Can I drink the tap water in Uganda? Where does tap water in Kampala metropolitan and other major cities come from? What are the common issues and risks? What is the best water filter in Uganda for homes with piped water access? Is Bottled water safe to drink?
The short answer is that drinking water in Uganda is a mess. Water sources are getting more populated, water filtration and disinfection facilities don’t live up to international standards, bottled water is often as contaminated as tap water and water services are constantly interrupted. Over 21 Million people in Uganda are living without basic access to safe drinking water. That’s 51 percent—a majority of the population—in the East African country. But there is good news as well. Affordable and easy to install and use solutions are available today to give many households safe and tasty tap water directly from the tap.
In this article we explore the topics above and some of the solutions.
Uganda is blessed with abundant water resources for various purposes. However, this resource is unevenly distributed in both time and space. The major source of water for these resources is direct rainfall, which is recently experiencing variability that threatens the distribution of resources and water availability in Uganda. The annual rainfall received in Uganda varies from 500 mm to 2800 mm, with an average of 1180 mm received in two main seasons. The spatial distribution of rainfall has resulted into a network of great rivers and lakes that possess big potential for development. These resources are being developed and depleted at a fast rate, a situation that requires assessment to establish present status of water resources in the country. The paper reviews the characteristics, availability, demand and importance of present day water resources in Uganda as well as describing the various issues, challenges and management of water resources of the country. Water resources in Uganda comprise of large lakes like; Lake Victoria, Kyoga, Albert, George and Edward; wetlands and rivers, such as the Nile River, Katonga, Semliki, Malaba; rainfall, surface water runoff and ground water.
In 2013 there were around 65,000 boreholes or other groundwater points in Uganda.
Uganda’s capital Kampala receives part of its drinking water from Lake Victoria through four treatment plants: Ggaba I, II and III as well as a recently built plant in Katosi in Mukono District. Kampala supposedly has the best water treatment plant in Uganda it’s still not safe to drink to lack of capacity and power cuts.
Eight years after the National Water Policy was formulated, with the commissioning in April 2007 of the Gaba III treatment plant – part of an ongoing improvement scheme – Uganda took a major step towards its stated goal of ensuring sustainable water resources for the future. Designed to complement the two pre-existing plants at Gaba, the new facility increased the capacity by 80,000m³/day, bringing the total daily output up to 200,000m³ – meeting the needs of the area up to 2015.
The Ugandan water supply and sanitation sector made substantial progress in urban areas from the mid-1990s until at least 2006, with substantial increases in coverage as well as in operational and commercial performance. Sector reforms from 1998 to 2003 included the commercialization and modernization of the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) operating in cities and larger towns, as well as decentralization and private sector participation in small towns.
These reforms have attracted significant international attention. Thirty-eight percent of the population, however, still had no access to an improved water source in 2010. Concerning access to improved sanitation, figures vary widely. According to government figures, it was 70 percent in rural areas and 81 percent in urban areas while according to the United Nations (UN), access was only 34 percent.
The water and sanitation sector was recognized as a key area under the 2004 Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), Uganda’s main strategy paper to fight poverty. A comprehensive expenditure framework was introduced to coordinate financial support by external donors, the national government, and non-governmental organizations. The PEAP estimated that from 2001 to 2015, about US$1.4 billion in total (US$92 million per year) was needed to increase water supply coverage up to 95 percent.
Uganda is open water and swampland, but this is undrinkable. Meanwhile, high demand and poor management lead to shortages of clean groundwater – facilities are under strain in towns and cities, and the springs and wells that rural communities rely on are mostly used up.
In the big cities like Kampala the water treatment plant source water is actually safe to drink according to WHO standards. The challenge is that the water then gets contaminated on the way to the tap due to storage tanks, pipes and leakages. Therefore the most critical thing is to filter out all pathogens (bacteria) from the tap water.
Water is the most abundant resource on earth, however water scarcity affects more than 40% of people in Uganda. Globally, waterborne diseases such as cholera are responsible for over two million deaths annually. Cholera is a major cause of ill-health in Uganda. This study aimed to determine the physicochemical characteristics of the surface and spring water in cholera endemic communities of Uganda in order to promote access to safe drinking water.
Uganda has experienced two decades of economic growth, leading to large population movements from rural areas to informal settlements around urban centers. High population growth stressed the water and sanitation services that exist. 8 million Ugandans lack access to safe water and 27 million do not have access to improved sanitation facilities.
Further, due to disparities in water access in Uganda, urban people living in poverty pay as much as 22 percent of their income to access water from water vendors. Spending such a high percentage of earnings on water reduces overall household income, limiting opportunities to build savings and break the cycle of poverty.
In Uganda and around the world, millions are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic with the added challenge of living without access to safe water. Now more than ever access to safe water is critical to the health of families in Uganda.
The main issue As of 2018, 80 percent of the collected wastewater of Kampala was discharged without any treatment. NWSC operates a small conventional sewage treatment plant in Kampala and another in Masaka. In the case of Kampala, the wastewater is discharged into the Nakivubo wetland. The wetland is estimated to provide economic benefits of up to US$1.75 million per year, removing nutrients from untreated and partially treated wastewater discharged from Kampala through the wetland into Lake Victoria.
As part of a Sanitation Master Plan for Kampala carried out by Fichtner Consultants with financing from Germany, four wastewater treatment plants are planned. The plans included a plant with a capacity of 45,000 cubic metres per day at Nakivubo, a plant with a capacity of 8,000 cubic metres per day at Kinawataka , a fecal sludge treatment plant at Lubigi, and another plant at Nalukolongo. The investments are funded by the European Union, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and Germany and should be finalised in 2023-2025. The existing plant at Bugolobi is planned to be decommissioned once the new plants became operational.
In smaller towns, NWSC operates 21 sewage stabilization ponds. According to the MWE, an analysis of municipal effluents carried out in July 2008 revealed that NWSC’s wastewater treatment facilities mostly do not meet national standards. Out of 223 data sets, 12 percent complied with the biochemical oxygen demand standards, 26 percent with the phosphorus standards, and 40 percent with the total suspended solids standards. This leads to the pollution of water bodies from which raw water is extracted. In a few cases, sewage was disposed directly into the environment without any treatment. The lack of functioning wastewater treatment poses a threat to the environment and human health.
The top 5 bottles water brands in Uganda are Century Bottling company, N.C. Beverages ltd, Crown beverages, Aqua coolers,
But bottled water is not necessarily safe or healthy. At least 30% of the 200+ bottled and sachet water samples taken in a 2017 study contained bacteria. In some areas of Uganda contaminants above WHO guidelines were found in 70% or samples. One common issue is the storage and temperature of the water.
Street water quality is even worse. Bacteriological analysis showed that 5% of the 78 samples (A Type) in Kampala City.
Another major issue with bottled water is microplastics and plasticizers. The real impact is still unknown but there is more and more evidence that consumption of beverages and food from plastic containers impacts reproduction of women and men. It may also increase the risk of miscarriages. Do we want to risk this for pregnant women and babies? Especially since it’s known that filtered tap water is safe for babies.
A water filter can therefore save from $30 to $500 per year depending on the bottled water or street water source.
As mentioned at the start one of the best and most affordable solutions for safe drinking water is an ultrafiltration water filter. Reverse Osmosis will deliver clean water but is water wasting and often causes bacteria issues due to complexity of maintenance. Therefore the best water filter for Ugandan households is a high quality ultrafiltration faucet filter such as TAPP 1 UF.
Most households with tap water delivered from the faucet will save considerable amounts of money and effort with this ingenious solution. Just make sure the product is independently tested.
You can buy TAPP 1 UF from our partner in Uganda. Contact us for more information.
This is a guest post by Edward Saabwe based in Uganda published with the help of Magnus Jern at TAPP Water
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