Uganda is endowed with significant freshwater resources. Natural resources are ‘the country’s primary asset base, providing a source of livelihood for more than 90% of the population. However, uneven geographical distribution, coupled with pressures from rapid population growth, increased urbanization, industrialization and environmental degradation, is a big challenge to the sustainable development of the country’s freshwater resources. The annual population growth rate is 3.4% (31,8 million inhabitants estimated as 2010), which poses a major challenge in increasing safe water coverage, especially in rural areas. The largest source of water for the rural population in Uganda is spring water, followed by boreholes. Shallow wells with hand pumps, gravity flow schemes and rainwater harvesting are also used.
Poverty incidence remains high, in spite of progress made, and is firmly entrenched in rural areas. In the early 1990s, the rural water sector was characterized by a relatively weak sector policy framework, limited sector coordination and insufficient institutional capacity. More than 60% of the rural population, some 9 million rural inhabitants lacked access to safe drinking water. In terms of water service delivery, there was a relatively weak sector policy framework, limited sector coordination and insufficient institutional capacity (human, financial and technical), particularly at local government level.
Sector progress surged in the late 1990s and into the mid-2000s. Challenges going forward include declining sector resource allocation, some fragmentation of sector activities and changing political economy priorities. The policy and institutional framework has advanced over the past two decades in Uganda. The policy and legal reform process started with the introduction of the Water Act (1995) and the Uganda Water Action Plan (1995). Other key policies included the National Water Policy (1999) and the Local Government Act (1997, 2000). These policies integrated key principles and service delivery modalities which shaped rural service delivery for the coming years that included: decentralization of implementation; demand-driven approaches; a strengthened focus on ‘software’ investments in water resources management, behavior change and community management of services; and integrated water resource management.
Furthermore, reform studies for Water Supply and Sanitation were carried out from 1997 leading to the development of Strategic Sector Investment Plans (SSIPs). The SSIPs were designed to generate appropriate policies, strategies and action areas with associated costs for the sector. Also, a reform study of the rural sub-sector was undertaken after 1999 which formed the basis for investment plans and other reform processes, such as the shift from projects to a Sector-Wide Approach (SWAp). Significant progress in rural water supply was achieved from 1990 to 2008. Considerable progress has been made in implementing the national water policy and attaining national water targets. In the rural water and sanitation sub-sectors, there has been a steady improvement in service coverage over the years’. Rural access to improved water source increased from 39% in 1990 to 64% in 2008. Coverage levels as of June 2009 are estimated at 65% and, in June 2010, at 65%.
- Political support matters, as does the nature and logic of the political system. In Uganda, political prioritization of water and poverty was central to progress. The depth and longevity of sector reform relies on political support, which can ebb and flow. Sector-level governance reform is unlikely to be successful without broader political reform, which takes time.
- The long-term engagement of donors can help build capacity and create relations of trust. However, it is crucial that there be a genuine process of mutual learning and knowledge transfer, between donor and aid recipients, as opposed to donors using their relative power to impose their ideas and conditions.
- Reforms are unlikely to be effective without addressing underlying incentives within recipients and donor agencies. In Uganda, consultative reform processes or sector ceilings created incentives for the active engagement of relevant stakeholders and encouraged sector actors to take greater responsibility for effective resource allocation within the sector.
- Drivers outside of the sector can contribute to sector progress. International actors, political imperatives and alliances with powerful ministries can influence sector progress. Sector leadership may not be sufficient for strong progress in the absence of wider support at national, or even international, level.
- National ownership of the reform process and a core of technically competent and relatively powerful ‘reform champions’ within government were key factors in driving and sustaining sector progress.
This case study is adapted from a report: Uganda and rural water supply: Major strides in sector coordination and performance (ODI, 2013)