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close this bookUganda's Water Sector Development: Towards Sustainable Systems (SKAT, 1996)
close this folder3. Driving Forces
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe physical environment
View the documentState of existing infrastructure
View the documentPressing financial shortages
View the documentNeed for legislative reforms
View the documentInstitutional requirements


By 1986 Uganda's gross national product (GNP) had fallen to below the level it had achieved in 1968. On a per capita basis, Uganda was 35 per cent poorer than it had been at independence. The rural infrastructure (including rural water supply systems) had collapsed. There were very limited funds for simple operation and maintenance — the sector's institutions could hardly pay their own staffing costs. In remote areas the Ugandan Government was incapable of delivering water supply services. External agencies — albeit very few involved — were the only organisations with sufficient funds to support a basic level of servicing and rehabilitation.

The physical environment

Fortunately, Uganda has a plentiful supply of water — some 15 per cent of the country is water! Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world, is shared between Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Situated on the equator, rainfall is generally high, averaging from 500 to more than 1600 mm per year. However, seasonal and spatial variability of water resources causes specific problems. Political conflicts are emerging between upstream and downstream users. Locally, upstream riparians may use water in ways making, for instance, water quality unsuitable for downstream users. Internationally, in the context of the Nile Basin, Lake Victoria and the River Nile are finite shared resources and the projected demands of the riparian nations may well exceed the resource.

The provision of safe water was a major concern and with it the closely related issue of sanitation. At the end of the 1980s, the incidence of water-borne diseases was on the increase. Epidemics of typhoid, cholera and dysentery were becoming common place. According to out-patient records from 1990, mortality in under five's due to water-borne diseases was prevalent.7 Uganda's health system was unable to cope. There was an urgent need to improve the rural population's access to safe drinking water and their sanitation practices for better health and general well-being.

State of existing infrastructure

Close to 90 per cent of Uganda's twenty million people live in the rural areas. The years of neglect took a massive toll on the rural water supply infrastructure. A survey carried out 1981 indicated that more than three quarters of all handpumps in Uganda were inoperable. Despite efforts to strengthen the established construction and maintenance systems during the 5 year Rehabilitation Programme (RP) from 1982 to 1987, most of the field units functioned unsatisfactorily or not at all 8

According to Government estimates, from 1970 to 1989 it channelled some US$ 193 million in external funding into the water sector. However, less than thirty per cent found its way to rural projects — much of this US$ 55 million was mis-allocated. It is not surprising, therefore, that the water supply situation in the late 1980s was one of collapsed systems, inadequate supply of spare parts and little forward progress on rehabilitation. Most of the rural population simply fended for itself.

Pressing financial shortages

The NRM Government inherited a financial nightmare. Virtually none of the country's administrative functions were self-supporting. Few Government departments had the funds to cover their operating requirements. Many could not afford to pay their staff.

In the water sector, revenues covered less than one per cent of the inadequate budget. The inability of the Government to provide subsidy hampered operations, yet the Government's administrative controls dissuaded the MWMD from raising its charges. Inefficient use of the limited capital that was available perpetuated the downward spiral.

The Government's meagre finances could not support the major investments required to rehabilitate and extend the rural water supply systems but it faced a dilemma. It needed external funds to rebuild the rural water supply sector. In particular, it needed donor agency funds. However, donors were wary of Uganda — most would only support the restoration efforts on a contingent basis. The Government needed to demonstrate that it was capable of dealing with the funds in a responsible and productive manner. As a matter of urgency, it had to improve its legislative framework by enshrining proper safeguards in the law. It also needed to rebuild its public institutions so that they could disburse funds in an effective and efficient way. The issue of Government as provider and owner of facilities with minimal or no 'user participation' also required re-thinking and new strategies.

Need for legislative reforms

Much of Uganda's existing legislation was voided during the troubled 1970s and early 1980s. The legal basis for proper management of the country was corrupted by all manner of decrees, dictates and working practices. Therefore, the arduous task of rebuilding the country's physical infrastructure was matched by the strenuous job of restoring the framework for democratic governance.

The basis for proper control of the water sector had to be re-established. New regulations, particularly with regard to the management and development of water resources needed to be written. The legal basis for new ownership structures and implementation mechanisms needed to be established. Without these, and the means of enforcing them, any new funds would face a familiar route of 'money washing down a drain'.

Institutional requirements

At the end of the 1980s the MWMD was in poor shape. Its staff were inadequately remunerated, poorly motivated and lacking in enthusiasm. Absorptive capacity of the MWMD was low, in both planning and implementation activities. The situation was particularly acute in areas such as the rural water supply sector where years of neglect had caused a backlog of maintenance and rehabilitation. The capacity of the Water Development Department to plan for and implement rural water supply schemes was seen as a major bottle-neck.

The need to rebuild the country's institutional capacity became a priority issue, not only with the Government, but also with the major supporting agencies. In a move that earned the Government the respect of its most ardent critics, it took on the challenges laid down before it. In less than ten years it has radically altered the shape of the civil service, slimmed down existing structures and embraced private sector involvement. As part of the ministerial restructuring process the responsibility for water sector activities was handed over to the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) which established a Directorate for Water Development (DWD) to oversee water resources and water supply activities. Despite continuing constraints, the DWD has embarked on a major programme of rehabilitation and development of the rural water supply infrastructure. The results of the DWD's work are beginning to show through — a doubling of the rural water coverage in under five years. The story of how it was done and what is likely to happen next continues in the following chapters.

Uganda: Annual rainfall pattern

Uganda: Principal ecological zones, Population density

Uganda: Organisation of the ministry of natural resources, including directorate of water development