A study conducted in the late 1960s recommended corporatised national models as the most efficient option for service delivery in Uganda.
Following this study, National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) was established in 1972 under a government decree. It was charged with the mandate of supplying water and sewerage services in Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe.
However, these efforts were affected by the prevailing political and economic turmoil. The 1970 and early 80s were characterized by infrastructure breakdowns, poor payment, weak human resource capacity and heavy dependence on government subsidies.
In the late 1980s, there were deliberate efforts to improve water supply and sanitation services countrywide. The Government wooed back the technocrats and interested the donor community in the water sector. Subsequently, there was massive infrastructure rehabilitation and system expansion programme.
This saw the towns of Masaka, Tororo, Mbale and Mbarara rehabilitated and handed over to NWSC under the World Bank-
funded Seven Towns Water and Sanitation Programme.
In 1992, a new water treatment plant for Kampala, Ggaba II, was also constructed to increase water production for the growing city, with funding from the European Union.
In 1995, the corporation was re-established under the National Water and Sewerage Statute, 1995 and became commercialized thereafter. Following this, NWSC followed a commercial approach, supported by a tariff review.
As the corporation celebrates 40 years of existence, it does a self-reflection, focusing on its overall contribution to the country's water sector.
The corporation's contribution to Uganda's economy can be partly attested in the growing customer base of which about 80% are domestic, while the rest are industrial and commercial.
So far, NWSC operations have expanded from three towns in 1972 to the current 23 urban centres. These include Kampala, Mukono, Jinja, Lugazi, Entebbe/Kajjansi, Tororo/Malaba, Iganga Mbale, Masaka, Mbarara, Gulu, Lira and Fort-Portal. Others are Kasese, Kabale, Bushenyi/Ishaka, Soroti/ Kaberamaido/Amuria, Arua, Hoima, Masindi and Mubende.
Over the years, the corporation has implemented a number of performance enhancement programmes, which have resulted into a turnaround in its performance.
According to Eng. Alex Gisagara, the corporation's acting managing director, water is vital for sustaining life, promoting development and maintaining the environment and natural habitat for mankind's existence.
Therefore, provision of safe water and sanitation services and their proper management and utilisation, are necessary conditions for good health, economic development and are vital for the welfare of society.
NWSC currently produces about 78 million cubic metres of water per annum compared to 44 million cubic metres per annum in 1998.
The increase in production has been a result of the upgrading of the Ggaba I Water Treatment Plant, construction of the Ggaba III Water Treatment Plant in Kampala and rehabilitation and expansion of other water treatment plants in Kabale, Jinja, Entebbe, Soroti, Gulu, Bushenyi and Arua towns.
This has been further supported by the addition of more towns under NWSC management. Customer care improvement initiatives and the growth in urbanisation and industrialisation have also led to an increase of water sales to the current 52 million cubic metres per annum.
According to Pheona Wall, the principal public relations officer, with recent introduction of the on-spot billing and e-water payment systems, the corporation is poised for a tremendous improvement in water sales.
Resulting from the previous infrastructure improvement and commercialization programmes, the service coverage in the NWSC towns has since increased to the current 75% from 47% in 1998.
Going by the planned water production improvement and network expansion/ rehabilitation programmes in Kampala and other upcountry towns, the corporation envisages doubling the customer base and increasing coverage by an additional 10% in the next decade.
As the corporation reflects on its 40 years of existence, there is need for an increase in water supply and also sanitation challenges that have been fuelled by the increasing urban populations, industrialisation and climate change.
NWSC is also affected by water theft through illegal connections. When road constructions go on, they damage water pipes, there by resulting into leakages, which cost a lot to repair.
"That's why we ask people to report any leakages as soon as possible and also report those stealing water," Wall recommends.
Despite the challenges, the corporation is growing stronger. There are ongoing programmes such as expansion of the networks in Kampala and other towns and construction of a new water treatment plant for Kampala.
Other programmes are rehabilitation and expansion of water and sanitation systems, waste water treatment plants and new sewerage systems for Arua and Bushenyi.
All these will be strengthened to ensure that the intended objectives are realised. "This shall be supported by the planned and ongoing performance improvement programmes such as water loss control, staff retention and motivation, customer care improvement and institutional development," says Gisagara.