Uganda: Providing clean, safe water to millions of families: voices from the field

Two field perspectives from ACF's programs in Northern Uganda

The human body can only last a few days without water-it's essential for proper health and facilitates a range of life-sustaining functions like digestion, metabolic stability, and cell and organ health. While most of us know we ought to drink more water than we do, few understand what it means to go without water or to rely on filthy or contaminated sources.For an estimated 1.1 billion people lacking access to clean water, this is the unfortunate, often deadly reality. Those forced to rely on contaminated water sources face a high likelihood of life-threatening disease such as diarrhea, which kills more people than either tuberculosis or malaria.

To combat waterborne diseases like diarrhea or cholera-both major causes of acute malnutrition-Action Against Hunger uses its expertise to expand access to clean water. Whether trucking in water during emergencies, decontaminating wells and water points, or digging boreholes and installing solar-powered pumps for entire villages, ACF helps communities that lack sources of safe water.

Unsafe drinking water results in 2.2 million preventable deaths a year. Action Against Hunger works fervently to reduce this number. Thankfully, the dedicated efforts of our teams in the field are paying off, as these two success stories from Uganda demonstrate.

Here are a two success stories from Uganda that attest to the real impacts of our work.

Thirsty for Change: "All I want is to maintain the new water point like one of my own children."

Pakiya is a village located in Koch Lii Parish, Koch Goma Sub County in the newly created Amuru District of Uganda. This village is home to about 90 households that have only recently begun to return after more than 20 years of displacement in squalid camps in neighboring districts-the first families began to return in August of 2007.

Mrs. Otto Rose is originally from Pakiya and returned there in February 2008 after years in a displacement camp in Koch Goma. A mother of five children, Mrs. Otto was accustomed to fetching water each day for use in her home. But when her family returned home they found that the springs that had traditionally supported the village had nearly dried up. In response, the community dug two shallow open wells where the old springs had been-wells that were little more than holes in the ground with a little water at the bottom. To collect water the villagers would climb down the hole and fill their water containers from the scarce and unreliable water that slowly collects at the bottom.

In this part of the village, the early bird gets the water: "the earlier one gets there, the better-otherwise you wait two hours to fetch 10 liters of water," explained Mrs. Otto. The nearest safe and dependable water sources are the boreholes at the Koch Lii or Goro resettlement sites, a seven kilometer walk (4.3 miles) from her village.

After consulting with local district authorities, an Action Against Hunger Water and Sanitation team visited the village of Pakiya to assess water and sanitation conditions. Pakiya was immediately placed on the list of sites for support from ACF's water supply and environmental sanitation activities. Digging and sanitation tool kits were also distributed to community members to improve home sanitation, and hygiene education sessions were held to support local management of sanitation resources and improve sanitation and hygiene practices. These outreach efforts were supported by the construction of a borehole in the village.

Profoundly affected by these new programs, Mrs. Otto proudly shared her commitment to maintaining the new water resources: "all I want is to maintain the new water point like one of my own children." Mrs. Otto and her family know first-hand the fundamental value of clean water.

A New Borehole: World of Difference at the Community Level

Like Mrs. Otto, Mary Adongo and Amule Grace are Ugandan mothers who benefit from the water and sanitation programs implemented by Action Against Hunger.

Having spent years living as displaced families in Orum Camp, Mary Adongo and Amule Grace recently returned to their ancestral village of Orum sub-county in Uganda. As of June, 2008, the village had a population of 485 people, or 81 households. The only water source available to them was an unprotected spring a good 40-minute walk away. After an assessment by Action Against Hunger's water and sanitation teams, the lack of clean drinking water in the area was seen as a significant problem. Action Against Hunger followed up its field surveys by drilling a borehole that would benefit not just Mary and Amule's village but multiple villages in the area.

Mary Adongo and Amule Grace are extremely pleased with the new borehole. Establishing a clean source of water in their village enables them to carry out domestic activities and benefits the broader community as well-for example, by facilitating productive activities like brick making for re-building their family homes. The new water point is much nearer to their homes than the spring they were forced to rely on. And there's no comparison when it comes to quality-the spring would produce "thick and heavy" water, whereas the borehole ensures clean, abundant water. The mothers felt that the dirty water had contributed to widespread stomach ailments among the villagers. But thanks to the new borehole, these complaints have all but disappeared.

The water point has brought a multitude of changes to the community, including the development of a water committee that has been trained to help with the maintenance of this new water and sanitation resources. The two mothers explained that all the households have agreed to collect a monthly contribution of 500 Ugandan Shillings for the upkeep and repair of the water point. In addition, a dedicated young man named David rises early each morning to clean and repair the water point before families arrive.

Action Against Hunger Water and Sanitation Programs

Action Against Hunger's water and sanitation programs reduce the prevalence of water-borne diseases and improves access to the clean water needed for survival. Through the construction of wells and boreholes, filtration systems, the repair and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure, and the introduction of hygiene practices and water committees, ACF ensures that millions have sustainable access to water and proper sanitation. Working directly with communities in need enables us to restore dignity and overcome the daily indignities and diseases associated with water poverty.

Special Thanks To Our Ugandan Colleagues:

- Interviews conducted by Alum Eunice Opio and Komakech Denis Hardnan.

- Story contributions from Bob Bongomin Jr, Najemba Ferrus and Jennifer Organ.