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Stagnating coverage and functionality in rural water in Uganda: can this nut be cracked?

Next week more than 200 practitioners and policy makers from government, civil society, private sector and donors will come together for the annual Joint Water and Environment Sector Review in Uganda to review progress and set-backs during the past year and discuss and decide on priorities for the coming year.  For rural water Uganda is facing a situation where the expansion of coverage of rural water services is stagnating, functionality levels are not increasing and overall sector financing remains at its best stable.

So what to do to get closer to access to safe drinking water for everyone forever? Many call for more money to increase coverage and to make up for the fast growing population and further fragmentation of local government. But this is not likely to happen, since the Ugandan government is prioritising the sectors that contribute to economic growth over service sectors. On the bright side, the Ugandan sector has proven over the past years once more to be more advanced than many of its neighbours by understanding early that with increasing coverage levels, the balance between investing in new infrastructure and rehabilitation of existing, more weight needs to be given to the latter.

However, functionality levels have stayed stubbornly the same. To tackle this, the Sector Performance Report 2012 says: “With regards to technology type, the functionality trends for point water sources depict a slight improvement contrary to the trend for piped water supplies in rural areas which is on a decline. This is mainly because the financial investments required for rehabilitation of rural piped water supplies are in most cases bigger than what is provided under the District Water and Sanitation Development Conditional Grant. It is therefore important that deliberate strategies are put in place to focus on O&M of piped water supply schemes especially in rural areas and Rural Growth Centres.”  The Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) is also recognising the need for a good balance between financing support to the services and financing the support to the support when it states “Additionally, the challenge in optimising functionality of water supply facilities may be partially attributed to the management of the rehabilitation funds at the district water office, which involves significant proportions to cover overheads and other related expenses. MWE would now like to adopt an approach of using the Lower Local Governments to plan and manage the rehabilitation funds under the supervision of the District Water Office. It is recommended that 11% of the Conditional Grant, earmarked for rehabilitation of water sources, is sent to the Lower Local Governments for effectiveness and efficiency.”

IRC is promoting the use of the life-cycle cost approach to address the challenge of financing WASH services that last and in fact Uganda has already been doing this to quite some extent avant-la-lettre as is shown above, but without using the full potential of the approach. In the given situation Uganda’s best option is to look for more efficiency and effectiveness in its finance and efforts, which means to analyse and discuss more thoroughly the planning and budgeting of both investment costs and recurrent costs (operation and maintenance, rehabilitation and support) of rural WASH services. A life-cycle-cost analysis has the additional advantage that it relates financing to the level of services provided. Therefore it will not only help with identifying where efficiency gains can be made, but will also allow for informed decisions on for instance, the (financial) ability to move users from tap points to house connections; or a gradual change from handpumps to piped schemes.

The nut has not been cracked yet, but a strong tool is available. Read more on:http://www.washuganda.net/home/washservicesforeveryoneforeveraproposaltoapplythelife-cyclecostapproachinuganda, or: http://www.washcost.info/page/2433

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2 comments on “Stagnating coverage and functionality in rural water in Uganda: can this nut be cracked?

  1. As a WASH manager Iwould like to attend this workshop on behaif of girls education movement Uganda chapter.our contact is gemuganda@gmail.com .

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