Saturday, 22 November 2014

Kampala Urban Slums

A private water connection
Morning all, as I sit here in the hotel writing my blog its difficult to put myself back in the slums yesterday morning. It was such a hard hitting experience in more ways that one.

We started our day visiting Kampala City Centre Authority (KCCA) where we had a presentation from local officials and a manager from National Water and Sewage Corporation (NWSC). What a brilliant presentation to give us an overview of the challenges they are facing in the urban slums and the solutions that they are putting in to try and address the lack of access to clean water and sanitation.

Kampala has a population of roughly 1.6 million people over 200m2, 60% of these live in the urban slums, which make up only a small area of the city. To give you an idea the urban slums in Kampala have a population density of 400/hectare, the rest of Kampala is 73/hectare. To put that in perspective according to 2011 census data London has a population density of 52 per hectare.

Ironic Sign
NWSC has four water tariffs, a domestic tariff (roughly 47 pence per cubic meter) commercial tariff (71 pence a cubic meter), a government tariff and most interestingly a Pro-poor tariff (30 pence per cubic meter). Unfortunatly most don't have personal water connections, instead buying from personal vendors at inflated prices. The urban poor in Kampala survive on less than 85 pence a day. Sanitation coverage in Kampala is 84% with 560 community toilets, only 15 of which are free.

A shower in Kwampe slum
With a great presentation finished we left the KCCA offices and headed to our first stop the Kwampe slums. There is so much to describe here that I will have to rely on the few pictures i took to try and get across the true extent of the poverty here. It had rained a huge amount the night before we went and most of the narrow streets (more like paths) had water running through them, and more dangerously stagnant water in places. The paths are not tarmac-ed as we are used to but are just dirt and with the amount of rain this had turned into mud. One problem in a lot of slums is drainage, often peoples properties are flooded throughout due to a combination of draining and the hills in Kampala. Evidence could be seen throughout the slums with doors half way up a wall so that water cannot easily enter the properties. Throughout the streets rubbish was strewn and I even saw a razor blade, with children walking around bare feet this was a shock to me. Buildings are shoddily put up and seems to be no order or arrangement, ducks chickens and goats roam the streets. Surprisingly to me the residents were welcoming, but we did not see what life was like in the houses and I understand disease is rife.

The condemned water supply in Kwampe Slums
These guys didn't want to leave me.
The toilet facilities are specific to certain communities and locked and are nothing more than a pit, which easily fill up. Residents who don't have access to a toilet use a technique called the flying toilet, this involves defecating in a bag and throwing it. Some local residents have paid to have a water connection installed and sell water to other residents at over inflated prices. Residents will charge more depending on demand. In order to save money a lot of the community will fill up Jerry cans from a supply running through the slum. This supply was condemned 14 years ago due to the fact it is not safe to drink, but for a lot they have no option.

Flooding in the slums
Having spent some time in the slums we got back in our cars. I had to bid farewell to my new friends, two children who wanted to hold my hand and had been for around half an hour. I couldn't help but wonder what the rest of their life may have in store for them and trying to push thoughts from my head about the infant mortality rates,

Flooding in the slums
We then headed over to a Bwaise slums to see their newly installed pre-pay meters. On the way we drove through a flooded area, a result of the heavy rain last night, some shops and homes flooded throughout. Arriving in Bwaise we were told that the storm drain had been so high that a lady and her child had been swept away that morning, the child survived but unfortunately the lady was not not so lucky, a reminder that even the newly built drains, built to protect the slums from flooding, have their own dangers.

The storm drain where a lady was swept away.
The NWSC showing us a pre-pay meter
In these slums there have been improvements, NWSC have been installing prepaid meters, villagers who meet the criteria are able to apply for a prepay meter to be installed. A local caretaker is assigned houses nearby are provided with a token which they can use to access the water supply. Water is charged at the pro poor tariff rate meaning it will cost around 1p to fill a 20 litre Jerry can. To try and encourage residents to use the token they come pre-loaded with over £1. You can load credit on to your token by finding a local vendor, vendors are given 11% commission on all their sales, providing the community with a vital income.

The problem with these improvements in the poorer areas is that it encourages the more affluent of the poor to move in to the region, displacing the poorer either to another slum, or to set up a new slum. This fact really hit it home as to how difficult it is to find a solution to the issues in the slums. Its a massive task to get people access to water and toilet facilities in these area, I think it is the most challenging concept I have come across. In the rural villages the standard of living is really high compared to the slums and the solutions are clear and visible. The slums are a real challenge, the solutions are not clear and the residents are not necessarily engaged. A lot are not willing to adapt to solutions if it effects their everyday life, having no appreciation of the long term benefits the upheaval will bring. 

Its been a long blog and I'm sure I have missed so much, but one last thing I want to write about is the advocacy work that WaterAid do. You will notice that I have made no reference in this blog to WaterAid schemes, a lot of the work they do in these communities are with partners and the communities. Its really important to deliver sustainable solutions and there is no point investing if the government and the local communities are not going to maintain any improvements. Its really clear the relationship and the awareness that WaterAid Uganda staff have tirelessly built up. It is this that has surprised me most from the trip. Its easy to sit at home in the UK and think that WaterAid is a British charity, but the country staff are so passionate they have been a true inspiration to me, so just quickly want to thank (sorry if I miss anyone), Spera, Peter, Caroline, Antonio, Rosemary and James who have really motivated me to get more and more involved in WaterAid's work. 

Last night was our last night and we went to a fantastic Ugandan dancing show, a great way to end the trip with a great group of supporters. Thanks all for making it so special, especially Caroline and her WaterAid UK team. 

Although we fly home today this won't be my last post. I will make sure I post a recap when I am home. Thanks all for reading. 



  1. Seeing it first hand must have been quite an experience. It is unimaginable how people can survive like that.


  2. Another fantastic and evocative blog. Many many thanks for sharing your experience.
    Bets wishes
    Alan - Morrisons