A while back, a friend returned from a funeral of one the big men from his village. The man had served as a minister in one of past regimes and had generally lived a good life. My friend’s story from the big man’s funeral wasn’t about the pomp, which many often try to put up even at funerals in our rich world. It was about one shocking aspect of the man’s life. This big man had lived in Kampala and kept his village home like most Ugandans do but to the surprise of my friend this big man’s village home where he was buried had had no toilet/latrine facilities. The only standing structure had been quickly erected at the news of his passing.

I was reminded of this story at a sanitation meeting that is taking place in Kampala, which brought participants from 21 countries.
When I first saw the theme “unclogging the blockages” I wondered if we had even anything blocked in the first place. Contrary to held myths that open-air defecation is done by poor people, this story of the big man shows that shit matters in Uganda are everyone’s problem.

A Wateraid photo from a slum near Makerere University.
A Wateraid photo from a slum near Makerere University.

Sanitation and especially disposal of human waste many times is not a priority even when people have money.

In a country where 75% of the disease burden are preventable and sanitation related, we cannot simply relegate this problem to just a poor person’s problem. And because it is shaped as something distant in some slums and villages, like many problems of these areas, sanitation is the last on our government’s priority list. Our government annually spends Ushs 30 billion on treatment of sanitation related diseases but does little to provide the sanitation support- a preventive measure that would save our tax money.

In the last quarter each district was given only Ushs 5.5 million for sanitation. The environmental health division at the ministry of health tasked with promotion of sanitation at household level countrywide only receives Ush 200m but it will fork out 30 billon by end of the year to mitigate effects of poor sanitation.
With corruption that has eaten away most of the systems and in a world where politics rule we can hardly implement even by-laws to ensure Ugandans meet sanitation standards that are well written in our policies.

Julian Kyomuhangi, an assistant commissioner in the Ministry of Health told this gathering that the politics had crippled enforcement of by-laws that aim to tackle open-air defecation.
“We started enforcement to get Ugandans to build latrines and we were able to increase latrine coverage by 5% in a short time but we didn’t go far because some people came and said we were disturbing their voters.”
Incredible! These so called ‘some people’ are the leaders who stifle most of development by affirming ridiculous rights to their voters including the right to defecate wherever one feels like!

Thanks partly to such politics, about 3.2 million Ugandans have no latrine at all and still defecate in the open. Sewerage Coverage in Kampala is between the 5 to 7% of population about 2 million people. An Engineer from GIZ Fredrick Tumusiime told the meeting we don’t expect sewerage sanitation to increase even by 25% in Kampala in next 20yrs.

Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Minister of Health told the meeting Uganda is lagging behind in achieving sanitation and water MDGs and it is about time we began talking about sanitation and its value and impact on the economy.

Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Minister of Health
Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Minister of Health

According to the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), 13.8 million Ugandans use unsanitary or shared latrines. In primary schools the latrine to pupil ratio is 1:70, meaning at one break time, about 70 kids line up to use one toilet!

Natural disasters like floods and landslides have increased sanitation challenges.

Mr. Martin Eyura, Soroti District Environmental Health Officer told the meeting that 3/4 of the district experiences floods during rainy seasons. Floods usually take the poorly constructed latrines which increases diseases.

And the other damning statistic, only 29% of Ugandans wash hands with soap after toilet. Many I spoke to believe even this figure is on the high side because people are not always fully truthful about such an issue.

This meeting has brought together people working in sanitation sector to look at furthering sanitation as a business. Clearly, the government alone cannot provide the much-needed services but at the same time businesses cannot be a solution if the government isn’t giving much attention to the issue. In the next post I will divulge into various solutions presented here.