Uganda, a landlocked country in East Africa, has a population of approximately 44 million people and, according to the UK’s WaterAid analysis, over 20.2 million people lack access to safe water. The water crisis in Uganda is arguably one of the most significant public health challenges facing the country today, with devastating consequences for both human health and the environment.
In its 2016 Water & Environment Sector Performance Measurement Framework report, the government of Uganda announced its pledge to make safe and affordable drinking water available to all by 2030. To achieve this target, investments were promised in adequate infrastructure, sanitation facilities would be provided, good hygiene practices would be encouraged and water ecosystems would be protected and restored.
However, for the last seven years, access to clean and safe drinking water has remained a persistent challenge for the vast majority of Ugandans despite the country being blessed with diverse and plentiful water sources including lakes, rivers, hidden groundwater reserves, thriving wetlands and a tropical climate that is conducive to rainfall.
Sanitation is also a challenge in Uganda with 22.9% of the population using open defecation which leads to the spread of water-borne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid which are rampant in Uganda, especially among young children.
Factors driving water crisis
The water crisis in Uganda is being exacerbated by a combination of factors such as poor sanitation, inadequate infrastructure, rapid population growth, and the effects of climate change. In the rural regions of Uganda where an estimated 65% of the population reside, access to safe water remains particularly scarce.
The lack of piped water connections forces many Ugandans to rely heavily on unclean rivers, unprotected springs, and even swamps, thereby exposing them to waterborne diseases. Access to the water from these unsafe sources often involves long and arduous journeys which also deprives people, especially women and children, of valuable time that could otherwise be used for education or to gain income.
Climate change is adding fuel to this already burning issue. As a country located right on the equator, Uganda is greatly affected by the impact of the shifts in weather patterns. Drought periods have become longer and more frequent which dwindles the already limited water supply.
All the underlying implications of the water crisis in Uganda cause serious ripple effects on education, health, and economic productivity. Children, often girls, who are forced to fetch water, not only miss out on education but also continue to remain in a cycle of poverty.
Efforts to address the crisis
However, despite the grave situation, hope is not entirely lost. There are ongoing initiatives by the government, NGOs, international organizations, and other stakeholders to address the water crisis. Non-profit organizations such as Water.org have partnered with local organizations in the country to provide access to safe and clean water to over 500,000 people. The organization has funded the implementation of water and sanitation programs in schools, health centers, and communities as well.
Aside from its 2016 pledge, the Ugandan government has also set up the Water for Production Projects which aims to promote sustainable water management practices to support farming activities in rural areas.
What has changed?
According to the United Nations’ 2020 Voluntary National Review, Uganda had a minor increase in the proportion of the urban population using an upgraded drinking water source from 71% in 2016 to 79% in 2019, while in rural areas this grew from 65% to 69% over the same period. The same report also claimed that the proportion of communities with a safe water supply increased from 64% in 2017 to 66% in 2019.
Water sources in Uganda are under threat from increasing pollution and a higher demand for water from a growing population as well as industrialization, urbanization, agriculture, hydropower, the lack of water-related ecosystems, and the effects of climate change. The country has stated that in order to achieve universal access to even basic sanitation facilities by 2030, the present annual rate of progress would have to be doubled.
The water crisis in Uganda is not only a pressing environmental and health concern but also a significant barrier to national growth and development. It is a call to action for everyone – governments, international organizations, local communities, and individuals alike – to contribute to resolving this issue.