPALA, Uganda — Enclosing the southern border of Uganda, Lake Victoria’s glistening pool paints a deceptive portrait to visitors. Impossible to miss while one is driving through the bustling cities of Entebbe and Kampala, it adds a calmness to the otherwise congested landscape. Ugandans in neighboring rural villages pay daily visits to fetch their water. And perhaps the only things more infectious than the picturesque views are, unfortunately, the diseases it harbors.
Sub-saharan African countries have made great strides in water sanitation, but Uganda lags behind. Seventy-five percent of diseases in the country are attributed to poor sanitation, according to the Ministry of Health. Only 34 percent of Uganda’s population has access to hygienic toilets, according to the World Health Organization.
Rural areas particularly suffer from unsanitary conditions. In unplanned urban settlements near Kampala, the cost of clean water is triple the amount in planned urban communities, according to water.org. Thus, rural populations seek other water sources causing outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery. One village hugging Lake Victoria’s coast even adapted the name Walumbe, meaning “death” due to the dire conditions of the villagers’ sole water source.
The Ugandan government allocates just $2 million annually towards sanitation funds. In a 2013 Human Rights Watch report, it was noted that funds intended to facilitate public services had been misused. Uganda’s own Ministry of Water and Environment reported that the nation lost more than $25 million between 2002 and 2009 due to water sector corruption.
“Uganda’s image as a model for good governance is essentially a thing of the past,” said former U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier.
This national corruption has shifted the burden to local communities in efforts to combat poor sanitation in Uganda. NGOs and aid agencies have spearheaded well installation. For the vast majority of rural Ugandans, clean water comes from a nearby well. Building these is a relatively simple process however, maintenance requires more systematic oversight.
Many argue that locally operated initiatives will provide the best long term solutions. Community Led Total Sanitation, or CTLS, has served as a relatively effective system. The project, which began as an initiative in Bangladesh in 1999, is managed by local health officials and has recently worked its way through Ugandan villages. Sanitation in Uganda’s Kibuku district has gone from 47 percent to 84 percent since the program began in 2011, according to Paul Mulomi, Secretary for Health Education for the district.
However, the program has been known to shame citizens into sanitary behavior, rather than educating them on its importance. Its tactics include offering villagers glasses of water with human waste in it and having townspeople show officials where they defecate.
Responsible, institutionalized oversight is required to maintain the strides made by these NGOs. Locally led efforts promoting education appear to serve as the best route to cleanliness as the Uganda continues to battle government corruption.
– Ellie Sennett