Finding water in northwest Uganda

Uganda’s rain season may be long and plentiful, but access to clean water still doesn’t come as easily as the turn of a faucet. On a recent trip, the IMO team visited various water sources in a rural community in the isolated northwest corner of the country. Our intent was observation: to see the current state of this essential focal point in each community. 

A first glance shows the presence of water in abundance. The hills of this region are green and overpopulated with vegetation, even throughout the dusty dry season. Many have tapped into this supply with various degrees of efficiency. It’s not uncommon to see rain catchment systems or gravity-operated water pipes tapping into rain-fed springs. The government has installed boreholes near trading centers. And drainages flow like veins throughout the countryside. 

Yet even in a country that has more water than many of its arid neighbors, gathering that water remains an everyday concern for inhabitants of the area. Many boreholes break after only a few years of use, and the government often leaves it up to the villagers to raise funds for repairs (which they often cannot afford). Children then have to fetch water from the closest drainages, which can potentially be a three-kilometer hike away on steep and knotted terrain that must be traversed up to four times each day. The hours spent gathering water represents hours away from the classroom.

Among the several springs and water pumps we visited, two left long-lasting impressions. The first was a gravity-operated pipe that feeds clean water constantly, throughout the year. Even so, many of the young girls (who are often the family members tasked with collecting water) stood bare-foot in standing water as they waited for their jugs to fill. Though the water from the pipe may be clean, the drainage puddles at their feet may be host to bacteria and parasites that thrive in unsanitary, standing water. 

The second source holds a title that speaks to its current conditions: Angwii, “bad smell” in the local Alur. Though the water flows down the hillside from a probable clean source, the community fills its jugs where the water collects in a murky pool with muddy banks. Razor-sharp leaves of some sort of river cane block access to higher, cleaner banks. As we visited with some of the water-gatherers at this site, a boy led his cattle across the waters – upstream from where our hosts filled their jugs.

These days, the topic of water has entered the public discourse in a big way. In the western world, quantities may be depleting, and our habits of usage may be called into question. As our need for increased farm production grows larger, our water supply gets smaller. In the developing world, the topic of water quantity has been coupled with its quality. In light of unsanitary conditions and disease, the goal is drinking water that’s both clean and plentiful enough to sustain life.

As we work together to improve the holistic health of our world, this conversation has grown ever more necessary. This is a blue planet, after all.