By Robert Otim, District Learning Facilitator, Lira district, Uganda –
In an Inter-district, meeting (IDM) organised by Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) June 2013 in Kitgum, decommissioning of defunct water systems was a major concern cutting across all the 15 districts of Northern Uganda. Since the end of the humanitarian period and subsequent withdrawal of most of the agencies, over 30% of rural water facilities have fallen obsolete yet these continue to be reflected in annual sector performance figures. If the sector performance reports do inform the allocation of District Water and Sanitation Conditional Grant, then the implication is that the Northern Region is not getting what it truly deserves. This requires urgent and strategic action.
From Technical Support Unit 2 (MWE), a directive was issued for all District Water Officers (DWOs) in Northern Uganda to identify water facilities that required decommissioning. The exercise is complete for most districts but the actual decommissioning is still a distant dream.
In Lira, data from District Water Office reveals that out of 1254 water facilities, 271 are defunct representing 22%, while in Gulu over 400 facilities are obsolete. Some politicians in the region are urging DWOs to clean up their databases and reflect real time information on access but MWE action is taking long. What then is the impediment to this exercise?
During the June 2013 Inter District Meeting (IDM) it was revealed that “ONLY the Hon. Minister of Water and Environment has mandate to sanction decommissioning of defunct water facilities”. This was intriguing to participants and many assumed it could be the cause of delay of the decommissioning of defunct water systems in Uganda.
But most importantly, one wonders whether this is in line with the Community Based Management System and the decentralization policy. There’s need to revisit the Operation and Maintenance Framework-currently under review to address the issue of who reserves the mandate to decommission water sources. Otherwise the revelation that it is the prerogative of the Minister indirectly reaffirms that all water systems in the country belong to the government – which has for long undermined sustainability of rural water facilities.