Irish funded ‘Water is Life project’ increases access to safe water in Masaka, supports eight PhD students from Makerere

Ireland recognises that the water challenge is central to human development and will continue focusing on increasing access to safe drinking water in Uganda and other parts of the world. “Access to safe drinking water is a precondition for health and success in the fight against poverty, hunger, child deaths and gender inequality. Children’s wellbeing is particularly dependent on both quality and availability of water,” said Mr. Dónal Cronin, Chargé d'Affaires, Embassy of Ireland in Uganda while addressing participants at the final conference of the Water Is Life Project (Amazzi Bulamu). The function was held on 19th February 2014 in the School of Women and Gender Studies Conference Hall, Makerere University.

The five-project which explored issues of water and sustainable development was a partnership between Irish Universities and, Makerere University Department of Development Studies, and was undertaken in Makonda, Masaka District. The programme supported eight PhD research projects by Makerere University students. Each of the research projects by the eight students was water-centered with special focus on technical, social and health aspects. The output from each of the research strands will form the basis of various postgraduate academic programmes as well as community based education and training. It will also help to actively inform policy at national government level.The programme also supported the design of a Masters in Development Studies programme that awaits approval.

Mr. Dónal emphasized the need for community engagement in all efforts geared towards development. “Evidence shows that when it comes to development, local solutions, anchored in local realities and supported by strong leadership, work best,” he said.

He called upon the PhD beneficiaries to continue proposing solutions to the problem of clean water provision in the country. During the Conference, all researchers had the opportunity to disseminate their findings and recommendations as highlighted below.

Research findings

  • Groundwater offers a clean, plentiful and healthy source of water. Handpumps are one means of tapping into this resource. Investment in pump infrastructure is undermined by poor siting of handpumps with respect to seasonal variation of the local water table. Shallow well pumps (which comprises the vast majority of water sources in the Makondo area) are problematic in this respect and in many cases 'dry up' as their reach below the surface is not sufficient year-round.
  • The existing pump design is sufficiently robust but can only have a useful working life if adequate maintenance and replacement of worn parts is carried out. The manufacturer's recommended maintenance intervals become less relevant as the daily usage of the pump increases beyond the expected norms. This happens as the number of non-functioning pumps increases and the burden of water delivery moves to functioning pumps.
  • Pump functionality is consistently below an adequate level (various figureswere reported at different times). The project has adopted an approach of 'functional sustainability' which recognises that the prospect of a fully sustainable pump infrastructure is unlikely in the medium term. Some degree of 'unsustainable' technical intervention is necessitated. This can be linked to non-technical factors such as governance, economics, availability of trained pump mechanic s (link to W7,8) as well as the issue of siting.
  • The philosophy of 'functional sustainability' in the examination of the pump piston seal was examined. The seal wears and cracks after prolonged usage and needs replacement, which does not take place at the correct times. Surface coatings have been applied to seal samples (nano scale) derived from Diamond Like Carbon (DLC) compounds. While expensive to apply, early stage tests of the wear of the seals are encouraging. Wear rates have been reduced, prolonging the useful life of the seal to cope with the increased usage it experiences.
  • Harvesting rain water is widely practiced in Makondo. However the water from the majority of the systems tested was not fit for drinking before treatment.
  • SODIS is a cheap and sustainable point of use method to treat the water. Following training by the research student, SODIS was readily adopted by the people of Makondo who used it with very good success.
  • All the schools are relying on water sources that are not fit for human consumption
  • Solar Disinfection (SODIS) is an effective low cost point-of-use water treatment. SODIS efficacy improves as the turbidity reduces. Combining SODIS with rainwater harvesting is an effective strategy for treatment at all the schools.
  • The current coping mechanisms with climate change in Makondo include digging more open wells, water recycling, local knowledge, mobility and diversifying livelihoods.
  • The adaptive capacities in Makondo Parish are inadequate by themselves and, consequently are not independent of external influence
  • Ensuring Functional Water and Sanitation Committees (WSCs) is the answer to Functional sustainability of rural point-water supply facilities;
  • Deliberately maintaining regular contact between water user communities and their WSCs is a must if WSCs will have to remain functional. Sub-county and District Community Development staff are an indispensable priority in ensuring functional Water and Sanitation Committees. NGO interventions remain just projects with a short time frame
  • Women and children are most burdened by water collection (and access) in most households
  • Women are less represented and have limited voice in local water management
  • Inadequate water limits women’s engagement in health behaviours and constrains their role performance
  • The responsibility for water management limits the realisation of a woman’s full potential and self-actualisation.
  • Taking actions to promote a particular adaptive capacity building strategy, it would be worthwhile for NGOs and Government actors to focus on cognitive constraints that may exist because the disregard of local perspective can negatively influence adaptive capacity at the micro-scale

WIL recommendations

  • Changes in water governance regimes and processes of land enclosure need to be considered seriously in policy and adaptive capacity enhancement strategies to enable communities to cope with future climate variability in Makondo, Uganda
  • Improve relations among the more powerful and male-dominated Village Chairpersons, Water User Committees and Hand Pump Mechanics so as to enhance better access to water.
  • There is need to restrict the size of water vessels carried by women and children; encourage fencing of open wells, restrict water collection times and formulate stringent by-laws on rape and protection of women and children during water collection
  • Strengthen women’s representation and voice in key water institutions by making it mandatory for all Deputy Village Chairpersons to be women and all Water UCs to have 50 percent female composition as stipulated in water policies
  • Efforts to enhance women’s social role performance should be strengthened to promote effective engagement and inclusion of women (as the primary water users) in decision making beyond mere presence of the women in leadership positions (tokenism)
  • Promote dialogue at community level to get men back into the social processes with regards water management both at household and community level and ensure they are fully engaged to fulfil their roles and responsibilities
  • Access should be increased to get water closer to the households in order to enhance women’s role performance and opportunities to live their full potential
  • Development workers go beyond the predetermined packages that focus on the biomedical model of health and engage the socio-cultural issues with regards the water management process at the community level
  • SODIS is effective in treatment of water at household level and should be used in cases where no alternative means is available
  • Rain-harvesting should be encouraged at household level since it is clear from research that SODIS is effective in treatment of water samples from this source
  • In the Makondo area harvesting rainwater is widely practised. The HRW is used mainly for drinking water for the household and in times of plenty the HRW is shared with the animals.
  • The findings of the project indicate that for safety reasons the HRW should first be treated before drinking. SODIS was shown to be an effective method of treatment
  • The research also showed that best practice suggests;
    1. The tank should be enclosed
    2. The gutters feeding the tank should be kept clean and well maintained
    3. After the first rain, the tanks should be flushed out
    4. Water should be abstracted using a tap and not by dipping containers into the water
    5. The tap should be in good working order
    6. The collection area should be well maintained
    7. The tanks should be located to avoid overhanging vegetation and should not be in close proximity to animals
  • Studies at Makarere University showed that larger SODIS treatment technologies such as a CPC was suitable for treating drinking water in Sub-Saharan and other similar tropical climates if careful consideration of the cloud cover and rainfall is taken into account and should be installed at community centres such as schools and health centres for people to access safe water at these points
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