How is Uganda meeting the challenges of water needs for the majority of its population?

Eighty five percent of Uganda’s population is living in disadvantaged rural areas with hunger and food insecurity posing a major problem. The number of undernourished people rose to 4.4 million in 2008. Resources and the potential to tap for economic growth in these rural areas are under-utilised, representing the poorest and most vulnerable groups. Sound governance in water management, including transparency and accountability, is not yet a universal norm.

The human right to safe and accessible water, as recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010, is inextricably linked with other human rights and therefore lack of access has a profound negative impact on many related human rights.

Gaps can be found in the implementation of the human right to water and sanitation. Despite the recent increase in the Human Development Index (HDI) in Uganda to nearly 0.5, it is lagging behind other countries, and its’ global HDI ranking fell from 140th in 2000 to 164th in 2013 (out of 187 countries).

Uganda national policies and laws make reference to the criteria and procedures of the human right to water and sanitation, but there are gaps, and the challenge is in their ability to implement and enforce these standards. Social services, such as health and education, are still weak, and social protection is fragmented, with large vulnerable population groups not covered.

Uganda’s parliament recognises that it has a role to ensure that legislation remains relevant to development and socio-economic service provision and delivery. In the last year it has taken the initiative to review its national plans, policies and strategies to understand what can be done at a national level to improve water governance and relieve some of the stress.

The Government of the Republic of Uganda has recognized the human right to water and sanitation at the international level, but its national law must be adjusted to ensure that the right is also explicitly found in the national legislation. These frameworks deal with the availability and quality of water and sanitation, but compliance does not necessarily provide the results that are needed. Recognising this, the government is now taking it a step further with a detailed review of how to implement change in the way that these policies are considered, looking at how the policies affect daily life from a more practical methodology, including securing other guarantees of non-discrimination, transparency and sustainability.

Statistics show that

  • 82% of the population’s sanitation facilities in Uganda have no hand-washing facilities – only 8% have water and soap;
  • Urban households travel 200 metres to the main source of water compared to 800 metres in rural areas;
  • Only 15% of people have access to water on tap, despite improvements

The Uganda Vision 2040 promises universal access to water and sanitation – all Ugandans will have access to safe piped water and a modern toilet facility. Some of the steps to achieve this vision involve government partnerships with the private sector to promote planned movement of people from scattered rural to planned settlements to ease delivery of utilities and services.

The Vision 2040 has good intentions, but there will be some challenges. While the extension of the piped water supply system recognises this urbanisation, it is not yet clear how they will balance the ability to generate affordable electricity by utilizing various rivers, while still providing adequate water to recognise the human right to safe water for domestic use.

The Vision confirms that it will promote commercial agriculture using sustainable water resources for irrigation, livestock watering, fisheries and aqua-culture.  This will require bulk water transfer systems to cover long distances, and local shortages will be mitigated through the development of water reservoirs. Analysis shows that only 14.1% of internal renewable water resources will be utilized to exploit full irrigation potential.

In line with Uganda’s commitment to the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21; and the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit for Sustainable Development , Uganda Vision 2040 commits to taking urgent measures to protect the environment and natural resources to ensure their future sustainability.

It is clear that the Government of Uganda has taken steps to ensure the fulfilment and enjoyment of the right to water and sanitation. Quite a number of steps have been taken at the structural, process and outcomes levels that demonstrate that the government is, to a large extent, on the path of progressive realisation.


For more technical details on the status of implementation of the human right to water and sanitation in Uganda, please read the full report here.