Water, an underrated tool for societal transformation

By Ivan Ongebo

Many times, we have answered this question without fully understanding it properly. It is like answering the question of “How are you” where the majority would just reply “I am fine or ok”. However, the present question needs to be understood and appreciated beyond the mere thinking that no living thing can live without water. 

Water availability has far-reaching impacts in societies that can either enable the society to exit poverty or continue to meander in the vicious cycle of poverty forever. Beyond its purpose in industries, fishing, and in the generation of hydroelectric power, the importance of water in society at the grassroots must be seen with critical eyes by the relevant stakeholders.

According to the Uganda Water Supply Atlas as of December 6, 2023, the access rates of water in Uganda vary from 31 % in Kyegegwa District to 95 % in Obongi District. Uganda has 143,874 domestic water points which serve a total of 29,744,134 people – 24,407,881 in rural areas. Uganda also has 1,211 piped schemes.  However, someone would also be interested in knowing the average distance from the households to the water source which is significant in understanding its impacts on the society. Keeping that in mind, we can explore the importance of water in social transformation as below: 

Water and Education 

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When I was in the primary level of my education in some UPE school in Northern Uganda, my experience made me understand the importance of water in education. Every time it was my turn to fetch water, I needed not to go to school and I must prepare for a fight that would potentially happen at the water source.  These were attributed to the long distances to the school and the water source, as well as the over demand for water at the source that would lead to conflict due to competition. 

One question to the relevant stakeholders, how many children in Uganda do you think failed to study and dropped out of schools because of water? are they not the future of Uganda? will this have negative impacts on the future of this country?  Therefore, you cannot think about promoting education without ensuring the availability of adequate safe water to the community. In many societies in Uganda, girl children are the majority at the water source. How then can we effectively promote girl-child education with the looming water crisis?  Therefore among other factors, water shortage alone can significantly delay the social transformation of society and for Uganda, attainment of the all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 will be greatly affected.  

Water and the burdens of diarrheal diseases 

According to the Ministry of Health, diarrhea is amongst the five leading causes of under-five deaths in Uganda, killing more than 140,000 children every year. When you randomly ask anyone in Uganda whether he or she has ever had diarrhoea, the answer would be yes. Yet many people do not know that the condition comes from drinking or eating food prepared with contaminated water. When water is limited, we are unable to clean food and utensils or even wash our hands properly after using latrine or before eating food. 

There was a mother who used to spend at least 4 days every week in hospital with her child who repeatedly suffered from diarrheal diseases. This mother could not do any other business to facilitate the family, older children could not make it to school because there was no one left at home and their mother also needed help in the hospital. 

Then, the question would be, how many households in the country are in this situation? Therefore, there should be a deliberate effort to address the water shortage and access challenges in the country. The impacts of water are seen across all sectors of development and affect the attainment of all SDGs. 

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Therefore there should be an interdisciplinary collaboration and coordination of all actors involved as the country strives towards achieving the SDGs, the National Development Plan (NDP III), and the goal, of 2040. 

The author: Ivan Ongebo, is a Research Assistant at Makerere University School of Public Health And School of Veterinary Medicine   And Graduate WASH Trainee At Water Mission Uganda.

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