Yes, life is water. You read that right. A human being is 60% water and can only live a few days without it. It is recommended to drink at least 8 glasses of water.

We should drink at least 1 and half or 2 litres of water and liquids to replace normal loss through sweat and other body waste - Dr Elias Sebatta, Consultant Physician/Cardiologist, Kampala

But it is not just about drinking water. It is also about having access to safe drinking water. And more.

For many people in the Rwenzori region, access to safe drinking water means they must be empowered to find the water, fetch the water and deliver the water to their homes, businesses and establishments including schools, hospitals, churches and mosques.

But what kind of water is drinkable, bathable and cookable and suitable for our stomachs, bodies, homes, restaurants and hospitals. We need someone to identify this water for us. But not everyone who is thirsty can access water, let alone provide it to others in the community. This is why there are people skilled in the research, distribution, circulation and physical properties of water. They are called hydrologists. But who pays the hydrologist? It’s your taxes! But then again, a hydrologist will need to be contracted in public interest. It is why local government exists. But local governments do not have all the resources needed to sustain community development programmes. So they call upon civil society to complement their provision of public goods and services. CSOs have the staff have the necessary credentials to bring together the concerned stakeholder to solve the water problem.

When water comes from improved and more accessible sources, people spend less time and effort in physically collecting it, meaning they can be productive in other ways. It can also result in greater personal safety by reducing the need to make long or risky journeys to collect water. Better water sources also mean less expenditure on health, as people are less likely to fall ill and incur medical costs, and are better able to remain economically productive – United Nations

This is what Caritas-HEWASA have done over the past years through the Watershed Empowering Citizens programme. Most recently, Caritas - HEWASA and IRC have worked with TRAC FM to ask citizens in the Rwezori sub region two poll questions;

1) Which of the following services does your district need most? And
2) Which of the following is in most urgent need of better water, sanitation & hygiene services?

In the first poll, most (37%) listeners who responded wanted access to safe and clean water; 28.6% chose the protection of the environment; 20.8% selected the promotion of household Hygiene and sanitation while community waste disposal (13.6%) came last in the choices.

What this means is that in order to protect the environment, access to clean water is critical to the health of citizens, the environment and the economy. We must protect rivers, lakes and streams that provide usable freshwater. Indeed, when local governments protect the environment including forests, marshlands and water bodies they contribute to the preservation of natural habitats on a sustainable basis. The results also imply that local governments need to develop capacities in the management and funding for designing, adapting and applying appropriate training tools to manage the environment.

In the second poll, most (39%) respondents among listeners wanted health centres to be provided with WASH facilities followed by schools (23%); public toilets (21%) and markets (17%).

In terms of geography, the results also showed that the top 5 responses by listeners of Jubilee radio came in from Kabarole (57%) followed by Kyenjojo (12%) then Bunyangabu (11%); next was Ntoroko (6%) and Fort Portal at 3.5%.

 According to the World Health Organisation, lack of access to adequate water and sanitation facilities can have a negative impact on school attendance and educational achievement in schools. Besides, it also makes it impossible to deliver quality health care services without reliable access to safe water and sanitation facilities. People may avoid going to schools,

healthcare centres, markets and public toilets when the spaces are dirty with excrement, have no running water and there are no soaps for hand washing after using the services.

The Caritas-Hewasa polls reveal that local governments in Kabarole, Kyenjojo, Bunyangabu, Ntoroko and Kamwenge need to protect the environment in order for citizens to access clean water and improve the health and economy of communities. It also indicates that in order to take up biodiversity conservation, local governments need to develop capacities in the management and funding for the design, adaptation and application of training tools of managing the environment. In terms of household hygiene and sanitation, local governments have to promote hand washing with soap in order to avoid germs that cause disease in particular, COVID-19, the common cold and gastroenteritis. Regarding community waste disposal, there is a need for local authorities to promote proper waste collection and disposal in order to protect the environment and the health of the community. This is because rubbish and waste particularly rotting garbage can cause air and water pollution can cause breathing problems in people.

Because women because tend to be associated with sanitation, home keeping, risk exposure to waste water and are more likely to be looking after children, there is a need for decision makers to address historical, religious, economic and cultural barriers which determine gender qualities, behavior and identity by equally involving both boy child and girl child in roles such as the fetching of water, cooking and home keeping. Indeed, local government planners need to put more effort to engender programmes in order to support women inclusion and equality in the availability, access and delivery of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene services. This will augment the fight against the Corona COVID-19 virus and preserve communities in the Rwenzori region. Needfully, water is life.

Mohles Kalule Segululigamba
Advocacy Communication Specialist