Reports of a swoop that saw at least 400 residents of Napak District arrested for open-air defecation is beneficial. This crackdown will go a long way in fixing a notorious habit that leads to poor sanitation and spread of diseases such as Hepatitis E.
Although low latrine coverage remains a huge challenge in rural Uganda, the situation is worse in Karamoja and stands at 69.6 per cent, with the highest proportion of households resorting to the bush for convenience.
According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) national household survey for 2012/13, use of pit-latrines has dropped nationwide from 86 per cent to 83 per cent and the numbers of those resorting to the bush has gone up.
But for Napak District with 41,000 households and only 10,416 of them having usable pit-latrines, the practice has come with a cost.
Napak has been devastated by the Hepatitis E disease outbreak – a disease that, according to medical experts, is spread through food or water contaminated by faeces from an infected person. The disease has killed 29 people and another 100 cases registered in the last few months.
Regrettably, the public servants in Napak have not stepped up to the challenge. Even worse, the pastors, sub-county chiefs, and chairpersons have failed this test of basic decency, and have been caught pants down among other 400 residents, soiling the environs.
That is why the swoop by district police commander Francis Tumwesigye and district health inspector Louise Ilukol is well-timed. But their five-day penalties of community service and mere warning are lenient. The pastors, sub-county chiefs, and chairpersons as public officers breached public service code of conduct and ethics to be beyond reproach in both official and private life. They should have faced harsher punishment.
As leaders who are charged with the responsibility of providing leadership in service delivery, they have denied residents of Napak a right to create and protect a clean and healthy environment stated in Articles 17(j) and 39 of the Constitution. Police threats of prosecuting repeat offenders with being public nuisance are not punitive enough.
With only a year left to 2015 to reduce by half the proportion of world population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation through the toilet, the leaders in Napak must not run Uganda backwards.
The residents must take up their obligations and stop resorting to bushes for convenience. Napak local leaders must pass rigorous by-laws and task every household to have a pit-latrine.
Subsequently, the leaders should make the swoops routine to increase latrine coverage, ensure proper sanitation and promote a clean environment.