Published on The Water Blog

Utility-based approaches are key to sustainable water service delivery in Uganda

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Water service situation in Uganda Water service situation in Uganda

The Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership* supports the Ugandan government in shifting towards sustainable water services in refugee settlements.

With 73% of the Ugandan population living on less than $3.2 per day, access to water and sanitation services in the country is limited. Estimates show that only 1% of the population is connected to sewers and that the current levels of wastewater treatment are inadequate. In 2019, only 18% of Uganda’s people had access to safe and basic sanitation services. 

In addition, Uganda has one of the largest refugee populations in the world – hosting over 1.3 million refugees in the country. It is one of the few countries in the world piloting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which aims to link humanitarian and development efforts. Humanitarian agencies have built more than 400 emergency water supply systems in refugee settlements and host communities. But these systems are dependent on external financing, primarily from UNHCR. By shifting services to national water services providers (National Water and Sewerage Corporation and Umbrella Authorities), where refugees become paying customers, they receive better and more financially stable services.

To support national development objectives, the GWSP is helping the government develop an approach to employ national providers to supply water in refugee settlements and their host communities, strengthen umbrella authorities (UAs) to better manage this transition.  Specifically, the GWSP financing allowed to set-up regular performance assessment of benchmarking of UAs, now turning a third year of such practice.

In Uganda, the Ministry of Water and Environment is responsible for developing water policies and regulating water supply services. Since 2020, the National Water and Sewerage Corporation, an independent public utility, has been responsible for water supply services in 280 towns. In rural areas and small towns where the utility cannot work, the Ministry of Water and Environment intends to transfer responsibility of piped systems to regional umbrella authorities to improve sustainability and expand coverage.

The GWSP is also helping the government introduce a monitoring platform for rural water and sanitation to generate data and incorporate solar power into rural water systems in refugee-hosting districts and their settlements. These interventions influenced the design of the Integrated Water Management and Development Project (IWMDP), a $280 million initiative financed by the World Bank since 2018. The IWMDP activities holistically covering all aspects of the water sector: from protection of water sources to water supply, wastewater collection and treatment, and urban and rural sanitation.

Uganda water service

The GWSP advised on the creation of checklists, questionnaires, and financial templates to assess refugee water systems transfer. A successful pilot in the Mid-Western region provided lessons for other refugee settlements and host communities. Now this initiative is followed by other donors in Nakivali (French Development Agency) and  Kiryandongo (EU and KfW). By the end of 2021, more than 15% of refugees population will be served by Uganda national providers.

Monitoring progress is difficult when data collection abilities in local authorities and water service providers are limited, which is why the GWSP worked with the Integrated Water Management and Development Project to fund a technical assistance program to strengthen institutions and address the challenges of gathering data.  

To promote learning and build capacity, the GWSP supported a training and study tour in Colombia for Ugandan officials to experience the Rural Water and Sanitation Information System (SIASAR) – a mobile phone and internet-based system to monitor rural water and sanitation access and systems. The Ministry of Water and Environment plans to launch SIASAR in Uganda, but the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some delays. The GWSP also helped town authorities create sanitation plans that led to the development of formal agreements between local businesses and local governments. Finally, the partnership funded an Engineers Without Borders’ review of design standards for 16 solar-powered rural water supply systems. 

GWSP helped to formulate the Gulu sanitation pilot with an overall target to develop a municipal water and wastewater company in the newly established city and assess institutional WASH delivery.

These activities have shown that it is possible to shift from emergency systems to sustainable approaches to water in refugee settlements and to develop innovative models for private sector engagement for fecal sludge management.  The GWSP-funded activities also highlight that coordination with other stakeholders in the water sector is critical for achieving maximum impact and changing the way in which humanitarian assistance is delivered. 

•    The GWSP is a multi-donor fund within the World Bank that produces cutting-edge research and analytics to create and deliver urgent, practical, and innovative solutions.


Alexander Danilenko

Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist, Water Global Practice, World Bank

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