|Uganda's Water Sector Development: Towards Sustainable Systems (SKAT, 1996)|
In the next five years to the millennium, the Government of Uganda has set itself high targets for supply of water to its people. It hopes to reach fully three quarters of its population with clean, safe drinking water by the turn of the century. The challenge is enormous but the signs are positive. Since 1986, the Government has made better progress on rural water supply implementation than mere coverage records would suggest. It needed to overcome a huge legacy of political, economic and social problems before it could even begin to advance the sector. To its credit, it has not sought a quick solution or an easy answer. Instead, it has re-evaluated the entire process of governance and public administration within the country and with it the methods by which it will cater for the basic needs of its rural population.
The Government has stepped well beyond parroting the opinion of various external agencies. It has endorsed the international policies it believes to be appropriate to its circumstances, rejected others on the grounds that they are unsuitable at this time and proposed a host of innovative new ideas. Although very much in line with current development thinking, its economic policies stand in their own right. Its policies on decentralisation appear correct for Uganda at this time and place. Its support for the private sector should bring the results it seeks. Its reform of Uganda's political structures is steady and pragmatic. To determine if these policies are ultimately successful we must wait; time will tell. However, for now, most observers agree that the start is a positive move in the right direction.
For the water sector, enactment of the new Water Statute and preparation of the Water Action Plan mark a major step forward. Together, these documents and the forthcoming National Water Policy paper create a rational framework for the sustainable use of the nation's water resources. Institutionally, the new legislation is significant in that it makes the Water Action Plan the binding plan regarding water resources. However, the statute, policy and plans of themselves will not bring about results in the field they will not 'put pumps in the ground'. Therefore, it is time to shift away from the rhetoric, to the reality, of capacity building, enhancement of sustainability, and genuine popular participation. The emphasis must move from project design measured by the amount of donor inflows to project implementation measured by successful project execution in terms of project outputs, results and impacts. All this depends on the establishment of policies based on popular support and accountability right down to the community level.
Instead of further programme expansion, there is a need to focus on physical asset management and maintenance. The community-financed maintenance system will assist. Early signs that local communities will rise to the challenge are starting to emerge. The Government sees the development of diversified and dispersed centres of power as a way of providing rural people with a say in their future. It will help them to find a more sustainable means to demand and get a better rural water supply. Its public institutions will help, rather than hinder, their aspirations. At district level, all the participants will co-operate and collaborate.
It is often alleged that donors have dictated the strategy and content of policy priorities in Uganda and, therefore, excessively influenced the future direction of the country. The Government denies the claim. It says that the future of Uganda is in the hands of Ugandan people they will decide what is right for Uganda for themselves. They will make Uganda not just what it used to be, but what it can become a thriving economic centre, fully capable of supporting itself. Its rural people will benefit from a political environment that takes from the best of African tradition and rejects the worst. The major innovations that are putting the Government at the forefront of social engineering and management around the world indicate that it may be right.
Uganda's emerging decentralised decision-making structure offers an opportunity for establishment of appropriate rural water supply management structures at all levels national, district and community. The success of the rural water supply programme both affects and is affected by the success of decentralisation. As an example of the good that can come out of Africa, the proposed decentralised system of rural water supply management and development in Uganda stands with the best. It is participatory and integrates into existing social and political systems. It provides for greater inputs of local resources physical, managerial and financial. It should bring greater benefits where it counts, at the grassroots. Whether it is fully sustainable without outside assistance will take some years to determine. However, the framework has been developed for the eventual transfer of all responsibility for the rural water supply sector to those most in need the rural people themselves.
The Uganda Water Action Plan is a major component of the Government's emerging framework for rural water supply sustainability. If frequently updated with new actions added as contexts change and requirements develop or progress falls below expectations the Water Action Plan will stand the test of time. Conversely, if it exists as a mere paper exercise large on rhetoric and small on practical application the sector stands to lose its reputation and the rural population its basic human right. The Government has devoted so much time and attention to the development of an appropriate framework that it deserves to succeed. In the drive towards sustainability, the Water Action Plan stands as a guiding light. It remains to be seen whether it provides sufficient illumination, but the future for rural water supply in Uganda looks brighter now than at any time in a generation.
To fulfil the promise of the Water Action Plan, the Ugandan
Government will require support. It is simply unable to fund the expenditure
necessary to accomplish its water supply targets without an inflow of donor
funds. Given the encouraging results that the Government has achieved in a few
short years, external parties appear justified in increasing their financial
support. If all participants can further strengthen their emerging partnership,
the rural population of Uganda stands to gain the most. Reaching the target of
75 per cent access to safe drinking water throughout the country by the year
2000 will no longer be a distant hope to them; it will be a firm