Eleven months ago, the community in Ongora village found in Omasia Parish, Magoro sub county, Katakwi district in eastern Uganda, woke up to no water pumping out of their borehole. It was about the same time when Uganda recorded the first case of COVID-19 and the country went into lockdown.
The Ministry of Health issued Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs] that would help curb the spread of the virus. Some of these SOPs include regular hand washing with soap and clean water: a procedure which is not possibly implemented in Oongora village because the only water source is not functioning.
“This borehole broke down in March 2020 and since then, we have gone through different forms of challenges since there is no other water source around,” said Mary Idair, an elder and senior citizen in the village.
The 70-year-old Mary said the only nearby borehole that the community can access is located two and half kilometers to the nearby village.
“If I want water, that means that I have to walk for five kilometers for both trips [to and from borehole] to collect water from the nearby village,” she said.
However, about 700 meters away from Mary’s house is a Primary School with a borehole, but members of the community are not permitted to access it despite the situation.
“This borehole would be very near for us but we have nothing to do since we are not allowed to have access to the school,” laments a sad looking Mary.
Francis Aruo, the Chairperson School Management Committee for Ongora Primary School, explained that the administration bars community members from accessing the school premises as a measure of avoiding possible transmission of COVID-19 to the pupils.
According to Aruo, Magoro sub county is a hotspot sub county because more than 10 cases were once reported in the communities in a period of less than a month.
“It is the responsibility of the school to ensure that pupils are not exposed to the virus. When other people are allowed to come and fetch water in the school, it is automatic that they will interact with the children,” explained Aruo.
When schools reopened for only candidate classes in September 2020, the Ministry of Education set SOPs that schools had to meet before they were cleared to reopen, which include installing hand washing facilities, acquiring a temperature gun and ensuring that scholars do not come in contact with anybody outside the school premises.
The effect of the breakdown of the borehole has not only affected the households, but also paralyzed local business.
Simon Peter Akubu, a farmer who also operates a grinding mill in the village said he has faced challenges for a year.
According to Akubu, sometimes when the engine of the machine heats up, he has to run and fetch water from the nearby open well, which is located three kilometers away.
“Sometimes it gets when many people have come to grind their flour. I turn off the engine and run to the well and they also sit and wait for me to return,” Akubu said.
Benjamin Okello, a youth who makes Chapati from the trading Centre said that he has to go and fetch enough water at night so that he can avoid inconvenience during the day. He calls upon responsible authorities to help the community repair the borehole.
Both Okello and Akubu disclosed that in most cases, they do not give their customers water for hand washing because they value the difficulty they face to get it. Even if they reserved 10 liters of water in the morning for washing hands, it gets done before midday and it is difficult to fetch more water.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE PROBLEM?
Community members narrate that the borehole seemed to have dried up in February 2020. Those spoken to say they could pump it for about two or three minute before water came out and in March, the borehole totally broke down as a result of hard pumping.
The acute shortage of water is not only recorded in Magoro, but across all the 20 sub counties of Katakwi district.
Ms. Eseza Lydia Apio, the Katakwi District Water Officer, affirmed that her office has received several cases of water points running short or out of water and she attributes this to two factors.
The Officer explained that the district experiences both floods during rainy seasons and high peaks of droughts, which all have diverse effects.
In order to avoid diverse challenges, Apio said they now have deep borehole drilling technology when installing water points.
“Some of our boreholes are 80 meters below ground. Some are even 100 meters below the ground,” she stated.
She explained further that this is done as per the guidelines from the Directorate of Water Development (DWD) in the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE), which requires that when a borehole is drilled, the minimum yield should be 500 liters per hour (which is equivalent to 25 jerrycans).
“If a borehole does not have capacity to provide water for 25 jerrycans in an hour, it should not be installed,” Apio added.
DWD also assumes for a fixed number of users per source in rural areas as follows: protected spring (200 persons), shallow well with hand pump (300 persons), deep borehole with hand pump (300 persons), gravity flow scheme or other piped water supply tap (150 persons), and rainwater harvesting tank (3 persons for a tank of less than 10,000 liters and 6 persons for a tank greater than 10,000 liters).
But according to Apio, some of the boreholes were drilled by partner organizations during times of insurgency and installation guidelines were not observed.
“When a borehole is drilled and test pumping is done, there is a recommended depth. In most cases, these organizations just wanted to see water pumping out and they did not consider other essentials such as the depth and the amount of water in that point,” Apio said.
She added that, “after a given period of time, we end up with facilities that shouldn’t have been there and as time goes by, communities begin thinking that the water has dried up.”
Apio also attributes running out of water from some boreholes to the poor operation and maintenance by water users.
According to her, she has found out that in most cases, when a pipe gets perforated, community members remove it and never replace it.
“In a borehole that could have been having 10 pipes, they remove two and remain with only eight and yet the recommendation for installation was 30 meters. That means the pipes left are able to reach only 26 meters and water is left under. The hanging pipes will not be able to reach the water,” Apio explained.
Hon. Akurut Violet Adome, the Katakwi district Woman Member of Parliament told AICA that her office has received several reports of boreholes drying up.
The Legislator, who is also an executive member in the Uganda Parliamentary Forum for Climate Change, said the increased reports of water points drying up across the country continue to affect the water supply in communities, with most districts reporting shortages of borehole spares across communities.
“In my district alone, I have personally repaired and rehabilitated more than 100 boreholes and more reports are still coming up,” Akurut said.
The DWD mandates the District Water Office to ensure that it provides clean and safe water to communities.
According to Apio, her office plans, builds boreholes and rehabilitates those that are beyond the community’s ability.
“We planned to drill eight boreholes in 2021 and as we talk, there is a team already on ground drilling one in Ongongoja sub county. Rehabilitation works have also kicked off and Ongora in one of them,” Apio explained.
She explained that the district is installing a mini-piped water system to benefit the affected community of Ongora village and it is expected to serve at least 300 people.
The motorized water generation plant, with eight different collection points, is expected to be complete and ready for use by March 2021.
THE INDIGINOUS SOLUTION
Desperate community members in Kiiya parish of Magoro have derived an indigenous idea to help prevent the possible spread of the virus in the community.
Francis Aruo, said the people have given up on hand washing since access is limited. He further disclosed that locals now use lemon instead of water and soap or sanitizer.
“When any visitor is received in the household, the first thing they subject him or her to is hands smeared with lemon,” Aruo said.
When Noah Omuya visited Kiiya village, the first thing was to have his hands sanitized with lemon before being welcomed to Grace Asekenye’s home.
In interaction, Asekenye, a housewife with seven children said, her household uses lemon to prevent COVID-19.
“Even when a child goes to play in the neighborhood, the first we do when s/he returns is to have hands sanitized with lemon,” she said.
She added that, “I boil hot water with lemon and give everyone in the house to drink. I even use it for mingling Atap (millet bread).”
Similarly, Florence Tino, another resident in the village said she believes the use of lemon is not wrong. Her experience is that when applied on the palms, it remains clean for sometime.
Asked where they got the idea of using lemon, Tino said they also heard from radio when people were encouraged to always drink lemon.
WHAT AN EXPERT SAYS
Dr Ongala Emmanuel, the District Health Officer for Katakwi said the effectiveness of using lemon as sanitizers is not scientifically proven.
But according to him, the ascorbic acid which is a main component in lemon may to some extent have an effect on bacteria.
“I am not sure whether it works effectively for the virus too. It may be so minimal though but its effectiveness is not guaranteed,” Dr. Ongala said.
Dr. Ongala also added that the use of local remedies like ginger, lemon is healthy and help in general blood flow.
“Such practices are not medically recommended but it also dates back in time immemorial where local remedies have worked; point in case is that communities use eucalyptus leaves to treat communicable diseases and get cured,” he added.
STATE OF THE PANDEMIC
By the time of compiling this report, Katakwi district had 1,084 samples tested and 71 were found positive, 65 recoveries and four deaths registered.
At the start of January 2021, a batch of 11 samples were taken and only two tested positive are currently undergoing community management.
By 25th January 2021, Uganda had registered 39,188 positive cases of COVID-19, 14,051 recoveries and 318 deaths.
The Ministry of Health has said the high prevalence of Covid-19 in the country has overstretched surveillance teams, affecting contact tracing and evacuation of positive cases from communities.
The large number of patients that should be evacuated coupled with the limited number of ambulances, and shortage of human resource to do contact tracing are some of the key challenges cited by the ministry.
A recent report from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs highlighted that the Indigenous people experience a high degree of socio-economic marginalization and are at disproportionate risk in public health emergencies, becoming even more vulnerable during this global pandemic, owing to factors such as their lack of access to effective monitoring and early-warning systems, and adequate health and social services.
As lockdowns continue in numerous countries, with no timeline in sight, Indigenous peoples who already face food insecurity, as a result of the loss of their traditional lands and territories, confront even graver challenges in access to food.