Residents in Rubirizi District were excited when National Water and Sewerage Cooperation (NSWC) launched operations in their area in mid-2015. There was hope that the move would herald a new era where residents would get clean and affordable water that had eluded them for long.
Instead, officials, including a minister, who turned up later for the formal launch of piped water supplies in the area were booed by angry residents at Nyakasharu trading center where the function took place.
The latest anger by residents was over the cost of water under the new venture-- Shs 200 for a 20-liter jerry can. The price was five times higher than the Shs 37 the residents in the rural district had expected to pay. Their complaints fell on deaf ears.
The leaders and officials, including former Water and Environment minister Ephraim Kamuntu, who was the chief guest, NWSC managing director, Silver Mugisa, local leaders including area woman MP Grace Kasande , Bunyaruguru County MP, John Twesigye Ntamuhira and the district chairperson Rev Fr Silver Agubashongwire found a hard time calming down the residents.
"NWSC has subjected us to urban setting charges, which has proved to be problematic as many of us have resorted to using unprotected sources for water. NWSC has failed to streamline the charges at public tap stands as vendors charge different rates with some charging as high as Shs 200 per 20 liters of jerry can," Mr Abdu Ndyanabo, the LC1 chairman Ndekye Cell, Ndekye Sub-county, told Daily Monitor in an interview.
Residents also complained about the possibility of faulty meters which result in exorbitant readings. Another issue is the increase in connection fees from the original Shs 105,000 that was communicated at the start.
"NWSC should also rein in its vendors to charge a uniform and affordable fee at all tap stands and also to check their water meters for compliance. Intensive sensitization and user education ought to be done on issues of tariffs, new connections, disconnections and extensions whenever they occur." Mr Twesigye said.
Mr Mugisa explained that residents need to understand how systems work to extend services to them much as they are needed.
"In all towns across the country where our services reach, people give us something little and by this we are able to extend water to them. We no longer give free things. We only collect Shs 21 million out of Shs 25million and we inject back Shs 20million in staff allowances, salaries, and repairing damaged pipes," he said.
The anger by the residents at the NWSC event was symbolic of the long standing water challenges residents of Rubirizi District, only carved out of Bushenyi District in July 2010, have had to endure.
A paradox exists. Rubirizi District, with a population of 130,300 people, is rich in water resources. It has about 32 crater lakes, in addition to boasting a good share of lakes Edward and George. To an outsider this should translate into abundant water for an area with such a small population. The district is, however, water-stressed.
Women and children need to overcome steep hills and a distance of more than 3 kilometers on average to fetch water from the crater lakes. Some face harder challenges. Many like the elderly who cannot trek the long distances resort to nearby free water sources--many contaminated--contributing to the waterborne diseases that plague the communities. It is worse for public facilities like schools and health facilities which require large quantities of water.
Besides the long distances residents have to trek, fetching water in the crater lakes is also dangerous. There are crocodiles and hippos lurching in the waters. Loss of life is not uncommon. Residents in search of water also risk being attacked by wild animals like lions from the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Also, many of the crater lakes are not easily accessible, posing a great threat of drowning to the communities who use them. Women and children have many times drowned in the lakes. In May 2015, for instance, a woman drowned in Lake Nkugute (Rutoto).
In addition, these lakes are many meters deep and have hence drained most of the areas, which has lowered the water table thus making it extremely difficult to locate viable places for point water sources development like shallow wells, boreholes and protected springs. Experts say the areas in which people reside are located at higher altitude than the existing system, and have no access to safe water.
District leaders blame the problem that threatens to worsen on underfunding.
"It is so disheartening, unfair and strange that despite this bad water situation in the district, the ministry of Water decided to cut the funding for the water subsector for the FY 2016/17 from Shs 522M to Shs 325M. As a district, we strongly feel that the ministry can do better than this and instead increase our funding," Mr Agubanshongorera, the Rubirizi LC5 chairman says.
In July 2015, former Water and Environment minister Kamuntu toured the district in an attempt to find solutions to the water problem. The highlight of his trip was the Bunyaruguru /Rubirizi Gravity Flow Scheme question that had been problematic to every office including that of President.
The minister committed to have a new transmission line to Rugazi reservoir tanks installed, removing the asbestos line from Nkugute Lake in Rutoto to the treatment plant, and to improve its operation and maintenance function.
Other steps suggested were replacing the sand filter medium with graded sand from Entebbe and providing a supply line to Rutoto trading center and its neighborhood.
Some of the commitments, like the transmission line and removal of asbestos pipes, were met.
The replacement of the sand filter medium with well graded sand from Entebbe and providing a supply line to Rutoto trading center, however, have yet to be undertaken. The result is that the water supplied is visibly dirty, hence posing a threat to the health of the residents.
The people around Rutoto (Nkugute) lake are still expecting a water line that was promised to them.
Several challenges exist that Greater Bushenyi NWSC Area manager, Mr Francis Kateeba, says have hampered their efforts to provide services in the area.
The challenges, he says, are irregular water supply due to inadequate supply from the treatment plant, unplanned rationing caused by illegal users, congested service lines, delayed repair works on damaged pipes during road construction, among others, which impede water access in the areas of Karagara, Kataara, Mirambi, Kyarutakoba, Nyakashozi.
"We also have challenges of limited expansion in terms of extension caused by a limited budget by the district local government, inadequate treatment and irregular cleaning of tanks, thus compromising quality," says Mr Kateeba. Areas of Kataara, Kyambura, Kyenzaza, and Kirugu get water on average 12 hours a week.
Some leaders in the area have proposed zoning of areas between rural and urban and different tariffs be set accordingly. They also want installation of prepaid water meters for public tap stands.
According to the LC5 chairperson, during the last campsigns for the 2016 elections, the president during his rally in Rubirizi District pledged to look into the issue of providing free water to the people of Rubirizi.
"President Museveni promised to send the minister in charge of water to come and give a final word on this issue. We request that a conclusion be made as the president promised," he says.
The district is running out of water source points to protect yet the water coverage is still low. The only alternative is resorting to piped water systems which require great capital investments that are beyond the current capacity of the district.
The district local government has so far made five designs for schemes of Lake Rwijongo-Kyambura pumped water system (1.1bn), Lake Kyema to Butoha scheme(815m), Kanyashande water system(450), Kyabakara Gravity Water Scheme(820m), Nyabutukura (242m).