Prepaid water meters offer relief

Woman fetching water. For instance, a 20-litre jerrycan of water from commercial taps costs between Shs200 and Shs300 yet each home uses a minimum of three jerrycans every day. FILE PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • Water access. Although water is life, it is poison to many people in Kampala city slums, where access to clean water is a nightmare. Slum dwellers get the precious resource from contaminated sources, which exposes them to water-borne diseases.
  • As we prepare to mark World Water Day on March 22, we look at the steps so far taken to improve access to clean water in Kampala slums.

Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) estimates that at least 60 per cent of the city’s population lives in slums with limited access to clean water.

For instance, a 20-litre jerrycan of water from commercial taps costs between Shs200 and Shs300 yet each home uses a minimum of three jerrycans every day.

The water crisis is worsened by poor sanitation. However, the National Water and Sewerage Cooperation (NWSC) is rolling out projects to address the crisis.

In 2012, NWSC embarked on installation of prepaid water meters to enable people residing in city slums access clean and affordable water. A 20-litre jerrycan of water at the prepaid meters costs Shs50.

Some of the slums that benefitted are Bwaise and Katanga in Kawempe Division, Kagugube, Kivulu and Kisenyi in Central Division, Kinawataka in Nakawa Division, Kabalagala in Makindye Division and Kiwunya, and Kabowa in Rubaga Division.

A prepaid meter dispenses water upon insertion of an electronic key and is managed by the person living nearest to it.

Majority of slum dwellers say with the installation of prepaid water meters, there has been relative access to clean water.

“It is a very good project because the rates are affordable. Before these prepaid metres were installed, accessing clean water was really hard because of the high rates and this left most of us staring at the possibility of being attacked by diseases...,” Ms Maria Nakyeyune, 42, a resident of Kagugube Zone in Central Division, says.

Mr Alex Ssebanika, the representative of People with Disabilities (PWDs) on the Kimwanyi LCI zone executive in Katanga, commends the effort by NWSC to extend water services to slum dwellers.

He, however, emphasises the need to have more prepaid meters in Katanga so as to meet the water demands.
“... For instance, Kimwani Zone has about 15,000 residents but there are only five prepaid metres. We need at least 15 prepaid meters to match our population,” he said.

Mr Ssebanika also says people who operate private taps tend to inflate the prices yet slum dwellers have limited sources of income.

Ms Florence Nabaggala, 34, a resident of Kimwani Zone, says: “Prepaid metres are the only way through which we the poor can access clean water and the few machines they installed in our zone have really helped us. The only problem is that they tend to break down and this is something NWSC should consider resolving”.

NWSC’s Public Relations Officer Sam Apedel says NWSC is rolling out the Service Coverage Acceleration Project (Scap) to install 3,000 public taps in the Greater Kampala to enable cheap access to water.

“While water is an economic good, it is also a social good and as NWSC, we are mandated to providing clean water to communities. Under the Scap project, we have so far installed at least 1,000 public taps and the second phase of installation is ongoing,” he reveals.

Uganda is signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals, and goal number six emphasises universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.

Mr Apedel, however, blames the breakdown of the meters in some places on vandalism.

The chairperson of Makerere industrial area in Kagugube Parish, Mr Kassim Lubowa, says the faulty prepaid meters pose a big health risk to the entire zone.

“Just recently, all the 14 prepaid water metres were faulty and it was really hard for residents to access water. The private taps that sell water are also limited and as such, some residents walk long distances to collect water,” he says.

The NWSC’s manager of urban poor, Mr Ronald Kitakufe, acknowledges that some prepaid meters become dysfunctional, especially when mishandled.

He says there is a team from NWSC that moves around city slums to assess the operations of all prepaid water meters, adding that any faulty meter is repaired on time. He, however, says spare parts of the prepaid water meters are imported, which delays repairing.

Asked why the prepaid meters are not installed across all Kampala city slums, Mr Kitakufe says some slums are not static while others keep cropping up, which becomes hard for the water body to embark on installation of prepaid metres.

“We are bringing more 2,500 prepaid meters and we hope this number will plug the gaps in slums which either doesn’t have or have less. Our mandate is to ensure that all communities access clean water,” he says.

Ms Amanda Ngabirano, an urban and regional planner, attributes the shortage of social amenities in slums to poor planning. She says spatial planning increases opportunities for growth, adding that if Kampala was planned, there would not be people who choose to sleep in squalid housing units in areas with limited social amenities.