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close this bookUganda's Water Sector Development: Towards Sustainable Systems (SKAT, 1996)
close this folder6. Moving Forward in the Rural Water Sector
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentRural water supply and sanitation programmes
View the documentArea-based centrally implemented programmes
View the documentDecentralised rural water development
View the documentRural towns water and sanitation programme
View the documentFeatures of the implementation strategy


After years of decline, the rural water sector in Uganda is once again moving forward. Within the sector, the DWD is taking a lead role. Together with the Ministry of Health, its project staff, supported by district administrations and local community groups, are implementing or rehabilitating rural water supply systems right across the country. The rate of progress is quickening and, considering the problems that need to be tackled, visible results are starting to emerge.

Rural water supply and sanitation programmes

The Government attempts to meet its rural area target (75 per cent coverage by 2000) through the provision of basic services. It has defined basic services as:

"a protected (safe), year-round supply of 20 - 25 litres per capita per day, preferably within 1,500 metres (1.5 km) of all households.
The general design criteria is to serve a maximum of 200 to 300 persons per outlet.
Further, the difference in elevation between the household and the outlet should preferable not exceed 100 metres."
Uganda National Plan of Action for Children (UNPAC, 1992)

At present, projects catering for rehabilitation and expansion of rural water supply and sanitation services can be found in all 39 districts of Uganda — though at quite varying levels of activity.

The largest programmes are:

- RUWASA East Uganda Project covers a total of eight districts in the south-east of the country and targets a population of more than three million. After a first phase that started in 1990, it is about to enter its second phase also of a five-year duration. The project is Danida financed.

- WES, National Water and Environmental Sanitation Programme (formerly SWIP, South West Integrated Project, and WATSAN Programme), is a country-wide programme (rather than RUWASA which is area-based). It attempts to introduce implementation activities in thirty districts where no other donor financed projects are on-going, though in some cases with only limited impact due to low activity level. The programme is financed through multi-partite arrangements between UNICEF, SIDA, NGOs, and district authorities. A programme co-ordinator is located in DWD, and Government is taking overall implementation responsibilities.

- NURP, Northern Uganda Reconstruction Project, is a World Bank financed infrastructure project operating in eight of the northern districts. The water supply component includes emergency repairs of a few piped water schemes, but the budget is mainly geared towards provision of rural water supplies. The activities started in 1993 and are scheduled to last four years.

- RTWSP, Rural Towns Water and Sanitation Programme, addresses the needs of more than 60 smaller towns and rural growth centres. Policies and guidelines have been developed with assistance from the World Bank. A phased implementation is envisaged in the coming years based on "project packages" to be financed by a number of external support agencies including World Bank, Danida, Austrian Government and BADEA.

In addition, a number of other project activities in the rural water sector are in progress financed and executed by NGOs. Presently, the most prominent NGOs in the Ugandan context are: WaterAid (UK), AVSI (Italy), World Vision International, Lutheran World Federation and CARE.

Finally, some projects are on the drawing board. Most advanced is a JICA-financed rural water project to be implemented in three districts in the centre of the country.

Water supply

Depending upon local conditions, the DWD constructs protected springs, shallow wells (both hand-dug and augered) and deep boreholes. In most cases the DWD fits handpumps to these sources of supply but in a few cases, where conditions allow and demand exists, it constructs gravity-fed systems. In the future, protected springs and boreholes or wells fitted with handpumps will continue to be the dominant means of providing rural communities with drinking water.

With proper training, greater involvement and mobilisation, communities have the capacity to maintain water points once constructed. The community is responsible for fencing off areas around springs prone to pollution risks. A three-tier community-financed maintenance system that works at village, sub-county and district levels is being introduced.13


Sanitation is seen as an integral part of the community development strategy. It is both a fundamental component of primary health care and an essential component of the overall socio-economic development of the country through minimisation of water-borne diseases. Water development activities and promotion of sanitation are inter-dependent and inter-active.

Sanitation provisions make up an important component of the integrated water supply and sanitation schemes. In some cases, the DWD has not entertained a water supply project until a certain number of leaders in the recipient community has installed an improved latrine for use by their household. The intention was that no project should start without the key influencers within a community demonstrating a core level of support. This specific "integration" strategy, and the strictness of its policing, are subject to review presently.

In line with policies that demand user-absorption of costs, the DWD is progressively removing subsidies on sanitation platforms (Sanplats). It plans to phase out all subsidies on Sanplats by the year 2000. With the support of DDCs it is shifting construction of latrine slab production away from district headquarters towards sub-county and parish levels with the private sector playing an increasing role in production and sale.

Community-based Management System

The objective of a Community-based management system (CBMS) for the rural water supply sector is to establish a community-financed maintenance system operated and managed by the users.

The CBMS operates on the following levels:

- Village level (1st tier): users form a Water User Committee which appoints two caretakers for each source. The Committee collects funds for preventative maintenance and repairs. It is responsible for maintenance of the installation.

- Sub-county level (2nd tier): the private sector is responsible at this level. Private handpump mechanics undertake repairs and preventative maintenance on the handpumps. Local shops distribute spare parts. The role of the RC3 and sub-county Water and Sanitation Committees is limited to selection of handpump mechanics and spare parts dealers, and partial payment for the training of mechanics.

- District level (3rd tier): district-level spare part dealers, appointed by spare part manufacturers, distribute spares within wholesale and retail markets. DWD's District Water Officers monitor the operation of the maintenance system. They also operate Borehole Maintenance Units that undertake rehabilitation and repairs beyond the capacity of the handpump mechanics. Over time the private sector will take over this function.

- National level: spare part distributors provide spares and distribute them to private district-level dealers. DWD monitors the general performance of the maintenance system and takes corrective actions at policy level as appropriate.

Hygiene Education

Mass education remains the most important factor in rural sanitation.14 Therefore, each integrated water supply and sanitation project involves a strong education component. In the past, sanitation programmes have not been very successful because of operational problems that include low levels of community awareness and participation, and conflicting cultural values and practices.

Over time, a wide variety of appropriate methods of education have been developed, including community meetings, drama, radio programmes, posters, calendars, etc. School is seen as a place where the message can be delivered to a receptive audience. Integrated water supply, improved latrine and education programmes invariably use the local school as one of their demonstration sites.

Area-based centrally implemented programmes

The large-scale RUWASA project provides some good examples of the lessons learned to date. Over a period of five years it has constructed or rehabilitated two thousand five hundred water sources and met the basic water supply needs of six hundred thousand people. It has almost doubled water supply coverage from a base of 10 to 15 per cent. By the middle of 1995, coverage varied between 45 and 53 per cent in three of the eight RUWASA districts. In the other five districts the project had achieved 20 per cent coverage. Unforeseen problems on RUWASA included:

- over-estimation of the potential from protected springs and shallow wells — only 40 per cent of identified sites could be adequately protected;
- high cost and low water quality from hand-dug wells — driving up the average cost of supply;
- high incidence of corrosive water conditions throughout the project area — the project found it necessary to install stainless steel (rather than galvanised iron) rising mains;
- the WHO drinking water quality guidelines proved too stringent — over 50 per cent of shallow wells and springs did not qualify.

Hence, the original RUWASA project target of 70 per cent coverage was not met. However, this and other DWD projects have provided a firm foundation for all future rural water supply and sanitation projects. Within the RUWASA project, the DWD was able to create much of its implementation 'software' that now includes workmanship standards, installation guides, training packages and monitoring systems. Notwithstanding the problems identified above, the RUWASA project will be followed by RUWASA II, a second phase that will build on the success of, and incorporate lessons learned from the first phase. In particular, the centralised project planning and management structure will be re-designed to be based on district management units.

Decentralised rural water development

Moving from central control to district level implementation is an interesting example of the use of decentralisation as a strategy for sustainability. Over the past few years, Uganda has gained experience with decentralised implementation approaches under a programme named WATSAN. Only recently, these activities have been grouped under a national umbrella programme referred to as the National WES Programme. The individual projects within the programme are characterised as being relatively limited in scope as far as financing and number of water points are concerned.

In a WES project, the overall planning, financing, implementation and management terms and responsibilities are agreed to through a multi-partite arrangement (spelled out in a Letter of Understanding) between an external donor, an implementer (often an NGO), DWD District Authority as well as local community/user group committees.

The following sections highlight various aspects and lessons learnt in one of the WATSAN/WES programme areas, viz. Mpigi District.

Situation before decentralisation

At the beginning of 1994 the DWD started a water and sanitation project covering the entire district. The project was funded and implemented by UNICEF, an NGO, Central Government, District Administration and local communities. During the early period of the project, district headquarters initiated, planned and implemented most of the water and sanitation improvement activities. There was limited mobilisation, involvement and responsibility shared at lower levels (county, sub-county, parishes and communities). As a result, the project experienced the following problems:

- Supervision of facility construction was difficult. A small team of supervisors from district headquarters simply could not cover all construction sites.
- Output lagged behind expected performance. It was noted to be well below potential capacity because there was little community participation and involvement.
- Most of the community lacked knowledge of WES activities, facilities and procedures. This was evidenced by the community's improper use and maintenance of facilities provided by the project.
- Follow-up for proper construction, use and maintenance by the district level staff was inadequate. They were stationed too far from the facilities, resulting in poor maintenance of the facilities provided.
- Capacity building was lacking. As a result, the community depended on limited district level resources for construction and repairs.
- Latrine slabs, blocks, concrete rings etc. procured in support of WES activities were produced at a casting yard located at the district headquarters.

Recognising the problems with the project, the WES management team decided to decentralise some of the operations to sub-county and lower levels. They felt that this would help to make the project more community-based and ultimately more sustainable.

Under the revised project arrangements, initiation, planning and execution are carried out at community level. The central level and district structure provide some off-shore materials, logistics, policy and planning guidelines, support supervision and monitoring and evaluation. The WES project team has developed the following strategies together with project beneficiaries in order to decentralise as much as possible to grassroots level. The project makes extensive use of the existing administrative and political structures — the RC system.

District council advocacy

The WES team has lobbied hard for district council support. The Mpigi District Council, composed of councillors from sub-country levels, took some convincing. However, the council is now mobilised and convinced of the value of the WES project as an essence for development in the district. The project is now one of the capital development projects earmarked within the district budget. This financial support supplements budgets allocated at lower levels of the RC system.

Mobilisation and training

Project activities begin with mobilisation and training of county and sub-county field staff from the Office of Health and Community Development. District level staff train community and opinion leaders to sensitise and give them skills for up-coming project activities. After this, local leaders are judged capable of mobilising the community and giving them advice on health and hygiene, technical issues and procedures of the project.

Water source maintenance fund

An operation and maintenance fund is established for each water source protected. The fund is maintained through user contributions. It supports construction, operation and maintenance of the water source.

Formation and training of committees

The users form water and sanitation committees at sub-county, village and source levels to plan, implement and monitor water and sanitation activities in their respective areas. The water and sanitation committee at source level is responsible for development and maintenance of the source and supervision of sanitation in the user community. Sub-county Health and Community Development staff train these committees so that members are aware of their roles and functions and equipped with the necessary skills to perform effectively. The training follows a standard training curriculum that was developed for the district.

Establishment of construction and maintenance structures at sub-county level

The community, through their leaders, selects local masons and pump mechanics. District project staff train these recruits in construction, maintenance and repair of water and sanitation facilities. The masons and pump mechanics carry out the construction and repairs that may be required in their respective sub-counties. Their remuneration is met from the operation and maintenance fund at source level. Local area Health and Community Development staff supervise construction. District level staff provide support, planning, supervision, monitoring and evaluation services.

Rural towns water and sanitation programme

A growing number of communities in Uganda are emerging between the two extreme settings of scattered rural settlements or villages and larger urban areas. These centres encompass communities ranging from small towns to district centres and rural growth centres. They provide focus for increased social and economic activity in the local areas, which justify the provision of essential services such as schools, medical facilities, and basic water supply and sanitation systems.

During the past few years the DWD has, as a priority activity, prepared a nation-wide Rural Towns Water and Sanitation Programme (RTWSP). This programme addresses improvement of the water supply and sanitation services in small towns and rural growth centres. As part of this preparation a "Policies and Guidelines" document has been drafted which describes the strategy for the planning, design, implementation and maintenance of these water and sanitation facilities. The RTWSP policies and guidelines represent a major shift in government strategy towards decentralised operation and maintenance of services in urban areas currently provided by DWD. It should be mentioned that many policy elements contained in the RTWSP Policies and Guidelines document have been applied with good success in the larger rural water and sanitation projects.

Principles of the programme

The programme follows a demand-driven approach to planning, implementation, and operation of water supply and sanitation improvements in the small towns and rural growth centres. Beneficiaries will have a choice of technology, within the prevailing technical limitations and hence the choice of management. Those who wish to participate in the scheme will form Water User Groups (WUGs) and will make a contribution to the capital cost that varies with type of technology. They will commit themselves to manage and finance operation and maintenance. In the case of piped systems serving more than one WUG, a Water User Association (WUA) will be established to manage the system. In line with the decentralisation policy, the local authorities will play a major role in the planning and implementation process in each town. The DWD will plan, regulate and facilitate the process rather than implement and operate the schemes as before.

Objectives of the programme

The objectives of the RTWSP are:

- to assist all towns to obtain basic water and sanitation services, while encouraging the higher levels of service for those who can afford it;
- to increase the capacity of communities, the private sector and government to provide and maintain sustainable water supply and sanitation facilities;
- to promote better health, through improved personal hygiene, excreta and disposal and environmental management practices.

Basic service for water supply is defined as a protected, year-round supply of 20 to 25 litres per capita per day, preferably within 250 to 500 metres of all households and serving 200 to 300 persons per outlet. Higher service levels for piped water supply systems (yardtaps and house connections) are encouraged in order to increase revenue and thus better ensure sustainability of the individual schemes. In these cases the unit consumption figures are higher, typically in the range of 50 to 100 litres per capita per day.

Basic service for sanitation is defined as an improved household latrine. The Sanplat and VIP technologies are some of the means towards latrine improvements. Due attention will be paid to match service levels of sanitation and water supplies.

Financing arrangements

Financing arrangements under the RTWSP is as follows:

- the community will contribute the equivalent of one year's operation and maintenance costs as their contribution to the construction of a water supply system — this will also serve as an indicator of their ability to operate and maintain the chosen system in future;
- for private household connections, the cost of the connection will be borne in full by the individual (or institution), while the project will finance the source and distribution costs for these individual connections;
- operation and maintenance costs will be fully borne by the beneficiaries (and institutions) including the replacement of components with useful life expectancies of to about eight years;
- future rehabilitation and expansion of source works and mains will be financed on an appropriate cost sharing basis to be determined later.


Maintenance of point source water supply systems (handpumps, protected springs and public standpipes) will be the responsibility of individual WUGs through their respective Water and Sanitation Committee (WSC). Maintenance of all on-site sanitation systems will be the responsibility of individual households. The WSCs will supervise use of the water point, collect revenues, keep accounts, and make repairs themselves or hire the services of a private mechanic.

Maintenance of piped water and sanitation systems will be the responsibility of WUAs who normally will contract operation, maintenance and repair functions to a private entity. Household revenue collection will be the responsibility of individual WSCs, who will be charged by their WUA on the basis of water delivered as metered at individual outlets (standpipes and house connections).


The DWD, prior to officially inviting a particular town to participate in the project, will carry out a "low key" rapid resource survey. The survey will confirm the population size and geographic distribution; test the need and willingness to participate and pay; and, identify technical options that are feasible.

Thereafter, the project will establish a formal contact with the district and town. The RTWSP implementation process in a given town includes the following phases: (a) Promotion Phase; (b) Mobilisation Phase; (c) Planning and Design Phase; (d) Construction Phase; and, (e) Operations and Maintenance Phase.

Features of the implementation strategy

The DWD's implementation strategy contains a number of features that are both innovative and imperative to the long-term sustainability of the sector. These features provide useful insight into the need for a pragmatic, as well as a visionary, plan for the future.

Technology issues

The Government insists that technology choice is based on technical, sociological and financial feasibility studies. The criteria applied include the willingness and ability of user groups to pay. It shows a clear preference for appropriate technology solutions when these can be shown to be effective and in the best interests of the recipient groups.

At present, the DWD is in the process of defining appropriate national drinking water standards. In the meantime, the DWD deems the World Health Organisation (WHO) drinking water guidelines to be desirable rather than mandatory. The DWD relaxes the requirements in some instances after taking due consideration of specific local conditions and water use habits.

The DWD does not demand the inclusion of sanitation facilities into all water supply projects. However, it calls for the assessment of needs during the planning stage. When sanitation facilities are found to be desirable, it insists that the community is involved in choosing appropriate sanitation technologies. It stipulates that an emphasis should be placed on acceptability — both culturally and financially — by user communities. In practice, most rural projects support the introduction of low-cost solutions such as improved latrine with Sanplat as an integral part of a water supply system.


Standardisation has become something of a mantra for many rural water supply engineers. Standardisation of equipment has many advantages. It facilitates centralised co-ordination, supervision and monitoring of sector activities; it promotes more efficient utilisation of resources and interchangeability of hardware; and it helps to sustain programme outputs.

The issue of standardisation becomes important in conditions of scarce resources. In particular, the need for standardisation reaches its most urgent in situations of extreme financial shortage, especially shortage of foreign currency. Within an open economy, the issue of standardisation becomes less critical — open borders allow freer movement of pumps and spare parts. The market plays a greater role in the decision-making process. Therefore, with Uganda's embrace of a floating foreign currency exchange system, it can be argued that the issue of standardisation loses its urgency, if not its raison d'ĂȘtre.

In theory, the DWD supports a policy of 'standardisation'. In practice, it has implemented a policy of 'limited-use'. At deepwell sites, the DWD insists on U2 and U3 (India Mark II & III) handpumps as standard equipment — on all projects, regardless of the donor or implementation agency. These pumps may have cylinder assemblies entirely of stainless steel or comprise brass-lined cast iron walls with stainless steel plungers. The DWD uses either uPVC or stainless steel rising mains and stainless steel pumping rods, except in the case where groundwater is non-aggressive. Here, galvanised iron rods and rising mains may be installed.15

For shallow settings, a formal policy decision is still pending. At the present time, modified (light handle) U3, NIRA AF85, Tara, Consallen and privately imported pumps are used. The DWD stipulates that shallow groundwater pumps installed on public works programmes must be properly field tested, have gained acceptance by the user community and be supportable under the CBMS. It promotes the use of public-domain direct action-pumps and/or pumps manufactured locally or regionally.

Health and hygiene

The Government places great importance on the dissemination of information about the correlation between safe drinking water and a decrease in water-related diseases. It places emphasis on the importance of linking low-cost sanitation with the provision of new water supplies, and accompanying both with appropriate health and hygiene education. Health promotion, hygiene education and low-cost sanitation are provided in the context of improved environmental sanitation.

Role of women

Women's involvement in design, construction, operation and maintenance of improved water supply and sanitation facilities is supported even to the extent that a separate gender policy exists for the water supply sector. The key criterion is that women and men have equal opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of community management.

More specifically, women's involvement in health promotion is safeguarded, recognising their important role in improved health of their families and in changing the behaviour of children. The Government also uses schools as vehicles for disseminating key health messages.

Sustainability and financing

Generally, financing of new installations is given low priority where maintenance of similar installations in the same area is neglected. For rural water supplies, inclusive of small towns and growth centres, community contributions towards construction are based on technology choice and raised by the beneficiaries before construction starts. The Government fixes subsidies on low-cost latrines to the poorest communities a level that will not discourage sanplat construction.

Management and institutional strengthening

One of the over-riding objectives of the Government's policies is to delegate water supply and sanitation functions to the lowest appropriate administrative levels, based (as far as possible) on the existing district and RC structures. It sees the role of the DWD as one of strengthening and adding value to the district operations rather than placing a layer of bureaucracy over them. It is attempting to improve the capacity to respond to community requests, at district and county/sub-county levels in planning, monitoring and technical service delivery.

The DWD encourages the training of beneficiaries, as they are expected to participate in the choice of water and sanitation technologies. The users also assist in the siting of water points and, where relevant, construction activities. The DWD endorses support for women's involvement in design, construction, operation and management of improved water supply and sanitation facilities. It promotes the view that women and men should have equal opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of community water management.


Water resources management interacts with activities within several sectors as well as with a number of cross-sectoral activities. This interaction can take place as impacts from activities within the particular sector. Agriculture, for instance, will have an impact on water resources through cultivation practices and use of agro-chemicals. The interaction can also take place through water use requirements of a particular sector; an example of this is the requirement for water for irrigation purposes. Thus, the DWD has a vested interest in that the activities of the interacting sectors are undertaken in a way consistent with sound water resources management principles and guidelines.

In the water supply sector, a strong partnership exists with other ministries and departments, for instance the Ministries of Health, Local Government, Gender & Community Development, and Finance & Economic Planning. For the rural WES activities, the established Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee (IMSC) that includes members from these various ministries, carries out overall co-ordination and supervision.

Generalised co-ordination/management structure for rural WES activities

A considerable number of external donor agencies, NGOs and other actors play a role in the water supply sector. The DWD actively seeks to partner with these organisations. It recognises their strengths and tries to accommodate their needs. In the case of the NGO community, the Government is attempting to strengthen its relationship through the establishment of a regular forum for information exchange, project agreements through Letters of Understanding and guidelines for their operations.

Private sector involvement

The private sector has not played a significant role in the water supply sector in Uganda to date. However, the Government is committed to the privatisation process — including its application to the rural water sector. The overall community-based approach, with the implication of user groups' responsibilities for, and ownership of, facilities is in itself a strong drive towards privatisation.

The DWD is planning to strengthen its use of private sector design and supervision services. It will shift responsibility for general maintenance away from it's district-based borehole maintenance units so that they can specialise in borehole repair and desilting operations. Over time most of these activities can be handed over to the private sector.

Planned borehole drilling operations over the coming years will swamp the capacity of the DWD's existing borehole drilling units. However, the DWD sees no need to increase its own drilling capacity — indeed it has developed plans to reduce its capacity. In the future, it will retain only enough plant and equipment to respond to specific emergency situations. Over the past year at least one private drilling contractor has entered the market. The DWD will encourage future projects to place drilling activities in the hands of the private sector via competitive tendering procedures.

As privatisation gathers pace the DWD will shift its focus towards tasks like:

- licensing drilling contractors;
- issuing technical specifications in respect of borehole completion;
- granting drilling and abstraction permits;
- setting water quality standards as well as preparing regulations governing sampling and analysis techniques;
- drafting guidelines related to contractors' reporting requirements to maintain the centrally maintained groundwater and borehole database.16