Guest Blog by Francis Mujuni, WASH Specialist@MCID
Uganda with a population of 37 million people an annual population growth rate of 3.2% makes it one of the fastest growing countries in Africa (UBOS 2014). With such rate of growth compounded by high levels of poverty the country is unable to provide its people the required social amenities to live healthy and productive lives. With a per capita annual income of less than US$600, Uganda is still one of the world’s poorest countries where a quarter of its population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Poor sanitation and lack of safe water costs Uganda an equivalent of $177 million a year. Total health expenditure as a percentage of GDP was in 2013 was about 9.8% with $21 million spent on healthcare due to poor sanitation and $147 lost due to premature death.
Currently, accessibility to improved water sources in rural Uganda is only 65% (MWE 2015), meaning the remaining 35% about 13 million people use water from unsafe sources. But the question remains, “how safe is the drinking water from the so called safe water sources (boreholes, protected springs, rainwater tanks etc…)?”
Experience has shown that even when people fetch water from so called “safe sources” much of it gets contaminated along the water pipeline; from point of supply to point of consumption. Because of this people have always been advised to boil water to making it safe for drinking. However, this encourages tree cutting for fuel which endangers the environment and secondly, the smoke from wood based fuel endangers peoples’ health.
Currently bottled water in Uganda and other developing countries would be solution to the above problem to save the environment and peoples’ health. However, bottled water is very expensive leaving it to the rich in cities and urban centres; becoming a good of ostentation instead of a good of necessity. Why should bottled water be too costly? Is it because of the processing processes it goes through or because of profit seeking motive? Why would governments and social organisation (NGO) that feel concerned about people drinking unsafe water not make bottled water available, affordable and accessible to many more people? This would solve the above two challenges.
Otherwise leaving such delicate life supporting and crucial resource in hands of only the business community will continue to deny majority of the population access to safe water a person drinks without suspicion or worry of contamination! I have always wondered why people drink bottled water. Is it because of health or wealth promotion?
I feel, it is high time social organizations especially NGOs working in the WASH sector and governments forged partnership with private sector ( public-private-social-partnership- PPSP) to ensure prices of bottled water are reduced to allow more people access it and thereby expand their clientele. For example governments could exempt taxes on bottled water to make it less expensive for the common people so as to promote their health. That would save governments from spending too much on cholera and other water related diseases as the practice has been in many developing countries.
On another front commercialization of bottled water perpetuates social inequity in access to safe drinking water! By this article, I am not proposing that such water should be provided to consumers gratis, but I am only requesting that is it is made available and affordable thus improving access.
 Uganda Bureau of Statistics – Housing and Population Census 2014
 Uganda Ministry of Water and Environment Sector Performance Review, 2015