Uganda is endowed with significant surface and ground water resources and is part of the Great Lakes region with its large freshwater ecosystem, Lake Victoria. However, water resources are under increasing threat of degradation as exhibited in reduced quality and quantities in major freshwater bodies .
Around 7 million Ugandans lack access to safe water and 28 million do not have access to improved sanitation facilities. Furthermore, due to disparities in water access in Uganda, urban people living in poverty pay as much as 22% of their income to access water from water vendors. Spending such a high percentage of earnings on water reduces overall household income, limiting opportunities to build savings and break the cycle of poverty .
According to UNICEF, in Uganda, poor sanitation and hygiene, as well as unequal access to safe drinking water, make thousands of children sick and at risk of death. For instance, diarrhea alone, one of three major childhood killers in Uganda, kills 33 children every day. In most cases, children get the disease by drinking unsafe water or coming into contact with contaminated hands — theirs or parents or caregivers — that have not been washed with soap .
Climate change and variability are already affecting the availability of water in Uganda, with this trend expected to not only continue, but increase, affecting mainly to primary sectors. A substantial section of Ugandan households use groundwater as their source of domestic water, however, estimates suggest that the cost of unmet water demand by 2050 could reach $5.5 billion, with the largest losses expected in the Lake Victoria, Albert Nile, and Lake Kyoga Watersheds .
Uganda has experienced two decades of economic growth, leading to large population movements from rural areas to informal settlements around urban centers. High population growth has stressed the excising water and sanitation services . Hence, the bottlenecks in Uganda’s water resources are mainly attributed to rising human populations at the pace that exceeds the provisioning of social services and infrastructure facilities.
Other drivers causing pressures to water in the country are soil erosion, siltation of dams and rivers, agricultural pesticide use, and industrial pollution, that have reduced surface water quality. In addition, watershed degradation and climate change have reduced surface and ground water quantities.
Key policies and governance approach
In Uganda, various responses and police have been adopted to enact its water sector. The Ministry of Water and environment is the ultimate authority responsible for water and environmental resources. It facilitated the establishment of the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) which aims at de-concentration of water resources management at the Upper Nile water management zones (WMZ) and all catchment levels.
One of the milestones of water legal framework in Uganda is the National Water Policy (1999) which objective is to ensure the management and development of water resources of Uganda in an integrated and sustainable manner . Another important document is the Water Act Cap 152 (1997) which provides for the use, protection and management of water resources and supply and facilitates the devolution of water supply and sewerage undertakings. Other water sector policies that form synergies with the Water Policy include the National Gender Policy of 1999, the Local Government Act of 1997, the 1998 Land Act, and the 1998 Water Abstraction and Wastewater Discharge Regulations.
At the national level, there are several committees steering to integrate water resource management. There is a policy committee on the environment, a Water policy committee, a Working Group on Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), as well as the Water and Environment sector working group .
Furthermore, the Directorate of Water development (DWD) establishes the water and sanitation development facility mechanism for supporting water supply and sanitation . It developed the National Irrigation Master Plan for Uganda (2010-2035) in November 2011, which puts into consideration the objectives of SDGs, Vision 2040, NDP II and the Water Sector Strategic Investment Plan 2010-2035, and has the overall objective of “poverty alleviation and economic growth as a result of the sustainable realization of the country’s irrigation potential mitigating the effects of climate change and contributing to the transformation of Uganda society from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country” .
Successes and remaining challenges
During the years, Uganda has invested in the construction of facilities to serve water-scarce areas. In the fiscal year 2019-2020, the government increased the functionality of Water for Production (WfP) facilities from 86.7% in 2018-2019 to 87.2%. It also increased storage facilities from 41.124 million m3 in 2017/18, constructed 9 communal valley tanks and 8 valley tanks in 8 districts creating a water storage capacity of 117 million liters .
During NDP II, access to safe water in urban areas improved from 77% in 2017/18 to 79.1% in 2018/19, however not reaching the NDP II target of 95% by 2020. This has been attributed to its umbrella of water and sanitation projects .
Despite some successful activities, the challenges of coordinating, supervising, and monitoring the environmental management in all the 113 districts remain. To tackle the challenges, additional funding and staffing is needed . Environmental degradation and natural resources depletion continue to occur, despite the legal frameworks, due to weakness of policy implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Current government efforts focus on decreasing the level of pollution in large water bodies; developing and implementing ecosystem management and restoration plans, as well as the restoring the degraded fragile ecosystems.
As part of the Nile Basin countries, Uganda has put in place various initiatives and plans for transboundary water sustainability interventions under the current Nile Basin Initiative 10-year strategy (2010-2027) . The initiative seeks to facilitate cooperation, sharing and utilization of transboundary resources and support the Lake Victoria Basin Integrated Water Resource management programme.
Another important initiative is the “Water Management and Development project” of the World Bank, through the International Development Association (IDA), providing Uganda US$135 million. The aim of the project is to improve the integration of water resources planning, management and development, as well as access to water and sanitation services in priority urban areas. As a result of the project, more than 1.01 million people received access to improved water sources, and 25,000 piped household water connections were rehabilitated from 2012-2018 .
Goals and Ambitions
During the NDP III period, Uganda is set to increase access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) across the country . The Government is therefore working on the regulation of water and sanitation services to ensure a balance between the commercial objectives of efficient and sustainable service provision, and the social objective of providing accessible and affordable water and sewerage services in rural and urban areas.
Water quality and pollution challenges in Uganda represent low hanging opportunities for transformation. Relevant ways of intervention here include:
- putting in place mechanisms to foster efficient use of water resources by households, industry and agriculture.
- promoting water-saving and reuse, water-efficient technologies in all sectors, while also supporting ecosystem-based measures.
- boosting measures for confronting water quantity issues, such as supporting hazards prevention and climate-change adaptation measures based on an ecosystem restoration approach, while also considering any related climate-resilience and cross-border issues. Among them are eco-friendly water storage infrastructure, and smart technologies to increase resource efficiency in the water sector.
 Ministry of Water and Environment, Republic of Uganda. Directorate of Water Resources Management
 Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Republic of Uganda (2020). Background to the Budget Fiscal year 2020/21: stimulating the economy to safeguard livelihood, jobs, businesses and industrial recovery.