|Uganda's Water Sector Development: Towards Sustainable Systems (SKAT, 1996)|
|7. Potential FOR success|
Despite the optimism, Uganda faces significant constraints to its progress towards the 2000 rural water supply goal. It would be foolish to discount the problems it is likely to encounter along the way. These range from the generic problems faced by any country in the developing world to those unique to Uganda.
The Ugandan economy, despite improving indicators, is still very weak. It is highly dependent upon inflows of capital for infrastructure development. Currently about 90 per cent of water supply development funding originates from external sources. Uganda has liberalised its economy, yet it is not yet past the point that it could revert to less pragmatic, inward-looking economic policies. In addition, the removal of macro-economic distortions in and of itself does not lead to better institutions and organisations. Indeed, it can highlight many of their inconsistencies and failures. It does, however, provide a firm basis for moving forward. The goal for Uganda is to use the few resources it does have to best effect.
The bottom-up planning economic planning and policy formulation system will help likewise the more open foreign currency system. However, Uganda is still very exposed on a macro-economic level. Its main exports are prone to heavy fluctuations in price. Hence, any optimism for the rural water supply sector needs to be tempered by the knowledge that the country, as a whole, still faces major risks.
When the NRM came to power, Uganda's public institutions were almost non-functional. Its planning and policy functions are still weak. They are hampered by lack of information and skills and constrained by inadequate procedures for exchanging information between the various planning agencies. The situation has, and continues to, improve. However, the situation is not reversible overnight.
The concerted efforts of the DWD and the other sector players have been pivotal in the re-establishment of the rural water supply sector. As the DWD moves to a policy making and support institution, the responsibility for implementation and maintenance must be picked up by district and lower-level organisations, as well as users. The hand-over of this responsibility is still in the early stages and it is not possible to determine the effectiveness of transfer to date. However, the capacity at different levels, and of various players is generally inadequate. Further training and support will be required for successful policy implementation. It will involve the successive detailing of policy from the top level of intent through the structuring of actions required to achieve intended policy outputs and impacts.
There is some danger that Uganda is undertaking too many changes at once. The risk is in the process of change, rather than the end goal. On the other hand, change is necessary and should make the water supply sector more sustainable.
On present projection, the existing target for rural water supply coverage looks optimistic. The DWD has the capacity to deliver, but not the resources. It has estimated that it will need US$ 30 million per year to meet the 75 per cent target. At the present time, around US$ 15 million is available to the sector. More could be channelled through the DWD, but some donors resist, believing that the DWD is not yet capable of administering increased levels of funding. Others, feel that different sectors demand greater assistance. Some hold back as a way of influencing further political change.
Under decentralisation, implementation is delegated to district-level operations. Therefore, the absorption capacity of the sector is dependent on the districts' capabilities to handle the investments and deliver the services accordingly.
Uganda is not in the fortunate position of generating sufficient internal funds to reach the planned rural water supply coverage. Therefore, it stands dependant upon external support. With the necessary framework now in place, it would be disturbing to see the 2000 goal slip by for want of needed support.
Decentralisation policy has many benefits. However, some issues are not yet clear and capacity requirements cannot always be met. This problem will subside with implementation, but, at the moment, the goals of the Government seem to be a distant challenge rather than a future reality. The Government is supporting a radical decentralisation of power right back to grass roots. The outcome for the rural water supply sector should be positive. Decentralisation should lead to improved administrative performance, institutional accountability and quick response to needs of beneficiary committees. However, the success of implementation within the sector falls increasingly upon the shoulders of local leaders. Whether they have the skills to manage and assess the programmes remains an issue. Another issue is how various district authorities prioritise the water supply sector among competing requirements. There is a strong need, therefore, for the DWD to sensitise and build the capacity of these individuals, the district structures and community-level organisations.
The barriers to progress include a possible reversion by central government departments once the full implications of the decentralisation policies are felt. Capacity will be stretched and resources will be limited. There will be some tendency to balk at the challenge. However, the further into implementation the policies are driven, the greater the signs of a re-emergence of sustainable local participation and management. The future for rural water supply will be brighter if this continues.
Political reform process
The donor community and other private agencies outside the Government can play an influential role in advocating for particular policy issues. Donor influence can bring about significant short-term improvements. The offer of their funds can be persuasive. However, donors also influence policy shifts that may not be in the interest of the country over the longer-term. The Government already faces pressure on the issue of the speed of its move towards reinstatement of full political freedom. It feels threatened by the external influences being brought to bear. However, it is largely dependent upon external parties for its budgetary requirements.
Government resources are limited to 10 - 15 per cent of total resources needed for the development of the rural water supply sector. To reach the 75 per cent coverage figure, the Government will need to secure substantial additional funds. It is justifiably concerned about a return to the past forms of governance, yet the political structures it embraces do not satisfy many of the influential donors. Therefore, it walks a fine line between what it feels is right from a national security point of view and what is requested of it by influential outsiders.
Lack of integration
Because of its dependence on external support, the rural water supply sector lacks integration. Activities are parcelled into projects and programmes these sometimes trigger inter-agency competition and inadequate collaboration. The three-way alliance between donors/NGOs, public sector institutions and local communities is proving effective. The Government appreciates the role played by the various external support agencies and NGOs. However, with an ever increasing number of such organisations operating in the country, co-ordination and regulative issues remain a topic of concern.
The DWD faces a challenge in dealing with the increasing number of agencies wishing to enter the sector. It also finds itself in the position of handing over much of its traditional responsibility to private contractors, many of which are new and have never before played a major role in the rural water sector in Uganda. Over time, the sector should benefit from the combined energies of all participants but, at the present time, the DWD must ensure that inputs are orchestrated to maximum effect. This presents it with a significant challenge.