By Patrick Kagenda
City taps to remain dry as NWSC battles self-inflicted problems
Kampala city, which sits on the edge of the world’s second biggest fresh water body; Lake Victoria, is reeling from a water shortage reminiscent of the 1990s. Once again, queues of residents can be seen fetching water from unprotected wells, springs, and swamps. Other consumers have resorted to either buying water by the jerrycan from mobile water vendors or pooling money to hire water delivery trucks.
The Kampala water General Manager, Andrew Sekyanzi told the media that National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) is “over-whelmed”.
“The problem has been caused by increased consumption of water since this is a dry season,” he said.
The part about NWSC being overwhelmed by demand is possibly correct. But Independent investigations by The Independent show that blaming the water scarcity on the “dry season” is possibly over blown.
January and February are typically the hottest months in Uganda, with mean temperatures around Kampala climbing to as high as 28°C and rainfall dropping below 50mm per month. This is higher than then annual national average temperature of about 28°C and lower than the high rainfall of 160mm experienced in April and November.
Currently, Kampala temperatures are averaging above 30°C which is a little higher than usual means, but rainfall at 50mm by Jan.26 appeared normal. The dry, therefore, might not be a plausible explanation for the water scarcity. So what could be the explanation?
Some top officials at the NWSC who preferred not to be named told The Independent because they are not authorised to speak to the media said the water shortage can be blamed on two issues; “the main cause of the water shortage is the dropping water levels in lake Victoria and the polluting of the Murchison bay where we draw our water for processing. The heavy pollutants are taking a toll on the capacity of what we are processing.”
The observation appears to be in line with what climate change experts have been predicting for some time. They have pointed at the likelihood of a +2°C temperature rise around the Lake Victoria basin in the next 50 years. This, experts say, will alter rainfall patterns in the area by up to 20% around the Lake Victoria basin.
But the real impact would be felt in the shift in rainfall patterns. Apparently, Northwest and Western regions, which have been receiving minimal rains, will receive more rains compared to the Lake Victoria region, according to a report by the IPS news agency.
The sewerage issue is murkier but clearer.
According to a report by Air Water Earth (AWE) environmental engineers, the Murchison Bay where NWSC draws most of its water for treatment is covered in a green floating blanket of algae that is as sticky as wall paint. This, according to the engineers, clogs the water treatment plants and leads to higher costs of treatment.
The unit cost of water production has increased, from Shs1,671 in June 2013 to Shs1,778 per m3 as at June 2014. The corporation’s bottom-line is hurting. In the 2013/14, NWSC’s provisional turnover was Shs183.4 billion. But its operating expenditure was a whopping Shs149.4 billion or 80% of turnover. The official explanation is that up to Shs25 billion was ploughed back in the form of investment projects, including extending the pipe network and electromechanical equipment. However, such an operating expense ratio is unsustainable without government injecting new money into the 100% government-owned but autonomous and commercially run corporation.
Ironically, the AWE engineers add, the single largest polluter of Lake Victoria is NWSC’s Sewage Treatment Plant at Bugolobi, which discharges 15,000 m3/day of inadequately treated sewage into Murchison Bay.
The rest comes from the Nakivubo channel which carries approximately 75% of the nitrogen and 85% of phosphorus nutrient in black sewage sludge into the lake. Only 10% of sewerage in Kampala is treated.
On top of all these, however, there is another reason that could explain why Kampala is experiencing water scarcity as has not been seen in recent years. The problem starts with NWSC going into massive expansion without adequate supplies.
Since he was appointed NWSC Managing Director in August 2003, Silver Mugisha has made expanding coverage his number one priority. Over a one year period, up to 470.3 km were extended during FY 2013/14 against the annual target of 135.8km of new water mains pipes have been laid in the Greater Kampala Area alone. The biggest projects have been in areas outside of the traditional NWSC Kampala area; in places like Wakiso Kasengejje, Kireka-Kirinnya, Bukasa, Kitebi, Bukerere, Seeta, Kiira Town Council, and Gayaza.
There has also been major works on the old Kampala network to ensure better supply.
In a bid to increase its revenue base, the water supplier has also undertaken massive new connections. During 2013/14, the average number of new connections was 2,339 per month totaling to 28,068. This reflects a percentage growth of 30% from the previous year’s monthly average of 1,803 new connections. As at June 30, 2014 the total NWSC customer base was 368,313 customers of which 89.2% were active connections.
Major expansion underway
NWSC Public Relations Manager Samuel Epedel says the 40 million litres of water being processed currently is insufficient for the Kampala water area which has up to 208,000 active metres (homes and offices) with each metre serving 5-10 people for the homes while office metres are serving over 50 people. He says an expansion of the water treatment plant at Gaba is underway.
“When the expansion is complete in August this year it will add another 50 million litres of water per day to sort out the Kampala shortages,” he says.
This is the fourth major expansion of the Gaba water plan since it was built in 1928. It underwent major expansion under the Gaba II project in 1992 and Gaba III in 2007, its capacity was projected to be 200,000m³ per day. It is not clear why NWSC only gets 40,000m³ from it daily.
Epedel says the current water shortage could last between 1-1.5 months with the most affected areas being those on hilly places which will experience low water pressure.
Meanwhile, Epedel says the corporation has short-term interventions, including rationing water.
“In Wakiso district we have built a motorised borehole and are building water reservoirs in Namasuba,” he told The Independent, “In the long term we plan to build the Katosi water treatment plant which will have capacity to produce 120 million litres of water per day. When the Katosi plant is complete it will pump water to Seeta and to Kyambogo to supplement the Gaba plant. We are now sourcing for a contractor for the works to commence.”
Epedel says consumers with small numbers but with big water tanks may not experience the shortage or the rationing because it will be on a daily rotation. He, however, appeals to consumers to use water sparingly.