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WaterAid Supporter's Trip 2014

Barry Hardy is an Asset Planner in Inverness.  He is part of a WaterAid Supporters' trip to Uganda in November 2014. Read about his experiences here.

Day 6

Today we are going to visit the Kampala slums and try and get a feeling for the living conditions for 60% of Kampala’s 1.6 million inhabitants. Firstly we meet at the Kampala City Centre Authority (KCCT) where we meet City officials and hear a presentation from the manager of the National Water and Sewage Corporation (NWSC).The presentation gave out some interesting facts about the urban poor. Most of the poor survive on less than a pound a day and in the urban slums live at a population density of 400 per hectare, (In Glasgow it’s about 34 per hectare). 

Ugandan Street

Water is available but at a price. Water vendors have installed clean water connections but charge residents up to 5 times what they are charged by the water company. They keep the outlet in a chamber under lock and key.
Consequently residents use watercourses for their water. The watercourse is detained behind a concrete wall and flows out of discharge pipes under which residents can fill their buckets.
On the face of it this seems ok, but the upstream conditions are far from sanitary and the water though seemingly clean will be contaminated.
This stream flows through a rubbish dump before entering the distribution chamber.

There are toilets in the slum areas, but they are available only to the families which own them and again are kept under lock and key.Toilet
A toilet block has three stalls. Each stall may be owned by up to 5 families. The corrugated structure in the foreground is a bathing booth. People bathe or shower here the tin wall preserving their modesty.

Since only few in the slum can access a toilet the rest deposit their waste in bags and pile them in middens or into the open natural drains.
During heavy rain these tips get washed away and the putrid contents distributed around the slum. We experienced a heavy shower while we were there and saw this for ourselves.
Earlier today following heavy overnight rain, two ladies had been washed away in the torrent and drowned, a child, also washed away, managed to be rescued. 
Due to poor drainage and heavy downpours some residents constructed their houses on raised foundations, but others get flooded out with rainwater contaminated by sewage and other waste.

However there are moves to improve the lot of people living in the slums. The NWSC are planning to install water supply points which can be accessed by residents at low cost using a pre-paid token which can be topped up like a phone card. These water dispensers charge about 1p for a 20 litre container.

This brings clean water to the residents at a much lesser cost than the vendors charge but for some it is still not affordable and many will continue to use contaminated natural sources.

WaterAid had also been busy by constructing a drainage channel to keep the area around the water dispenser dry and the surrounding area drained.
We met with the local community leaders who were also pressing the Local Authority for improvements and they were pleased to tell us that they were now getting a skip to be positioned in part of the slum for all the waste which would then be taken away for disposal.

Another initiative sponsored by the community was to hold cooking hygiene courses within the community and this had been very well received.

So our visit to Uganda was now over and it was time for reflection. We had started out by visiting a rural village with no provision of clean water and compared that with a visit to a village the following day which had been provided with clean water and latrines.

The difference between the two was marked with a much healthier population in the village which had the water and latrines provided. These basic facilities do make the difference to village life as villagers become healthier and happier. The problems facing urban slums are much the same but solutions are complicated as economic factors come into play. To install drainage networks and water connections will undoubtedly disrupt many in the slum during construction and there was a measure of opposition, not to the provision of services, but to the disruption itself.

It is understandable that people living in the margins of the economy might be seeking some financial gain from the disruption.

Overall I was impressed to see the amount of work that Water Aid Uganda does. They work hard at identifying candidate projects in both rural and urban sites, they liaise and with regional and national governments to get co-finance and buy in from the municipal authorities and facilitate collaboration between partners. The President has announced a programme to deliver free public toilets. One public toilet block when installed was noted to be used by 3,500. The people using this service are no longer contributing 210kg of human waste daily to the urban environment and spread of disease is curtailed. The president has further decreed that all rural settlements must provide their own latrines and this will be enforced by inspectors.

It has been an absolute pleasure to have visited Uganda and to have been welcomed so warmly and treated so hospitably by everyone from villagers to local officials, from school staff to members of the Government, from our friendly drivers to all the children who welcomed us with song and dance. It’s perhaps trite to say that the children are the future but they are. I hope the children of Uganda grow to see a bright future ahead of them and I hope I, my fellow WaterAid supporters and WaterAid itself continue to play a part in securing that future.

Barry on the NIle

Day 5

The time had now arrived to leave the Soroti region and travel back south to Kampala to review water and toilet provision in the Ugandan capital’s slum districts. Ahead of us lay a 7 hour trip with a lunch break at the town of Jinja. Jinja’s claim to fame is that it is at the very start of the river Nile, as the Nile is created at the point the waters of Lake Victoria cascade over the shallow lip at the lakes edge to start a 4258 mile journey to the Mediterranean Sea. We were promised a brief excursion to the start of the Nile and we were all eager to get there.
So, dear readers, here I am at the source of the Nile!
Interesting fact - The Nile travels just a couple of miles before being caught behind a big hydro-electric dam. The electricity generated by this scheme provided Uganda with all its power.
This picture shows the convoy of Landcruisers going along the road from Jinja to Kampala on top of the dam.

It is a little known fact that Ghandi had his ashes scattered on this stretch of the Nile. This monument to Ghandi commemorates this.

The Nile is host to many birds as this photo shows as we travelled along the Nile to its source.

We were looking forward to buying souvenirs at the shop on the wee island at the source of the Nile, but we hadn’t anticipated that due to the level of the Nile the shop was flooded out! 

Day 4

World Toilet Day in Uganda
medical supplies donation
Today has been a busy day with an initial visit to the Amuria District Council Offices where the Chair of the Council was pleased to greet us and introduce us to the local engineering team who have been co-delivering projects to install clean water pumps and latrines in their area. They have achieved a lot in 3 years lifting from only having and are now the leading district in all of Uganda for clean water supply rising from a provision rate of 50% to a Ugandan high of 88%. He and his Chief Water Officer were at pains to point out that this leap in provision could not have been achieved without the support of WaterAid. They had invited us to their office to say ‘thank you’ personally to us all.

Once these formalities were over we were then transported to the Amuria District Hospital where WaterAid had provided a water pump. But firstly the medical authorities wanted to show us the hospital. The hospital only had one Doctor and was very poorly supplied. Before we went on the tour the Doctor read out a list of essential needs for his Hospital in the hope that WaterAid or any one of us present could somehow provide them. Their requirements were quite basic, an incinerator, a kitchen, a laundry, a medical store, an admin block and staff housing. As we toured the site we understood all too well why these were so urgent.
The ‘incinerator’ is no more than an open fire with evidence of unburned medical waste surrounding the smouldering embers.

Patients attend the Hospital for free, but they have to feed themselves. Usually a family member accompanies them and brings and prepares their food for them. This food is cooked in an open area right next to the wards as below.
The cooking area is in the foreground and the children’s ward is in the background. As there is no refrigeration live chickens are present and slaughtered when needed. They are often seen within the wards.

The latrines are all outside and patients have to leave the wards to use them. Most of the pits beneath the latrines are full and the smell is fearful. In the Maternity ward some patients have to sleep on the floor as more ‘urgent’ cases are brought in. Only paracetamol is available as a pain killer for women in acute labour, and a sign outside which reads ‘Placenta Pit’ speaks volumes as to why a proper medical incinerator is urgently needed.

However the Hospital performs a necessary function with its 128 beds which looked after 24,058 patients last year. The Hospital serves a population of 55,000, so the ratio of patient attendance to totakids in schoolrooml catchment population is high. This fact is one of the driving forces to install clean water, latrines and hand washing facilities in the Amuria district as many of the diseases which bring people to hospital are entirely preventable. By improving water, toilet and hygiene provision health budgets can go further to treat other non preventable cases.

As part of our visit we had offered to do some work around the Hospital, an offer which was taken up,  and we were soon put to work  cleaning and sterilising the veranda areas around the wards .
A gift of medical supplies was presented to the Hospital from Bernie McLean from Northern Ireland Water which was gratefully received.

After the Hospital visit were we then went to the Amuria Primary School just across the road where we were to be the guests of honour as World Toilet Day was to be officially celebrated at this School. All the Civic dignitaries whom we had met earlier at the Council Office were to be present but also three members of the Cabinet form Kampala. They would include the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Water, along with the local MP. Firstly the head teacher Joseph Elwanu showed us around his school. We were allowed in to one of the classes where an English lesson was being conducted. The class was packed with 114 pupils in attendance
This class size is not unusual as all the other classes were all well in excess of 100 pupils, some as high as 150 and 160. We were then escorted to an arts class where the pupils demonstrated their drawing skills. There seemed to be a reasonably even split between boys and girls across the classes.

Hygiene posterIn the Art class, Deborah Akello had decided to draw all the things she felt important to a healthy life and drew a montage which reflected all the things we had seen over the previous days, things like water carriers, a village pump, washing clothes, exercise and a latrine block.

Following a visit around the school we were invited to join the rest of the village and the local and national Government officials to enjoy the entertainment.

We were treated to the usual pupils song of welcome followed by the reading of a couple of poems. Then there was a bit of drama as the pupils performed a play which featured an errant pupil who would not wash his hands after using the latrine, but was convinced to do so when his fellow pupils showed him he could die of a number of horrible diseases unless he changed his ways. The whole sketch was done with humour but the message was clear and well emphasised regarding health and hygiene, but for me the hospital across the road provided the greatest impetus to be clean and hygienic.

The celebrations also provided a colourful traditional dance and a performance from the school orchestra.

Finally there were the speeches from the officials who basically thanked WaterAid for its continued support and who outlined their plans for the future. I had been asked to reply to the speeches on behalf of WaterAid, which I was honoured to do, thanking the town and district for their warm welcome and hospitality.

We went back to our hotel after a long day reflecting on the challenges which face the Amuria District, Water, Hygiene, Health and Education, all these departments seeking support and development and all essential to a country trying hard to develop itself.







Day 3

schoolchildren outsideEducation is valued in all villages but not all can afford it. One of the subjects in the primary curriculum is health education. Slogans from their lessons are recited like a times table.

Statements like "always use a latrine" and "always wash your hands after using a latrine" you might expect, but there are also messages about menstrual hygiene, being faithful, fighting aids and changing behaviours are also written indelibly on the walls both inside and out. Uganda is taking seriously the battle to reduce preventable disease and they are ensuring the next generation does not repeat the mistakes as  the previous ones.

By inculcating a culture of hygiene in schoolchildren, the message gets spoken back home so the adults get the message too. There is an acknowledged relationship between health and hygiene, water and sanitation, and health. I would like to return to this in the next report as we are google to visit a hospital and meet the Health Minister, the local MP and senior members of the council.


Day 2

margaret on trike
Margaret on her trike

thatched hut and WaterAid helper Today I am visiting the village of Bobol, where 3 years ago WaterAid co-funded provision of a bore hole and public latrines with European Aid funding. We were assigned to spend the day with Margaret and her family helping where we could and generally experiencing day to day life in a village after clean drinking water and sanitation had been provided. So Bernie (my colleague from N. Ireland) and I were dropped off close to her compound.

Margaret is 43 with 4 children, 2 of whom are grown up and have let home. Margaret is also disabled and gets about the village on a tricycle adapted with hand pedals incorporated into the handle bars and a rack for carrying water.

Margaret's face splits in two with the widest grin as we walk into her compound and she lets out a shrill ululation in greeting. Her female neighbours are also present and they join in the joyous cacophony and we all laugh as we greet each other in a mixture of handshakes and hugs. With us are Tadj, Lisa and Elisa (fellow WaterAid Supporters), and the WaterAid comms team, who record the scene with photographs and video.


Margaret wastes no time in whizzing around the compound of three huts in her trike showing us her domain. Because of her special needs, Margaret was given her own latrine in her compound as well as a water harvester. A water harvester is a roof held up by a number of supports. The roof collects rain water which runs into guttering and then into a large tank from which water can be drawn when needed. The roofed area also provides welcome shade from the midday sun. Margaret niftily lifts herself out of the trike and shuffles into the latrine on her hands and rump to demonstrate how able she is to get about unassisted. Once back into her trike she has her children Daniel and Veronica load up two 20 litre containers into the rack on her trike and then she is peddling like fury to show us where the new bore hole is. We trail in her wake as she triumphantly cruises through her neighbours’ compounds on the way; they greet us with the familiar ululation and grins.

Once at the bore hole she waits her turn then swiftly swings off the trike and shuffles over to the pump. Bernie and I take the containers over to her and she easily cranks the pump and fills both of them. It's difficult to offer any kind of help to someone who sees their own disability as no barrier. Nevertheless we are both allowed to pummel some grain using the traditional large wooden pestle in a hollowed out wooden mortar before winnowing the chaff and grinding the grain in a grind stone.

building the toiletModesta, Margaret’s sister who acts as her interpreter, and the rest of the neighbourhood who had all tagged along to see the white visitors, all laughed in glee at our fumbling efforts but eventually applauded once we got the hang of it. Margaret, meanwhile, was in the cookhouse making us a delicious meal of sweet potato and a soup made from the millet and peas we had been preparing earlier.

While we were eating our meal we asked what differences the water latrines had made. Margaret throws her head back and rolls her eyes and laughs at such a silly question. Through Modesta she explains how much easier her life is now, the neighbours all agree and add that sickness is much reduced, they can irrigate their crops and have higher yields, and their animals also are watered through the dry season and thrive.

All too soon it's time to go and having finished our meal we ask Margaret if she had a wish what would it be? Almost without hesitation she answers, "a motor for my tricycle!"

Margaret epitomises the general feeling from the village that bringing safe drinking water and sanitation is a job well done. As we left the whole village gathered to see us all off. The joy and gratitude from them all was deeply felt as we drove off with children running alongside reaching for the last hi-five. No, I won't forget Margaret or Bobol in a long time.

As we face World Toilet Day today we should not forget the one in three who have no access to a toilet, but we might reflect that World Toilet Day can also be a celebration of solutions that actually work.

Hard to believe?  Go and ask Margaret.

You can donate to Scottish Water’s fundraising page for WaterAid Scotland for World Toilet Day here.

group of boysDay 1

Today was our first day in the field after having transferred from Kampala  to Soroti, a northern regional capital.

The plan is to spend a day with a family to experience village life with no safe drinking water or sanitation. The 13 strong delegation from the UK made up from representatives from the UK water industry, of which I was one, were all a bit apprehensive about the whole visit as a slight feeling of guilt imbued us all. It might be a bit uncomfortable seeing and feeling their plight safe in the knowledge that after the visit we would all retire to our comfortable hotel, a lap of luxury compared to their existence.

We all descended on the village of Ojolia in a fleet of Landcruisers having driven a hundred miles on ever deteriorating roads until we were following nothing more than a footpath. We were soon introduced to the villagers and were received enthusiastically with welcome grins and handshakes. "welcome to my village, welcome to Ojolia", said Francis, a middle aged wiry Ugandan who was to be our host for the day. By we I mean myself and Bernie, the Northern Ireland delegate. Francis looks after his younger friends Agnes and Lily and their children. Many in the village have been widowed or orphaned, a legacy of a rebellion a few years ago suppressed by government and in which the villagers were caught in the cross fire. The first thing we were shown was the water hole which provided their water and which was badly contaminated; the water had to be boiled to avoid infection. The water is fetched by Agnes 20 litres at a time three times daily and is used for cooking, washing and drinking. Cattle use the water hole too and evidence of their visits was spattered about around the edge of the water. Sometimes it's easier to take the children down to the water to bathe in the water directly.

village On the plus side they showed me the dry latrines which they had dug virtually with their bare hands and a rusty adze. They were proud of their achievement and were wanting to build a bathing shelter so the adults could bathe in privacy. It now became clear that this was an activity we could assist in, and with a smile Francis lead us to a plot already excavated with post holes for posts from branches cut from nearby trees. We set to work and in a few hours a simple square frame emerged, against which we lashed a wall of reeds cut from a nearby thicket.

We were then rewarded with a meal of sweet potatoes and beans grown on their own land. As they have little cash they grow all their own food, they grow sourgum, maize, potatoes and sweet potatoes, beans, bananas, mangoes, oranges, cassava and a variety of herbs. Chicken, cattle and goats are kept on a small scale too. On reflection we met a community in need of safe clean water but who had provided for everything else by their own hand and were rightly proud of it. All they seemed to be asking was for a fair deal - parity with the rest of the world who take safe water for granted.

Should we have been embarrassed about parachuting in for a quick visit and then off to our pampered lives? No, and I won't be. These visits provide a powerful link between their plight and those who can help bring the changes about. Cash poor they may be, but rich in their resourcefulness. As we left with Francis asked politely but firmly, "help us, please help us". I for one don't want to let him down.