More than 20 years of conflict in northern Uganda have led to an abandoned and destroyed water infrastructure, as most citizens lack access to sanitary drinking water.
By Heather Rousseau
Circle of Blue
In post-war northern Uganda people are struggling as they return home to find scarce, unsanitary water.
From the early 1980’s until 2006 civil war in the region left thousands of people dead and millions of others displaced. Since late 2007, more than half of the 1.8 million internally displace persons (IDP), began to return to their origins from camps, according to UNICEF.
As communities re-settle, humanitarian organizations like Action Against Hunger | ACF International (ACF), are using advanced technology to help refugees help themselves.
“They are able to restart their lives, they might be farmers and they might own land, now that it is safe to go back they have an invested interest. Life and opportunity is very difficult,” said Nick Radin, water sanitation and hygiene advisor with ACF.
With dry and limited natural resources, northern Uganda is a”chronic and complex emergency,” according to Radin.
By 2012 ACF plans to develop 28 boreholes and rehabilitate 16 others, while adding 16 rainwater harvesting tanks, reports The Daily Monitor.
“As people return home, the need for services such as water and sanitation cannot be underscored since development of infrastructure had not taken place in the areas that were insecure,” said Rudo Kwaramba, Uganda’s national director of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization that is implementing WASH-related programs in the area.
ACF is using borehole-drilling technology in assisting local communities in the Gulu and Lira regions of Northern Uganda. The drill taps as deep as 396 feet (120 meters) into the aquifers for safe potable water.
A hand-dug well where a bucket and rope is used to extract water is difficult to keep contaminate free because it not ceiled like a borehole. A borehole is capped with a hand pump. A hand dug well only 66 feet (20 meters) deep and is prone to more groundwater contaminates.
Borehole drilling technology is not widely available in Uganda and requires years of research and technical training. ACF trains communities to look after the operation and maintenance of a well or pump while also engaging government rural water departments to ensure sustainable infrastructure. These wells can last for about 20 years, Radin told Circle of Blue.
One-third of the population in Uganda does not have access to clean water, while 50 percent of the population is without sanitation facilities, reports Water Aid.
Contaminates in northern parts of the country are mainly caused by human and animal fecal mater. Maintaining access to sanitary water requires hygienic practices such as washing hands and using latrines.
“Behavioral change is very import and people are probably less reluctant to change if you can demonstrate impact,” Radin said.
“If we manage to get people to defecate in latrines, to wash hands after and to consume safe water, that is a major major achievement.”
As water systems are reformed, ACF hopes to also reform gender roles.
“ACF challenges the male-led community structure and empowers women to join men as part of the water point management committee. As the regular fetchers of water, women understand more than men about the operation and maintenance of the water point, and therefore have a significant role to play in its management. Often times it is empowering the male-dominated village to understand that there is an important place for woman,” Radin said.
Meanwhile the financial burden of drills, which cost $US60,000, are buttressed by funding from European and American governments. Often times mechanics are missing or displaced because of conflict. However when efforts are successful villagers express the benefits.
“People no longer have to walk far or be dependent on bicycles to carry the water, making it easy for them to bathe and wash their clothes. It’s easier to water our animals, to get water for construction, and the water we now drink is safe. Life has really improved a lot,” said Gira Walter, an Akadikum resident, ACF reported.