Emmanuel Kaahwa recollects how the community used to clear banks along Bigajuka stream in Kiganda cell occasionally because it would act as a recreation centre where people would sit and feel the cool breeze in the evening hours.
Around 1997, the stream was a reliable water source for locals of Kinubi, Kikwite, Bujumbira East and West.
Other villages that benefited from the water source included; Rusaka Lower and Upper, Kiganda, Kiganda- Mpunda and Kyakatayomba, all in Hoima city.
Kaahwa, a local council one (LCI) chairperson for Bujumbura East, said the aforesaid belt covering two kilometres, had large volumes of water and several spring wells which would supply the entire community.
However, residents say that about a decade ago, silting started to occur whenever it would rain making the stream bust its banks. Eventually, spring wells would get covered by mud, and soon, they would be no more.
This implies that the community comprised of an estimated 8,000 people “must” rely on piped water which majority cannot afford.
In the early 2000s, the population of the area, which was Hoima town council at the time, started increasing leading to the creation of slums that ended up reclaiming the swamp for settlement.
“We are no longer getting the cool breeze we used to have two decades ago, rain has reduced and the water volumes have gone down, “Kaahwa says.
This comes at a time when Hoima which was elevated to a city status in July 2020 is increasingly getting strained as more people flock to the area in pursuit of opportunities in the oil sector.
Reports indicate that the city’s sewage lines are allegedly blocked while the one plant (lagoon) on Bigajuka stream was poorly done.
Fredrick Byenume, a public health expert in August last year said it (lagoon) was supposed to have chambers containing three sections.
However, it was not constructed well and brings out a bad stench and residents claim it is not fully treated by National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC). Efforts to get a comment from NWSC were futile.
Byenume said this puts residents at a risk of infection in case they consume contaminated water.
The lagoon is planted on a hilly area and according to a March 28, 2012 report by the government analytical laboratories study on water sources, indicated that facilities below it in the neighbouring areas were found contaminated.
“Fecal matter from the facility is always washed down into the water sources making the water unsafe for human consumption and residents are advised to stick to piped water,” the report added.
And Bigajuka belt is not alone. An estimated 80 percent of other streams and rivers in Hoima city are heavily polluted by indiscriminate disposal of garbage, human excreta and waste water which is produced by the community.
Byenume says contamination raises the cost of residents’ access to clean water and the cost of water treatment.
City dwellers trek long distances in search of clean water since few people are connected on piped water which covers areas mainly in the heart of the city, leaving some unemployed and urban poor still fetching from contaminated sources.
The United Nations (UN) recognises the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and human rights.
The water challenge was minimal in the past but escalated in 2010 as many people flocked the area in search of opportunities in the fledgling oil and gas sector which was discovered in 2006.
This was confirmed by the National Population census of 2014 by Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) which indicated that Hoima City had a population growth rate of 10.7% coming second to Wakiso town with 11.9%.
Meanwhile, statistics from NWSC Hoima area office as of 2021 indicated that over the last 3 years, the existing water system has not been sufficient to meet the demand of the city dwellers scattered across two divisions of East and West with a cover of 228 square kilometres and a road network of 600 kilometres.
Hoima supplies 3 million litres per day in case all systems are stable especially electricity. This presents 70% of the present demand, leaving a gap of 30%.
NWSC report indicate that a total of 6,497 homesteads are connected to piped water within the city with 177 public stand taps-to serve those who cannot afford to be connected directly from their homesteads.
NWSC rates show that public stand taps are supposed to sell a 20-litre jerry can of water at sh50. However, Hoima City people sell each between sh200 and sh300.
Some fast growing suburbs which are located more than five kilometres away from the city are not connected to NWSC supply. Some of them include; Kanenankumba, Kasasa-Rukooge, Buswekere, Mpaija, Kaitira, Kyedikyo, Kibanjwa and Kasingo.
“NWSC invested money in establishing water points that are not functional. It is not that people cannot pay but the water is not enough because sources have limited quantities,” said, Ismail Kusemererwa, the executive director of Mid-Western Region Anti-Corruption Coalition (MIRAC).
Due to inability to extend water in some areas, many residents are devising different alternatives of getting water such as constructing shallow wells, rain harvesting or opting for boreholes.
“Unless the place is not fully covered, the policy says boreholes are not supposed to be in urban centres and people are supposed to be using safer water which also fetches government money. This is because in urban places, people are presumed to have built latrines on high areas which contaminates water sources lying below,” Kusemererwa adds.
Jane Asiimwe, a resident of Buswekera cell, fears that boreholes do not have assurance of safe water because the water is not treated.
Edison Kyotamanya, a resident of Bujumbura East, says he is forced to move a distance of more than two kilometres to get water from Kabahuru spring well but sometimes gets back home with empty jerrycans as a result of a long queue caused by water vendors.
Annet Katusabe who runs a retail shop and restaurant in Bujumbura East told The Albertine Journal that their village has only one functional public water point which is always on and off, hence calling on government to construct more.
Jozen Katusiime a resident of Kiganda said they only rely on water vendors, because the water source they could have utilised is contaminated by the nearby smelly lagoon.
Fred Kaahwa, a water vendor in Hoima City said water vending business is determined by various factors.
“We consider the distance from the customer to the water source and the status. If the distance is beyond a kilometre, the price can even reach sh2,000 per jerrycan especially in dry spells,” Kaahwa said.
Joseph Asaba, a Chairman of Bujwahya cell, asks government to subsidise rain water harvest equipment to help the community curb challenges of water shortages during the dry season.
Meanwhile, in the rural Hoima district, some streams which were affected by the construction of oil roads in Hohwa and Nyamasoga in Buseruka sub-county have never been re-established.
China Railway Seventh Group is the firm constructing the Hohwa-Nyairongo-Kyarushesha-Butole road, one of the critical oil roads leading to Kingfisher Development Area.
Locals allege that the said firm refused to honour their commitment to drill boreholes in the affected area as an alternative source of water since 2019 and yet the road’s completion is at penultimate stage.
As a result, livestock farmers are also facing water challenges for their cattle with confirmed reports that they lost animals during the previous dry spell. Efforts to speak to China Railway Seventh Group were futile.
Residents along Lake Albert plains in the sub-counties of Buseruka and Kigorobya continue to face prolonged water shortages because the water table is deep which have failed efforts to construct boreholes.
Residents told The Albertine Journal that the water from Lake is salty hence making it unpalatable for human consumption, plunging (residents) deeper into a water crisis.
Government has in the past alluded that pumping water from the lake is expensive because its salty nature makes desalination (obtaining fresh water for human consumption) expensive.
“It needs huge amounts of money to desalinate this water to serve all these communities along the lake shores. The money which we don’t have at the moment,” an official said four years ago.
This forces women and children to trek long distances in search for water with school going children being the most affected since some share the inadequate water facilities with the community.
There is a reported breakdown of water sources at schools due to inconsistence maintenance and misuse.
A survey by The Albertine Journal has established another vice of water infrastructures in rural schools becoming a target of vandals.
The area has become prone to water borne diseases especially Cholera which in the past has claimed lives due to consumption of unsafe water.
This shows that the consequences of unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) on children can be dire.
UNICEF recommends that every child has the right to quality education, which includes access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services while at school.
Children spend significant portion of their day at school where WASH services can impact learning, health, and dignity, particularly girls.
According to UNICEF, the inclusion of WASH in schools in the Sustainable Development Goals –SDG 6 represents increasing recognition of their importance as key components of a “safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environment” and as part of universal WASH access, which emphasises the need for WASH outside of the home.
In 2016 plans by Hoima authorities to tender out boreholes in rural areas with the aim of keeping them intact and functional all year round were unsuccessful due to lack of funds.
Most rural communities in Hoima depend on boreholes for water for their livestock and domestic use.
Communities benefiting from the water services are usually uncooperative in raising the monthly user fees which ranges between sh500 to sh1,000 for the routine maintenance of the boreholes.
As a result a sizable number of boreholes which then was estimated at 40% remained dysfunctional as a result of poor use and vandalism, but the water user committee was unable to do anything.
What is being done?
Mindful of the future demand for water, the government has come up with short and long-term interventions to improve water supply in Hoima.
In the City, NWSC is constructing a sh5.6b project to upgrade the existing water treatment plant at Kyarwabuyamba cell hoping to increase water production from 3 million litres to 7.5 million per day.
The one-year upgrade being undertaken by Updeal Uganda Limited, started in June, 2021 and is expected to end late this year.
This will see water extended to uncovered areas of Kasingo and Kihukya wards with an equivalent of 14 villages and an estimate population of 10,000 people.
The project involves laying of a 3.7 kilometre transmission line to Kikwite reservoir, installation of a 230 milimetre high lift pumps at Kyarwabuyamba water treatment plant.
Others are development of a Kihomboza production borehole, drilling of additional two boreholes in Kihomboza and Kasingo cells to boost production while re-drilling of boreholes at Kyarwabuyamba has been completed but awaiting pump installation which is also on design stage.
Officials at NWSC revealed plans to construct a 200,000 litre capacity reservoir at Mpaija Hill in West Division to serve areas of Kasingo, Kihukya and Busiisi.
On a long-term basis they hired Gauff Consultants, a Germany firm to do a feasibility study to improve water supply but with consideration of the entire district.
The study concluded to extract water from River Kafu which is located 17 kilometres away from the central business district.
Israel Adima, the Hoima district water officer revealed a multi-billion plan to extend water to under covered sub-counties of Buseruka, Kigorobya and Kyabigambire.
“We are planning to drill 11 boreholes this fiscal year and one production well and design it as a piped in Buseruka, rehabilitate another 11 boreholes, implement the Kibugubya water scheme in Kyabigambire Sub-county and the ministry of water and environment was recently in the area to plan on how to implement Lake Albert and Edward under LIF II project,” he added.
According to Water.org, due to disparities in water access in Uganda, urban people living in poverty pay as much as 22 percent of their income to access water from water vendors and spending such a high percentage of earnings on water reduces overall household income, limiting opportunities to build savings and break the cycle of poverty.
Trouble could continue being on the horizon due to low funding of the water sector. Uganda’s funding of the water sector has stagnated at between 2.5% and 4.5% of the national budget for more than a decade, yet the population is increasing and outstripping the water supplies.
Junior Ampumuza, an environmentalist in Hoima says as part of long-term solutions to Hoima’s water challenge, the line ministry needs to sensitise residents and do enforcements on protection of the environment which has greatly contributed to deterioration of water quality, advocate for water harvesting and improvement of the water infrastructure.
Others, he said, include enforcing the Public Health Act efficiently, improve the sewage system, teach residents how to save water as much as possible, invest in recycling water and increase funding to the water sector to better water distribution infrastructure.