Assessing the impacts of climate change and the water sector in Uganda


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Assessing the impacts of climate change and the water sector in Uganda



Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

With 13 percent of its total surface area covered by wetlands, Uganda is very rich in biodiversity. In spite of the existence of national policies and laws for the conservation of ecosystems, there has recently been an observed decline in aquatic biodiversity in most of Uganda’s water bodies. This has mainly been attributed to destructive fishing habits, increasing eutrophication as a result of pollution, degradation of riparian watersheds and deforestation.

The percentage of rural inhabitants with access to improved sanitation increased from 68 percent in 1991 to 85 percent in 2002. However, access to clean and safe water is still far from universal. In 2003, only 59 percent of rural inhabitants had such access. Frequently, people have to collect water from distant locations. This burden falls mainly on women and children, who are the most vulnerable members of society. The long distances they travel significantly reduce their productive time and subsequent contribution to the economic development of the country. Furthermore, the amount of water that can generally be collected is insufficient to meet drinking, cooking and hygiene needs. According to National Surveys conducted in 1996 and 1999, average rural per capita water consumption was found to be about 13 litres per day. Though the sanitation coverage has increased significantly, in some rural areas, basic sanitation still remains elusive, due to poverty and low hygiene and sanitation awareness.

Moreover, the current tariff structure of Ugandan water resource systems is aimed towards covering only operation and maintenance costs. Full cost recovery (operation and maintenance, depreciation and investment) would require a significant increase in tariffs. Therefore, major investments in system improvement and extension are financed separately through grants from the Government and international donors. The collection efficiency of revenues, although variable, is about 79 percent on average. Although funding levels are increasing, significant investment is still required to raise the safe water and sanitation coverage to meet the national targets and MDGs.

In addition, water scarcity in "the cattle corridor" that runs southwest to northeast Uganda reduces productivity and triggers conflict among herders. Moreover, the industrial sector is a source of pollution due to the discharge of untreated or partially treated industrial effluent into nearby water bodies. Pollution stemming from mining activities, on the other hand, is still low and does not yet threaten the general quality of surface and groundwater. Localized pollution, however, exists in the areas where mining activities take place.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

The government is making continuous efforts forvdevelopment in the areas of agricultural modernization, land management, rural credit and microfinance, rural electrification, primary health care, primary education and water supply and sanitation.

In order to meet the emerging challenges of the water sector, a Water Action Plan (WAP) was prepared in 1993–94, which recognized that water is an economic good with an economic value. The WAP principles were followed by a set of policies and laws throughout the 1990s. In order to ensure efficiency and cost effectiveness in water resources management, government-initiated reforms in the water sector were established in 1997. As part of the reform process, a comprehensive Water Sector Strategy, detailed sub-sectoral investment plans and a clear definition of national targets for the sector were prepared. One of the key strategic outcomes of the reforms is the adoption of a Sector Wide Approach to Planning (SWAP). The SWAP framework, which has been embraced by both the Government and water sector development partners, promotes the participation of all stakeholders in the planning and implementation of water sector activities. This transparency has resulted in increased confidence from development partners who have agreed to finance water sector programmes through the regular government budget, contrary to the project-specific funding of the past. This is an important step, as 75 percent of the sector’s funding comes from donors.

A Disaster Preparedness and Management Strategy has also been designed to establish and improve national and local capabilities to minimize the damages caused by natural hazards and ensure that they do not result in disasters. The fundamental principle underlying the strategy is that the costs of responding to disasters once they strike far exceed those of disaster prevention and risk reduction activities. Further efforts are also being made to strengthen legal and institutional frameworks and ensure involvement of all relevant sectors. Raising public awareness has proven to be a pivotal point for effective hazard mitigation.

Hydropower is the mains source of electricity in Uganda, and the Government has formulated a Hydropower Development Master Plan to guide the hydropower planning and development process in Uganda. This includes a comprehensive study of all the potential large- and small-scale hydropower schemes in the country and outlines the energy development strategy based on criteria such as power demand forecast, project generation potential, environmental effects and cost criteria.

Results and Impact

Lake Victoria is very significant for the Ugandan economy, since it is the source of almost all of the country’s hydropower and provides the domestic and industrial water supply for the three biggest towns in Uganda: Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe. It is also an important location for the fishery and horticulture industries. Additionally, the lake serves as a key transport link between Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda’s total annual renewable water resources are estimated to be 66 km3. With an annual average of 2,800 m3 of water available per capita, Uganda is better off than many other African countries. However, rapid population growth, increased urbanization and industrialization, uncontrolled environmental degradation and pollution are placing increasing pressure on the utilization of freshwater resources.

Uganda is on track for meeting the MDG targets for safe water and sanitation. However, the funds required for achieving those targets are in the vicinity of US $1.5 billion, an amount too high for the Ugandan national budget. Therefore, raising funds remains a critical issue. The country would also greatly benefit from an improved technical capacity within governmental institutions and a greater exchange of information among water-related agencies.

Lessons for Replication

Raising public awareness has proven to be a pivotal point for effective hazard mitigation.

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

The Experience at a Glance

Implementing Agency(ies)


See also

Other case studies in Uganda
  1. The Nile: Moving Beyond Cooperation
  2. Water Conflict and Cooperation/Nile River Basin

External Resources

Case study summary



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