One of the challenges facing the Water sector in rural areas in Uganda is the non-functionality of hand pumps due unaffordable hand pump spare parts and limited financial base for paying the hand pump mechanics (HPM) and hence a major hindrance in the access to safe and clean water.
Rural poverty, although not homogeneous, is deep and widespread. The widely cited “dollar-a-day” poverty measure conceals the fact that individuals in many rural Ugandan households handle cash sums much smaller than a dollar. Households and communities where income-generating opportunities are very limited simply cannot pay the tariffs required for hand pump operation and maintenance (O&M). Cash which is always scarce is used for very essential commodities like food and shelter but not for water which traditionally has always been seen as a “God given gift” to humanity to be enjoyed naturally by everyone, freely!
However, despite this fact, actually, many communities, with some kind of sensitization can willingly pay for water since it has become a more and more scarce commodity. Demand is often viewed as a key indicator for financial sustainability i.e. willingness-to-pay, however experience now shows that ability-to-pay may be the next best indicator, more important than willingness-to-pay.
Associated to the above challenge is that water from boreholes and other sources has been traditionally used for domestic use and not for other income generating activities like farming or brick making. If communities are educated on other multiple uses of water then communities would raise their financial capacities and be able to maintain their water sources to be able to access water-all- year round to sustain their livelihoods in more than just this one tradition way.
The greater challenge though has been associated with the management of the (daily/monthly) user fee and the capital contribution (Ug Shs 200,000) required for every community to receive a borehole from either Government or NGO. Some communities have been advised to deposit that money into a commercial bank to wait for any breakdown of their water source and be able to repair it. While others have been advised to surrender the money to the district water offices to create a pool at that level, other have retained their money and creatively turned it into a community revolving fund whereby members borrow this money and return it with interest. However, when the capital sum grows too big, with multiple borrowers the matter becomes too complex for an ordinary community member who was elected as a treasurer and custodian of the funds. This therefore, calls for greater training not only in financial management and records keeping but also on banking.
If communities could be advised and educated on the concept of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) and to invest in commercial ventures like market gardening or brick making their collections and contributions and finding multiple uses of the now-available water sources in their community, they would benefit better and increase their financial power to maintain their families and water sources. For example, they would be able to produce vegetables for the ever- growing markets and populations throughout the year. They would be able to fetch even higher incomes during dry seasons because of the availability of water. This would be one sure way of pulling our communities out of the nagging poverty using the available water sources for rural development.