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The Uganda Water Crisis: Facts, Progress, and How to Help

Over 21 million people in Uganda are living without basic access to safe drinking water. That’s 51 percent—a majority of the population—in the East African country.

But, it’s not just about water. The water crisis is inseparable from the sanitation and hygiene crisis; together, these form what is known as “WASH,” three factors that greatly impact health.

Uganda is making a way out of the water and sanitation crisis and building a foundation from which to thrive. The country is growing and changing, and people are rising to the challenge to create better, healthier lives. Below are the top facts you should know about the Uganda water and sanitation crisis today and how you can help put it to an end.

Uganda Water Crisis 2020 Facts

  1. A Majority of People are Without Basic Access to Safe Water

The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), the United Nations and World Health Organization’s (WHO) mechanism tasked with monitoring water, sanitation, and hygiene progress, reports that 19 percent of the Ugandan population relies on unimproved or surface water water for their daily needs. This means that over 8 million people are drinking from sources like streams, ponds, unprotected hand dug wells, and more.

Another 32 percent of the population has what JMP deems “limited” access, meaning the water is likely safe, but it takes over 30 minutes to retrieve it because of distance, overcrowding, or both.

In total, that is over 21 million people living without basic access to safe drinking water.

2020 Progress Update

The country is experiencing a water crisis, and everyone from the national and local government to charities, the United Nations, and communities themselves are working to solve it. As a result of these efforts, Uganda has made progress.

In the year 2000, 14 percent of the population in Uganda relied on surface water sources. The most recent data shows that number has been cut in half at seven percent.

Uganda Water Crisis
A child in Uganda drinking safe water
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  1. 64 Percent of the Population Doesn’t Have Access to a Sanitary Toilet

This is called the sanitation crisis, and it most often exists in tandem with the water crisis. In addition to being a country-wide health problem, the sanitation crisis in Uganda can damage the dignity and confidence of families.

Right now, 64 percent of the country doesn’t have access to a toilet that “hygienically separate[s] excreta from human contact,” according to the JMP.

And, six percent are practicing open defecation, the act of going to the bathroom in fields, forests, or along the countryside. In these communities, human feces are washed by the rain into rivers, open wells, ponds, and swamps—places where 19 percent of the population is gathering their drinking water. This creates an unsafe environment, especially for children.

Meanwhile, a majority of the country, 58 percent, are using toilets considered unhygienic. These are things like buckets and pit latrines without slabs.

2020 Progress Update

Since 2000, Uganda has made progress in their efforts to combat open defecation. While 15 percent of the population was going in the open then, that number has been reduced by 60 percent according to recent data.

This is over a million more people experiencing greater health and dignity.

Uganda Water Crisis
A drainable pit latrine at Bulumba Primary School in Kaliro, Uganda
  1. Almost 50 Percent of People Have No Handwashing Facility

JMP regards “basic” hygiene access as the “availability of a handwashing facility on premises with soap and water.”

In Uganda, 47 percent of the population has no designated place to wash their hands. Another 32 percent have a handwashing facility, but no reliable source of soap or water.

2020 Progress Update

Uganda has made strides when it comes to hygiene access, a critical marker of health. In the year 2000, 78 percent of the population had no handwashing facility at all. Just under three percent of the population had a facility and access to soap and water.

Today, 21 percent of the country has basic access, and the number without a facility has dropped to just under half the population.

Uganda Water Crisis
A child in Uganda washing his hands at his family’s “tippy tap,” a homemade handwashing device.
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Help End the Uganda Water Crisis

Lifewater’s Vision of a Healthy Village model for addressing the water crisis is facilitating progress in every country where Lifewater works. Through house-by-house visits in rural villages, Lifewater staff work with families to adopt critical health practices like handwashing and proper sanitation. Then, our engineers and technicians work with local leaders to construct a locally-appropriate, sustainable safe water source that’s built to last for generations.

Still, Uganda has a high under-five mortality rate caused in part by the WASH problem in the country. One in every 22 children do not live to see their fifth birthday, and diarrheal disease is a leading cause of death. This is preventable and exactly what Lifewater’s model has proven to help resolve in remote, hard-to-reach villages.

In Mayuge, Uganda, a region where Lifewater works, recent advancements promise health and hope for the country.

Results from an in-depth survey of Lifewater’s first complete program cycle in the region show that diarrheal disease was reduced by 57 percent following intervention. Lives were saved. Children grew healthy, and families rejoiced.

Join us in partnering with communities across Uganda, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Tanzania. Change is possible, and you can help end the crisis in your lifetime.

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