Saturday, November 22, 2014

Shock of the slums

I was nervous about what to expect in the slums. There was a deluge of rain overnight. I anticipated a Dickensian novel or medieval York, open sewers, a stinking mess.

In terms of the physical environment, I was about right, except in the first slum we visited, calling the streets open sewers may have been an exaggeration. There were some informal drains, but more a muddy, filthy mess of rubbish, water and waste. The houses were cobbled together with bits of wood and corrugated iron, some with flood walls or raised thresholds to try and keep out the rising, stinking waters every time it rains. 

The water and sanitation facilities were desperate. There were few latrines, and those present were privately owned or overflowing. Most people have to go in a plastic bag or carton and then just throw it out on the street. I recall being taught about 'gard-a-loo', the call in medieval York as you threw the contents of yourchamber pot out of the bedroom window. That was 500 years ago. This is 2014.

The water situation was similar. There was a water source that the community had tried to improve through filtration a good while ago. It has since been condemned as there is contamination from waste and latrines upstream. But it is free. Rather than buying from a controlled water point on the water network where middlemen charge up to 500 shillings (13p) a jerry can. The people have no choice but to drink it, they have very little, and they need water. 

We met the Kampala authorities who are responsible for supplying water and sewerage services to the urban areas. On the face of it, all I could see was a loosing battle. The population of the city is growing by 20% a year and 60% live in the informal settlements.

Next we went to somewhere WaterAid and the authorities had started to intervene. It was encouraging to hear about the bottom-up approaches. Local groups had been set up to influence and lobby for change. Lined open sewers had been constructed. Rubbish collections had been arranged. Public latrines constructed. Hygiene education for market stall holders. Small enterprises set up to help recycle waste into fuel. And most impressive perhaps was the prepaid water meters. 

Over 1000 have been installed in the slums. They bring water directly to the people, rather than through a middle man. Any time of day and night. The main advantage though is the cost, a set tariff of 25 shillings a jerry can (0.6p), which means that people can afford the water and no longer drink from contaminated sources.

I found it was still heart breaking, and difficult to appreciate how improvements are ever going to be universal in Kampala, let alone worldwide. However, through every small step WaterAid get closer to achieving their vision. Clean water and safe toilets for #Everyone, Everywhere by 2030. We have to step up to the challenge and I for one will be doing everything I can to help.

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