When a borehole in Bulundira swamp, which is the boundary between Mutumba and Buhemba sub-counties, recently dried up, no one anticipated what devastating impact it would have on Namayingo district.
However, when it was followed with an outbreak of cholera, which has since March claimed seven lives, it got people thinking that actually the district’s water problems could be worsening each passing day.
Since then, a number of boreholes have dried up, while others have turned salty and acidic. This has mainly affected areas around the lake shores and gold mining areas, in the sub-counties of Banda, Mutumba, Buhemba and Buhinja, among others.
“We have drilled a number of boreholes but some of them even after National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) carrying out the tests, confirming that the water is consumable, people abandon them, saying the water is salty,” says Joshua Wabusa, the district assistant water officer.
Wabusa says all the four boreholes recently drilled in Banda and Mutundwe villages have been abandoned.
“One of the sources was so acidic that you can’t use it for anything, not even for animals,” he says.
Whereas no research has been done to ascertain the impact of gold mining on the quality of water in the area, it is evident the crude cleaning of gold is done in the swamps, where there is enough water.
Gold rocks are extracted from underground and then crushed into powder before it is transported into swamps where it is filtered using a crude method known as Angaria. It is a netted tray where the powder is put and water poured. As the soil sinks, gold particles remain on top. The miners then use mercury to attract gold that sinks through with the soil.
“They [miners] have encroached on wetlands, introducing foreign materials and huge heaps of soil. The water is already stagnant, which acts as breeding ground for mosquitoes,” says Musa Kabwangu, the project officer, Uganda Muslim Rural Development Association (UMRDA), a nongovernmental organization involved in water and sanitation projects in Busoga. “Gold and other minerals are being introduced into the water system because these wetlands have streams that pour its water into Lake Victoria. They also don’t have latrines, which causes the due likelihood of diarrhea.”
As you drive from Bugiri town to Namayingo, Budde swamp, which separates both districts, is filled with heaps of soil, as several men are busy filtering it. Further deep inside the district, Nakudi gold mining site in Bujwanga parish, Banda sub-county is littered with open pits, dag close to the lake shores. According to Bonventure Steven Oguttu, the LC-III chairman for Banda sub-county, the mining site has over 2,000 people, but with no toilet or safe water.
“Most of them ease themselves in the lake, something which has escalated the cholera problem,” he says.
With a population of 252,478 people, Namayingo is one of the new districts in Uganda established on July 1, 2010. Formerly part of Bugiri district, it is nestled on the shores of Lake Victoria, about 92km southeast of Jinja town.
Despite being near the lake, Namayingo is ranked among the 15 districts with the lowest access to safe water, standing at 33 per cent, far below the national figure for rural areas, which has also stagnated at 64 per cent.
“The government has invested a lot in deep wells but the challenge with them is that they aren’t dug deep. They drill the surface and the boreholes normally dry up,” says Suleiman Kyesa Walugendo, UMRDA’s coordinator.
Walugendo also says that boreholes are put in places without doing due-diligence to establish whether the community can afford to maintain them.
So, where the borehole has good water, it may be rendered nonfunctional because the community has failed to raise money to maintain it, says Walugendo. According to Oguttu, Banda sub-county has 26 boreholes, of which only 18 are functional, with a growing number turning salty.
Rehema Aanyu, the communications officer of Uganda Water and Sanitation NGO Network (UWASNET), says the dilemma of water resources management in Uganda is that poverty is rife; this drives communities to unsustainably-exploit their natural resources through unsustainable practices as indiscriminate deforestation, wetland encroachment, unregulated sand mining, poor sanitation practices that expose water sources to contamination and these all affect sustainable water supply and water quality.
“Although communities are utilizing the wetlands for economic gain, there is need to sustainably-use the wetlands and the land in a manner that is not destructive,” she says. “A restoration plan has to be in place when permits to mine or use wetlands are given to combat climate change and environmental destruction.”
Walugendo, however, proposes a need to change the technology for water provision in Namayingo.
“We propose piped water – because the lake water is there. And if it’s tapped water, people can be compelled to pay for it,” he says.
Indeed, the district local government has been compelled to adjust to try and invest in piped water but, as Wabusa notes, it is such an expensive venture for a district that receives only Shs 502m from the central government for the water sector.
That explains why 80 per cent of the capital projects: boreholes, swallow wells, and piped schemes are boreholes. Capital projects consume 70% of the Shs 502m.
Piped water requires colossal sums of money. For example, a mini scheme to pump water from the lake at Lugala landing site requires Shs 2bn – to serve 15,000 people.
The other planned for Buwoya requires Shs 5bn – to serve 25,000 people. Both projects are at the mercy of the central government. According to Walugendo, the other option for Namayingo is rainwater harvesting for individuals with iron-roofed houses. This, however, excludes people with grass-hatched houses, whom Walugendo says can be served with communal rainwater harvesting.
“This technology is simple. Once the facility is there, you just then enjoy the water the rest of your life without any maintenance fees,” Walugendo says. “So, if the community has a user committee, the money collected would instead be used to pay back the money used to construct the facility. So, I encourage government to consider this technology.”
Government is piloting this technology in the districts of Namayingo, Luuka, Mukono and Bushenyi with a revolving fund. Tanks are given to people on credit, with expectation that once they pay back, it is extended to others.
Under this arrangement, government extended Shs 50m to UMRDA, which has been able to construct 20 tanks at household level. According to Walugendo, a 6,000-litre tank costs Shs 1.3m, while a 10,000-litre tank costs Shs 1.9m.
“For schools/institutional tanks, it is Shs 3m for a 20,000-litre tank. But schools are hesitant to undertake the project because as per the UPE [Universal Primary Education] policy, pupils aren’t supposed to pay a single coin. So, they are still hesitant to charge the parents,” notes Walugendo.