Saturday March 22 2014

The tough road women walk in search of water

A child draws water, while below, a woman

A child draws water, while below, a woman carries water, her child and firewood. PHOTOs by brian mutebi 

By Brian Mutebi

From a water tank beside her house, Margaret Nakafu pulls a 10-litre jerrycan full of water for use in her kitchen 10 metres away. She leaves a basin filling that she picks minutes later to water her zero-grazed cow.
Nakafu, a widow living with her five biological daughters and three grandsons, is a resident of Nakisunga Village in Mukono District. She doesn’t only have access to clean and safe water for consumption in her household but water for her animals too. She was assisted by a water project working in the area, Women for Water Partnership.

Marita Nalwesiyo, a resident of Kasoga Village, Kakuuto Sub-county in Rakai District, on the other hand must walk two kilometres from her home to collect water for domestic consumption.

For the long distance she covers carrying a 20-litre jerry can of water, Nalwesiyo cannot even imagine using some of the water to feed her animals. How could she when it is not even enough for her household? In Nalwesiyo’s area, water is a scarce commodity that every drop of it accounts as for instance does every note on the shillings ten thousand bundle.

Nalwesiyo shares this burden with her six children; four daughters and two sons, the eldest, a girl, being 13 years old. “Most times the children help out to collect water from the well,” she says.

But these are not wells rather ponds in the swamplands where clay is mined. The water from the ponds is algae-filled, contaminated and therefore not fit for consumption. Nalwesiyo and other mothers in Kasoga village recognise the danger of consuming such water. They know there is a risk of acquiring water born diseases but have no option out. “What can we do?” she laments.

Yet this is not the only problem. Mothers in this village worry that their children might one day drown in the ponds for the mouths of the ponds and the paths leading there are very slippery. “We try and send some grown-up children to the wells (ponds) but that is not all the time. The older children come back from school in the evening.

It is the younger ones who leave school at midday and sometimes I cannot wait for evening to get water for cooking so I send those ones (six or seven years old) to the well. I, however, worry that they might drown because the wells are in bad shape,” she says.

Nalwesiyo is a typical example of what majority of rural women in Uganda go through in accessing clean and safe water. The 2013 Uganda Water and Environment Sector Performance report noted that “Women and children bear the burden of collecting water, maintaining household sanitation and bear the brunt of poor environment management practices.”

Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, the Minister of State for Water and Environment, noted that as of June 2013, the government and its partners had managed to provide access to safe water to 70 per cent of the population in urban areas and to 64 per cent of the population in the rural areas.

To give credence to the minister’s statement, the Sector report noted that a total of 3,117 point water sources were constructed in rural Uganda. Of these 406 were protected spring wells, 599 shallow wells, 868 boreholes, 78 piped water supply schemes and 1196 10m3 rainwater harvesting tanks.
Some 64 per cent access clean and safe water as quoted by minister Kamuntu is not the best but also seems not worse off.

However, the situation does not seem as rosy in many rural areas especially for women and children. In the report by the charity organisation; Education & Development Opportunity – Uganda (EDOU) titled “The Untiring Search For Water In Grim Scarcity: A Case For Kyankwanzi District”, EDOU noted that in Kyankwanzi district at the given period of time out of 10 persons who use point water sources that mainly included ponds, shallow wells and boreholes, six were women, three were children and only one was a man, what EDOU termed as the “6:3:1 water gender mismatch”. That despite the crucial role women play in providing water in households, the charity noted that “women (were) in an unlevelled position as compared to men”.

“We found out that there was only 35 per cent women representation on water & sanitation (WATSAN) Committees. This exhibited high levels of inequality given that the biggest stakeholders were women,” said Freddie Musisi, EDOU’s Water & Sanitation Training and Capacity building Officer.
WATSAN Committees are committees set up comprising of key local stakeholders to manage the operation and maintenance of point water sources in the area. Data collected by the Ministry of Water and Environment in 2012 from 65 districts having 24,484 water sources indicates 80 per cent of WATSAN committees have women holding key positions.

Women representation
However EDOU’s report presents a contrasting scenario. “Only two WATSAN Committees out of 25 had women as chairpersons. Seven committees had no single woman represented and on the 18 committees where women were represented they were mainly committee members and secretaries.

In the whole, 80 per cent of existing Committees expressed ignorance of the importance of having a woman on the WATSAN Committee,” the report notes.

Musisi says this is appalling and yet it is representative of many other rural areas across the country where women are marginally integrated in water and sanitation programming. “What this means is that women issues and concerns are not effectively integrated in planning for and management of water sources despite the paramount role they play in providing access to clean and safe water and proper sanitation and hygiene in households,” he said.

The world commemorates the International Water Day today March 22 under the theme “Water and Energy”. The United Nations (UN) water body; UN-Water noted that water and energy are basic components of life, a combination of which can help alleviate poverty. “This is a reality for the poor as securing access to both water and energy is still the cornerstone of alleviating poverty and breaking up the vicious circles and backwardness it creates,” UN-Water stated.

The vicious cycle of poverty is yet to be broken for Harriet Nakigudde a resident of Gayaza Sub County in Kyankwanzi district. The burden rests on her back, heavily. She takes a rough ride in securing her water and energy needs. She ties a bundle of firewood together with her two-year old daughter at the back of a bicycle, fits four 20-litre jerry cans full of water and rides two kilometres to her home.

Kyankwanzi lies in the dry belt of Uganda also known as the Cattle Corridor and the climatic conditions in the district are harsh leading to water stress with Nsambya Sub-County having the lowest access to water rate at 26 per cent according to the Access to Water Atlas 2010. Women and children suffer most the blunt of lack of access to clean and safe water.

Piece No.10 of the “18 think pieces” of the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda recognizes addressing inequalities as “the heart of the Post-2015 Agenda and the future we want for all”. “What needs to be done is document the pivotal role women play in providing access to clean and safe water and use that information to improve the status of women,” said EDOU’s Musisi.

UN-Water Post-2015 Agenda
1. Achieving universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene
2. Improving the sustainable use and development of water resources
3. Strengthening water governance
4. Improving water quality and wastewater management and
5. Reducing risks or water-related disasters