Uganda: Handwashing Dilemma in Water Scarce Regions

One of the basic preventive measures against coronavirus is frequent handwashing using water and soap.

While households with piped water can adhere to this directive, families living in water stressed areas are finding it a challenge.

President Museveni has continuously advised Ugandans to opt for this measure because it is cheaper than using hand sanitisers.

Some individuals also use soap and water to clean surfaces because according to the World Health Organisation, Covid-19 may persist on surfaces for a few hours or several days depending on different conditions such as temperature and humidity.

However, in some communities, people trek long distances to get water. For insance, Mr Mark Abuku, the Kaabong District chairperson, says the directive is mainly observed in trading centres and institutions such as health centres.

"Very few people frequently wash their hands because of lack of adequate water," he says, adding that residents only access water from several kilometres away from their villages.

Ms Annet Lokong, 60, a resident of Lolelia Sub-county is one of such people.

"I wake up every morning to walk to the stream to fetch a jerrycan of water. The distance between my hut and stream is about three kilometres and I can only manage to carry one jerry can at a time," Ms Lokong says.

"Although our leaders are always encouraging us to frequently wash our hands, I cannot keep washing hands. It is tiresome going back and forth to the stream," she adds.

Mr Abuku fears that lack of water could cause an outbreak.

"If the pandemic sneaks into our region, the repercussions will be very high because a number of locals are negligent. They are not obeying the directives," he says.

Residents have also been warned against handshaking to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Richard Wambi, the Kotido District deputy chief administrative officer, admits that water is crucial in fighting the pandemic.

"Our people cannot afford the sanitisers and even if they could, where will they access them in Kotido? That is why we have resorted to using water to fight the enemy," Mr Wambi says.

He, however, notes that water accessibility in the district remains a challenge.

"Whereas we have water sources, our people are mobile. For instance, whenever authorities drill a water source, residents move to another place where there is no water. We have a number of abandoned boreholes in the region because people are always moving from place to place," Mr Wambi says.

"These are the same people you find looking for water from a longer distance and once they find any kind of water, whether stagnant or dirty, it is what they use," he adds.

Mr Wambi also notes that the district Covid-19 taskforce is currently carrying out sensitisation campaigns about hand washing to fight the pandemic.

Refugee camps

Water scarcity challenges are also prominent in refugee settlement areas but they are developing strategies to ensure constant supply of clean water.

Mr Solomon Osakan, a refugee desk officer involved in the coordination and monitoring of refugee activities in the West Nile Sub-region, says partnerships have been formed with different organisations to handle the water crisis.

"For instance, Water Mission Uganda, an implementing partner receiving funds from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has been given the mandate to handle water crisis issues in the Rhino refugee settlement which stretches more than 60 kilometers apart," Mr Osakan says.

"They fix malfunctioned boreholes and pump water from another area, load it on a truck before distributing it to refugees within the settlement," he adds.

Communities also harvest rain water to supplement the efforts.

Mr Osakan also says there are also organisations and partners such as World Vision International which deliver boxes of soap to refugee communities in West Nile.

A 2019 Water and Environment Sector Performance Report issued by the Ministry of Water and Environment highlights different challenges the country faces in addressing the water crisis.

These include the overwhelming demand for water supply improvement in rural areas versus the resource envelope, district water offices operating under extreme constraints to deliver safe and clean water services to the community and vandalism of the water infrastructure to sell as scrap.

Others are limited funding, creation of new districts affecting the budgets allocated to other districts, among other issues.

The report proposes a multiple approach to a water supply system to ensure a water source per village through large gravity flow schemes, giving continuous technical support to district local governments in order to minimise capacity gaps in budgeting and planning, ensuring integrated planning to mitigate the delay in execution in contracts.

Water provision in rural and urban areas

-According to a 2019 Water and Environment Sector Performance Report issued by Uganda's Ministry of Water and Environment, the main technology options used for water supply improvements in rural areas include deep boreholes (44.3 per cent), shallow wells (23.4 per cent), and protected springs (21 per cent). Others include stands/kiosks of piped schemes and rainwater harvesting tanks.

As of June 2019, the national safe water coverage in rural areas was estimated at 69 per cent.

There was a decline from 70 per cent as of June 2018. The percentage of rural villages with safe water supply stagnated due to villages increasing more than the number of water facilities.

-Functionality of small towns and rural growth centres piped water supply systems increased from 93 per cent in June 2018 to 94.3 per cent in June 2019.

And as of June 2019, large towns under National Water and Sewerage Corporation, had an average of 18 hours per day of service.

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