For decades, it has seemed as if the Karamoja sub- region and its inhabitants are endlessly stuck in a rut of under-development.
Bad roads, sporadic outbreak of gun violence and the harsh weather have combined to conjure an image of destitution in a sub-region that is otherwise blessed with a number of eye-catching features ranging from the imposing figure of Akilek hill to the cultural setup.
Yet gradually, this image has started to change in parts of the sub-region thanks largely to the efforts of the government, civil society organisations and donor groups. Through the Karamoja Livelihoods Programme (KALIP), a government initiative being implemented with funding from the European Union, two districts in the sub-region now boast a number of water sources.
Water scarcity has been a big challenge in the sub-region where the major economic activity is pastoralism. Little wonder that when The Observer visited recently, it was evident that the new developments had brought joy and relief to the people.
Peter Onyang, whom we found tending to his cattle in Nabilatuk, Nakapiripirit said the availability of water had made life easier.
"I used to take my cattle to culverts under roads where water would collect when it rained since there were hardly any water sources around," he said, grinning.
Before this water point in Nabilatuk was constructed, Onyang had to trek with his herd to Narakurio, a seasonal river, which is located seven kilometres away. The water point in Nabilatuk, like many others in the sub-region, is essentially a rock catchment area that guides rainwater off a rock to a covered underground reservoir tank.
Federico Soranzo, the coordinator for Karamoja Activities at Cooperation and Development (C&D), one of the organisations constructing water structures in the sub-region, said this method of trapping water using a rock is less costly and more effective compared to say, the valley dams.
He said the runoff from small rain showers produced large volumes of water that can be easily be trapped and stored to provide water for animals and to irrigate gardens. Soranzo says this method is not only convenient for Karamoja because of its giant rocks but also due to the fact that a rock surface of one hectare can provide 1,000 cubic metres of water from every 100mm of rain.
Another rock catchment area in Matany, Amudat, has had a positive impact to the livelihood and life of the people there. Roseline Loritei, 22, a mother of four children, was ecstatic about what the development has done for her.
"I used to walk for about 7km to collect water for my family and now that has reduced to just a half a kilometre," she said.
"It is now very easy for me to cook and wash clothes because of the abundance of water and the short distance to the rock catchment area."
Although the rock catchment in Matany has been embraced enthusiastically by the community, Loritei thinks her village could do more with other types of water projects because during the long dry spells, the rock catchment is not able to harvest water.
This means they have to travel to distant places in search of water. Amudat and Nakapiripirit have a combined total of six rock catchment structures, nine subsurface dams, 16 water ponds and only one valley dam.
Decades of underdevelopment have resulted in extremely weak local governance structures in the sub-region; the local leadership cannot implement neither supervise which community projects. This has created a gap that is now being ably filled by NGOs and other aid groups.
Yet given a combined population of 166,251 for the Nakapiripirit and Amudat districts and a cattle population of 186,701, the water structures built under KALIP are clearly not enough. John Lorot, the Nakapiripirit district chairperson, said although KALIP had achieved a lot of its objectives, the project needed to be extended beyond the four years because a lot more needs to be done.
However, Ismail Musa Onzu, the chief administrative officer of Amudat, was happy about KALIP's successes.
"Since many animals are no longer dying as a result of drought because of the numerous water resources that KALIP has established, we need to find ways to help the Karimajong find a market for their surplus," Onzu said.
Onzu stressed the importance of helping the communities in the sub- region to become drought- resilient through the construction of other types of water resources. If these developments come to pass, the prospects of the sub-region look bright in the not-so-distant future.
And maybe the tractor shall replace the herding stick as the living conditions of the people improve.
Nakapiripirit and Amudat make up what is known as the wet belt of the Karamoja sub-region. They are known as the wet belt because they receive an annual average rainfall of 1,000mm compared to other parts that get an annual average of 400mm. The ethnic groups here include the Pokot, Chekwi, Pian and Kadam.
These groups derive most of their livelihood from pastoralism since rainfall is not sufficient to support agriculture. However, a key challenge for communities is shortage of water during long periods of drought. The rivers and springs dry up, leading to loss of herds and drying of crops.
Figures from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) show that while the Karimojong make up approximately three per cent of Uganda's population, 80 per cent of the households in this sub-region own 20 per cent of the nation's cattle; 16 per cent of its goats and nearly half of all sheep in the country.