Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tough life in Kampala's slums

We began Friday by meeting with officials from the Kampala Capital City Authority and the National Water and Sewerage Corporation. They gave some interesting presentations which were useful in setting the scene for our visit to Kampala's slums. It was strange sitting round a board table with people smartly dressed in suits thinking about the awful conditions of the slums we were shortly to experience.

Kampala City covers 200km2 with a population of 1.5 million. This population can double in the day whilst commuters have travelled into the city to work. 60% of people live in informal settlements in an area which is not big but is very dense at 400 people per hectare. 70% of people are tenants in rented accommodation.

Kampala Capital City Authority are responsible for providing safe water and sanitation to city communities. They are working on increasing the sanitation and safe water coverage and providing more free public toilets. 84% of households have access to a toilet, however many of these are vastly inadequate, unhygienic, and padlocked by local caretakers a large proportion of the time. Only 6% of the city has a proper piped sewerage system. The remaining raw sewage runs down open drains, or worse still in some areas, just down the street. The frequent floods make an already bad situation a lot worse.

The new expensive out of town malls have free toilets, yet in the downtown malls which local people are more likely to use, people have to pay to use the toilet ( if they can afford it). The city Authority have plans to increase the number of free public toilets from 15 to 23 - a pitifully small number compared to the population of 1.5 million.

WaterAid have formed a partnership with Kampala Capital City Authority and the National Water and Sewerage Corporation, and together they have formed the Kampala Water and Sanitation Forum. The Forum are working with communities, institutions and schools to improve water, sanitation and hygiene services in the city. For example by working with schools to build new latrines and set up children's health clubs to educate them about hygiene.

The Forum is a great example of WaterAid's important role in advocacy and partnership building. The Exec Director of the City Authority explained that the city's water and sanitation situation has progressed well with WaterAid's support, however there are still huge challenges and there's long way to go. Sludge management is an issue, and many schools have huge queues for the toilets in the morning as many children do not have toilets in their homes. With Kampala's population growing at 80% a year (many people moving from western Uganda) it's hard to imagine how the huge water and sanitation issues in the city can ever be solved. Improvements will just have to be made gradually over a long period of time.

The representative from the National Water and Sewerage Corporation explained that they try to provide a socially responsible and equitable service, carrying out social mapping to establish where the urban poor stay. Their main way of providing safe water to communities is through pre-paid water meters. The meters take tokens which people pay to charge with credit from vendors in the community. The Corporation have installed 130 meters in partnership with WaterAid and plan to install 3000 more meters over the next couple of years. They cost $1000US each to install so this is a huge expense, but is great for the communities as they don't pay for the connection.

The tariff for water from the pre-paid meters in the urban slums is 25 Ugandan Shillings to fill a 20 litre jerry can, which is about 5 pence. This is supposed to be an affordable price for everyone, but with large families who need to drink, wash and cook, the money is still difficult for some to find. Families have to be very careful with their water - they certainly don't use 120 litres a day which is the average per capita we use in the UK. I can understand why the Corporation have to charge for water, and appreciate that it's a very small charge. However it's sad that the very poor still have no choice but to use untreated unsafe water from the free taps in the slums, leading to the spread of illness and disease. Some families have private water pumps installed if they can afford it, which their neighbours then pay to use. This disparity is understandable but still seems very unfair.

The slum area was even more of a terrible sight due to the deep floods which had quickly developed from the terrential rainfall the previous night. These floods happen often and I was shocked and saddened to learn that a young mother lost her life in the flood water that morning near to where we were. Fortunately, the baby she was carrying survived after being rescued. I couldn't help but wonder who was going to care for this small helpless baby with no mother, and how the whole thing could have been prevented with proper infrastructure.

I was surprised when we entered the back streets of the slums that everyone was so welcoming. I smiled at people trudging through the muddy polluted alleyways and learning in doorways of shacks, and was so pleased when they smiled back. Then more than ever, I appreciated the international language of the smile and how it crosses nationalities, languages, cultures, and religions.

We walked through the slums trying to take it all in - the narrow streets between dilapidated concrete and corrugated iron shacks; the polluted muddy water running through household rubbish; and the children and ducklings playing in the dirty water and sludge.

Our guides from Kampala Capital City Authority, the National Water and Sewerage Corporation and a local priest took us through the slums to show us the various water supply options for communities. One area had just one spring to supply hundreds of families with unsafe water contaminated by faecal matter (poo). It looked clear, masking the dangers lurking in the water waiting to attack its many consumers. These included children in a nearby nursery school. Unsuspecting kids happily played in the waste water as it trickled down from the dirty pipe. Us supporters all felt very sad to know they would probably become ill from this.

Other areas had the pre-paid water meters we'd heard about earlier in the day. I met 65 year old Willy, who is a caretaker for one of the water meters. The meter is located in an open area outside his house and he keeps an eye on it, helps people use it and calls the maintenance team if there are any issues. Willy has 5 children aged 20-35 and 8 grandchildren some of whom live with him. I felt really uplifted to hear how proud he was of the water meter and of his role as caretaker. He explained that previously he had to walk 3 km to the dirty water spring we'd seen earlier, and now he can access clean water right outside his house for a small fee. He is really happy to save loads of time and for his family's health to be so much better. WaterAid and their partners rely on positive community leaders like Willy to make their projects a success. I left the slums with a mixture of sadness but also hope that improvements are being made and the problems will be solved - it will just take a long time.

Our day was not over yet, as in the evening we were treated to a brilliant traditional dancing show at a local cultural centre. I felt so lucky to be able to see and hear the fabulous dancers and their music and join in dancing at the end, but also guilty that I was enjoying myself after others we'd met earlier in the day have so much hardship.

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