Our latest post from guest author and Ugandan journalist, Sarah Tumwebaze, tells the story of the water crisis in Ndejje, Uganda. This story reminds us of the importance of follow-up on past well/borehole projects, as well as the severe need for borehole rehabilitation throughout Uganda.
A bunch of children between the age of four and ten run down the steep path that leads to Nakatigi well. They are in a rush to get water and be on their way back home because it’s only an hour to lunch and they have to take the water in time for the preparation of the meal.
The water they are rushing to fetch is brown in colour and very dirty. But to them, this water is safe and they are going to use it for cooking. One of them says with a smile, “We have been using this water since childhood because our parents cannot afford to pay Shs10,000 ($4) every year to use water from the borehole but we have never fallen sick.”
Nakatigi well is one of the two wells in Ndejje Town council a suburb found 42 kilometers away from Kampala, the capital City of Uganda. This town that sits on 200acres of land boosts of a population of 7000 people. It has seven boreholes of which only four are functional plus two water taps which are owned by individuals in the area.
Ndejje was a war torn area in the 1980s. During this time, all they had were two shallow wells. By then, most of the people that were staying there had fled for dear life and thus the two wells were enough. When the war ended in 1987, people started coming back into the area.
The returning residents were in big numbers that the two wells were no longer enough for them. To fill up the water gap, government and other Non Government Organisations (NGOs) offered to construct boreholes for the residents. Mr Bemba Mulindwa the chairperson of the area explains that the first three boreholes were constructed in 1987, two were constructed in 1997, one was constructed in 1999 and the last one which not in operation any more was constructed in 2005.
According to Mr Ismail Funko Wenwa a resident of the area for 30 years now, “In the past, we had to walk for at least five kilometers to get water.” He says that they would wake up every morning at 5am and take the long trek to the nearest borehole which was five kilometers away from home.
Wenwa explains that the reason for waking up at such a time was because they had to come back home in time to get ready for school at 8a.m.
However, at times the water levels of the nearest borehole would go down, “and when this happened, we had to go to the next borehole which was eight kilometers away from home,” he elucidates.
Wenwa who is now the youth leader of Ndejje town council says, “at least the situation has changed and people have to move for at most two kilometers to get water.” However, he is speaking from the angel of those that can easily access the water in the area.
But for people like Mr Michael Kiwanuka the father of one of the children I found at Nakatigi well, it’s a different story, “Water is a big problem.”
He explains that every one that wishes to use water from the borehole has to pay money ($4 per year) which he does not have. “For that reason, we have to use water from the Nakatigi well. Its very dirty but we do not have a choice. At times it’s clean especially after it has rained but during the dry season, it’s very dirty.”
He adds that on days when the water is very dirty, “We request people that paid for the borehole water to help us get a jerrican or two for cooking while we use the water from the well for washing.”
According to what Mr Bemba says, Kiwanuka is not the only one that uses water from that well but quite a number of people. “The clean water we have in Ndejje is enough for only 3000 people. The remaining 4000 have to struggle to get water and among these are the ones that use dirty water from shallow wells.”
He explains that even the four boreholes at times are not enough during the dry season because during this time of the year, the water levels go down. Thus it’s hard to pump water out of the two functional boreholes which are shallow.
This is true because a few meters away from Nakatigi well is Nakatigi borehole. But by the time I was there, the borehole was not pumping water. According to Wenwa, the water level had gone down and thus people in that areas had to wait for at least five hours for the water level to rise again. He further explains that this happens many times and in such cases people have to improvise.
“During such times, people are forced to either walk to the nearest borehole which is one kilometer away, buy water from the tap where a jerrican costs Shs100 ($0.03) or pay someone Sh300 ($0.09) to collect a jerrican of water for them.”
One would wonder why the locals do not use the money they collect from the residents every year for constructing new boreholes. But Mr Bemba explains that the money collected is used to maintain the borehole, in terms of cleaning.
He adds that in 2007 when Ndejje was turned in to a town council, the government promised to give them tapped water, “but its now been five years since we got that promise but noting has been done.”
The water situation in Ndejje according to the chair person has left the residents of the area with various aliments and infections. He says that most of them especially the children suffer from skin diseases and diahorea.
This is confirmed by Mulindwa who says, “My children normally suffer from skin diseases and stomach discomfort. I think it’s as a result of the water we use for cooking.”
Another mishap caused by the water inaccessibility in Ndejje is the uncleanliness of the residents. “Whenever we call for a meeting regarding the cleanliness of people’s homes to rule out diseases like Cholera which was recently in Luwero District, residents cite the water problem as their major hindrance,” Bemba explains with a shrug.
At the moment, the chair person is afraid that as the population increases because of the various schools mushrooming in the area, “ In the next two years, water scarcity will turn out to be a bigger problem than it is right now.”