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Access to clean water in Uganda: A tale of stark disparities

Girl fetching water

Girl fetching water

In Uganda, the struggle for clean water is a tale of contrasts. A recent study by Twaweza reveals that while six out of 10 Ugandans consider access to water a serious issue, the extent of the problem varies significantly across regions, with rural and poorer households disproportionately affected.

The research, part of the Sauti za Wananchi survey, involved 2,809 respondents across Uganda. Findings indicate that access to piped water is ten times more likely in Greater Kampala compared to northern Uganda. This disparity underscores a broader trend of unequal access to water resources in the country.

In the Western region, 40% of citizens rely on unimproved water sources, including 15% using surface water. In the Central region, this figure is 29%.

These regional disparities are even more pronounced in access to piped water. While 70% of households in Greater Kampala have piped water, only 6% in Northern and 9% in Eastern Uganda enjoy this privilege. The study also highlights a rural-urban divide in water access: 11% of rural versus 46% of urban households have piped water.

Wealthier households are eight times more likely to have piped water than poorer ones. Despite these inequalities, Uganda has seen a rise in households accessing water from improved sources, from 74% in 2018 to 80% in 2023. However, the progress in piped water access has stagnated in the last five years.

Interestingly, 61% of Ugandans treat their water before drinking, a decrease from 70% five years ago. Treatment is more common in urban areas, wealthier households, and among those with piped water. The major challenges Ugandans face in accessing water include distant water points (44%) and insufficient water points (43%).

Urban residents also grapple with the cost of water, while rural dwellers often find their water sources dirty. Sanitation facilities vary widely: 51% of households use a pit latrine without a slab, and 5% lack any facility. Flush toilets are more common in Greater Kampala. Handwashing facilities are more prevalent in wealthier and urban households, particularly in Greater Kampala.

Violet Alinda, country lead for Uganda at Twaweza, points out the policy dilemma: whether to focus on improving services for the poorest or expanding water pipe networks to more middle-class households. For most Ugandans, prioritizing the underserved seems the clear answer.

The Twaweza study sheds light on the stark disparities in water access across Uganda, underscoring the need for targeted policy interventions. While there has been progress, the persistence of these disparities calls for a concerted effort to ensure equitable access to this vital resource.

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