Securing Water Futures - Climate-Proofing Uganda's Urban Water Systems

25 May 2024
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African Development Bank (Abidjan)

Uganda is renowned for its lush landscapes and abundant water sources, but climate change is creating a severe threat to urban water systems. Increasingly, the impact of variable rainfall patterns is evident in extreme hydrological events - floods and droughts.

Coupled with surging urban populations, these extreme events are stressing water supply and sanitation infrastructure, leading to frequent service interruptions and heightened vulnerability to waterborne diseases.

Uganda's urban infrastructure has long struggled to keep pace with rapid population growth and the escalating pressures of environmental change. The region's susceptibility to floods and droughts exacerbates an already dire situation, disrupting water and sanitation services and impacting public health.

"Climate change primarily affects us through water, either by excess or scarcity. This is why integrating climate change considerations into water management is crucial. Enhancing the resilience of water and sanitation systems to climate variability complements our ongoing efforts to ensure that water is available, accessible, and sustainable for current and future generations," says Osward Chanda, African Development Bank's Director for Water Development and Sanitation.

Recognizing the urgent need for resilient infrastructure, the government of Uganda and development partners who include Multilateral Development Banks like the African Development and the World Bank, as well as other partners like KfW, UNICEF and Austria Development Corporation laid out a plan to revolutionize how cities manage their water systems given the effects of climate variability and change. Improved water resources management is one of the most cost-effective ways to adapt to climate change, and inclusive access to safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene services is fundamental to household and community climate change resilience.

The third phase of the Promoting Climate Resilient Urban Infrastructure in Lake Victoria Water and Sanitation Project aims to put climate resilience at the heart of urban water management, with technical assistance approved by the Bank and the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) Pilot Program for Climate Resilience Business (PPCR), under the Business Development for Resilience Program (BDRP) window. It will advance one important component of Uganda's underlying climate resilience priorities from its 2017 CIF Strategic Program for Climate Resilience.

The first phase of the program, funded by the Bank and implemented through the UN-HABITAT, focused on 10 towns in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. These were expanded in the second phase to 15 towns across the Lake Victoria basin in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, benefiting approximately 60,000 people.

The third phase of the program has benefited from lessons from the first two phases and emphasized the need for infrastructure investments to be accompanied by institutional capacity building for sustainable water services. This Phase III integrates measures to build climate change resilience, incorporating weather statistics, real-time water resource tracking, strengthened early warning systems, and climate considerations into system design, supported by the CIF program for climate risk analyses and investment programming.

The objectives are as follows: enhance the durability and reliability of water supply and sanitation infrastructure to withstand climate-induced extremes; incorporate advanced technological solutions and green infrastructure to improve water and sanitation system adaptability and efficiency; and foster good governance and community participation in water management, to ensure that solutions are sustainable and locally relevant.

Consistently clean water supply and effective waste management will lower health risks created by inadequate water and sanitation.

The first step is to conduct vulnerability assessments in major urban centers to pinpoint infrastructural weaknesses. The next step involves implementing resilient urban water and sanitation supply systems to ensure year-round access and services. It also includes enhancing adaptive capacity by strengthening the regulatory framework, to improve preparatory and contingency planning for extreme events, a necessity in regions prone to sudden climatic changes.

Water monitoring and distribution in Ugandan cities will be transformed by deploying smart-grid water technologies that make real-time adjustments to match use and supply. Water shortages during droughts and overflows during heavy rainfall can be significantly mitigated by this technology.

Anthony Nyong, African Development Bank's Director for Climate Change and Green Growth stated, "The Bank remains committed to climate-proofing Uganda's urban water and sanitation systems as a transformative step towards strengthening the resilience of communities and fostering sustainable development. By enhancing the climate resilience of the water and sanitation infrastructure, our goal is to ensure that every citizen has access to clean water and sanitation, improving health and quality of life in urban areas in a more climate-resilient manner. In this regard, this technical assistance demonstrates our dedication to building resilient infrastructure in Uganda that can thrive in the face of environmental and climate uncertainties."

An estimated half a million residents in greater Gomba, Bugadde and Rakai, especially those living in informal settlements previously underserved by infrastructure, stand to benefit directly.

By bolstering urban water resilience - a long-term project benefit - Uganda will become more attractive for economic investment that advances sustainable development. The project will also serve as a model for similar regions facing climate challenges, demonstrating the advantages of proactive climate adaptation and community engagement.

Uganda's proactive approach to integrating climate considerations into urban water and sanitation system planning is a forward-looking commitment to sustainable and resilient urban development. It addresses current challenges and also sets a precedent for other nations, ensuring that urban areas can thrive amid the increasing unpredictability of global climate patterns.

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