Sunday, November 15, 2009

|Kisoro's water- a tragedy

Their only source of water is buried in a cave

In Jinya Village, a modest settlement in Muramba Sub-county, Kisoro District, lies a dark formidable burrow that appears to be a den of dangerous animals, snakes and insects. Located on the footsteps of the hill, the burrow seems to be slowly caving in due to floods that trouble the area during rainy seasons.

Though it appears like a death trap to a visitor, the inhabitants of this area seem unbothered about this. Children, oblivious of the precarious nature of the lone source of water, go deep to fetch water for home consumption.

Water springs at the far end of the hole, visited by more than 50 people, particularly children aged between five and 12. “This is the only water source we have in the area,” Ben Nshimiye, eight, says. “We understand that it’s dangerous to enter such a burrow, but we have no choice. We need water for domestic use and to feed our animals,” the primary two pupil of Gisozi SDA Primary school adds.

No safe for children
Clad in a faded T-shirt torn at the back, Nshimiya, who was found filling a 20-litre jerry can with a five-litre jerry can says when drawing water from the cave, they normally hurt their backs, knees and heads. Echoing Nshimiye’s claims, Gerald Mfimunikiza, 11, a primary four pupil of Muramba Primary School said, “While entering the hole, we have to be careful because stones usually cut us. Every child who fetches water here has wounds either at the back, knees or head,” he says.

Since the burrow is too small for an adult to fit in, elders wait outside and let the children enter. The boys, who admitted they have never seen a borehole or any protected spring in their life, believe that the water they fetch from the cave is safe. According to James Bampoyiki, Chairman Kisoro NGO Forum, Jinya water source serves three parishes in Muramba sub-county including Gisozi, Rukongi and Bunagana parishes. During dry seasons, residents of Nyarusiza and Murambe sub-counties buy a jerry can of water at Shs1,500, which many peasants, who earn less than a dollar a day, can’t afford.

On seeing children moving in and out of the hole unbothered, Mr Jasper Tumuhimbise, the coordinator, Anti Corruption Coalition-Uganda said, “This is the result of corruption. When you see children entering such a cave to get water they should be getting for free, I regard that worse than corruption. It is genocide. It is killing people in broad daylight,” Mr Tumuhimbise who led the 2009 anti-corruption bus that traversed the western part of the country recently said.

The bus travelled to Kabale, Kisoro, Ntungamo and Rukungiri advocating for accountability and transparency in the water sector as well as fair water distribution to all regions. According to statistics from the Ministry of Water and Environment, Kisoro ranks seventh among districts with less than 40 per cent safe water distribution.

Tumuhimbise says that many areas such as Kisoro are lagging behind in clean water coverage just because there’s no government intervention. The administration of services in such regions is lacking and officials are not thinking of helping the community, he says. Kisoro Resident District Commissioner, Ahmed Doka admits that Kisoro is disadvantaged in terms of clean water coverage.

Small budget
He says some sub-counties especially those located in the northern part of the district and bordering Democratic Republic of Congo at Bunagana don’t have natural water sources. “We cannot construct boreholes because the area is rocky. The only technology suitable for that area is water harvesting, which is expensive.

The district can’t afford to purchase water tanks because the generated local revenue doesn’t exceed two per cent of the district’s total budget. Hajji Doka, who also blames the district’s poor water status on residents who have converted wetlands into gardens, says they are trying to source funds from Uganda Wildlife Authority to extend piped water to the disadvantaged sub-counties. But Mr Tumuhimbise stresses that it’s the government’s obligation to bring resources closer to people regardless of the cost. “We are told that during rainy seasons, people dwelling in this area are killed by floods and during the dry season, water is scarce. This means the government should look for solutions that promote water harvesting during the rainy season and the water can then be supplied during the dry season,” he says.

The revelation came days after the Ministry of Water and Environment commissioned a report that revealed that about Shs51bn injected in the sector was lost to corruption. The baseline survey on integrity in the Uganda water supply and sanitation sector that was funded by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme, which was presented recently at a water sector review meeting held in Kampala, says it is true that 10 per cent of the money invested in water is lost to corruption. “That’s true, we have been arresting several people. I personally arrested the water officer for Kotido recently when over Shs200m meant for water disappeared in one year,” State Minister For Water, Jennifer Namuyangu, said, adding that another water officer from Apac was arrested while another in Ntungamo was suspended. The survey also reveals that most Ugandans pay bribes to have water flow into their homes.

According to the report, the national water coverage stands at 63 per cent – a figure Ms Namuyangu says has since jumped to 65 per cent. However, more than half of the country’s districts are still below the national average. For example, the survey found that huge disparities still exist in water coverage throughout the country, ranging from 12 per cent in the least served district of Kaboong in north eastern Uganda to 95 per cent converge in the south western district of Kabale. Ms Namuyangu says high water coverage has been achieved in some areas but low funding remains a challenge in increasing access to the whole country. “With the current funding of 2.6 per cent of the national budget, we cannot do much. Taking water to some areas where there is no ground water is more capital-intensive and so we need more money,” she says.

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