Using the digital camera and citizen journalism training given by CIPESA, staff of the e-Society Resource Centre in Kasese in December 2011, investigated water supply shortages in Mpondwe-Lhubiriha town council, and prompted authorities to take action. Situated at the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda, this is one of the new town councils in Kasese District. In the early 1990s, Karambi and Bwera sub-counties, which now formed the new town council, lacked clean water supply. In 1995, with a grant from WaterAid Danida, they were connected to piped water tapped from River Lhubiriha on the Rwenzori Mountains. Residents and the local community were asked to pay up to UGX 400 (17 US cents) per month for the water system maintenance. However, in 2005, the community started experiencing irregularities in water flow. The infrastructure remained in place, but water simply wasn’t flowing.
Because of water shortages, area residents resorted to drawing water from River Lhubiriha and a small stream called River Kyabilho, also flowing along the Uganda-Congo border, for both commercial and domestic use. It is believed that in the 1990s, these two natural water sources were clean and served an estimated 100 households. When the taps run dry, they served more than 2,000 Ugandan and Congolese households. There were no policies governing water usage in either country.
From conversations with locals fetching water, it emerged that majority drunk the water without boiling it.
In 2009, the government of Uganda introduced Amaizi Marungi, a separate programme intended to provide safe drinking water. However, there were delays in laying the pipes, in addition to challenges such as demands for bribes by those in charge of making connections to the piped water system. Strangely, the dry water points built by Waterid Danida are now referred to as “decorations” in the community.
Lack of access to clean water made surrounding areas vulnerable to waterborne diseases. The investigation by Kasese centre staff, only conducted in Mpondwe and its surroundings, left the team wondering what neighbouring areas of Rusese, Mundongo, and Karambi – located farther away from the river – could be experiencing.
A report produced by the Kasese citizen journalists sparked an interesting conversation on the Kasese electronic discussion group, with debaters suggesting ways to address the problem. One discussant stirred debate about cholera in the region, stating that “leaders both politicians and civil servants concerned have to take the necessary procedures to save the situation. Otherwise people will continue perishing with cholera at the border.” Another suggested: “There can’t be an end to the problem of cholera in Kasese district unless there is increased civilisation of the communities living along the water sources (River lhubiriha) in both countries i.e. Congo and Uganda. I have been to this river and I realised that on top of washing dirty clothes or bathing in the river, even the containers they use to fetch water can contaminate it. So, a lot of primary health education is quickly needed in this area.”
Through use of ICT, Kasese citizens are starting to raise awareness about poor service delivery and demand better from public officials. Following online discussions of the findings of the e-Society citizen journalism work, these staff brought the matter to the attention of district officials in charge of water – with photos from the field as proof, and the discussions as further evidence of citizens’ worry about the state of affairs in Mpondwe-Lhubiriha. The water officials responded, and by early January 2012 had restored water supply in some of the affected areas, although e-Society staff were planning a verification mission to area.
The Kasese centre is one of the two pilot centres working in partnership with CIPESA under the “Catalysing Civic Participation and Democracy Monitoring through Use of ICT” project funded by the Swedish Programme for ICTs Developing Regions (SPIDER). The centre has so far received two desktop computers, a digital camera, monetary contribution toward its internet connectivity, and training of its staff in using social media to promote accountability and participation.
The Kasese centre runs an online library to which district officials regularly contribute documents from their offices. It also runs a resource centre that offers basic computer training and internet access. Encouraging greater use of its e services (which also include a dgroup and Facebook page) by both citizens and district leaders) would very much improve its work. And, for CIPESA, we see a great need to train citizen reporters in the districts, and wish we could arm these not only with the knowledge but with the gadgets as well.
These reporters would then replicate the Kasese water story across the education, health and service delivery sectors, and in local government accountability, helping to create a whole new buzz and action arenas that would improve governance in numerous ways.
This report contains information from an article written by Samuel Mumbere Mkamba, a staff at the Kasese E-society Resource Centre. Credit for all pictures in this story is his.