Strengthening WASH systems in Uganda: An interview with WaterAid’s Sustainable WASH Manager

Strengthening WASH systems in Uganda: An interview with WaterAid’s Sustainable WASH Manager

Strengthening WASH systems in Uganda: An interview with WaterAid’s Sustainable WASH Manager 638 479 Agenda for Change

Members of the Kampala WASH Mayors Forum discuss coordination and joint planning among municipalities in the Greater Kampala metropolitan area. The Forum was formed as part of the systems strengthening work between WaterAid and the Kampala Capital City Authority (Hope Kihembo)

Background: WaterAid has been working in Uganda for more than 30 years. Their aim of improving access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) for the most marginalized people has remained the same, but the approach has changed over time to focus more on sustainability. Currently, they are prioritizing WASH systems strengthening for long-term sustainability and inclusion. Below is a summary of an interview with WaterAid Uganda’s Sustainable WASH Manager.

To find out more about WaterAid’s WASH system strengthening work, read their latest global learning report, featuring case study examples from Cambodia, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Uganda. The report was produced as part of WaterAid’s SusWASH Programme, a five-year initiative (2017-2022) funded by the H&M Foundation.

Alec Shannon (AS), Content Strategist, Agenda for Change: How is your work different now than 5 years ago?

Ceaser Kimbugwe (CK), Sustainable WASH Manager, WaterAid Uganda: Many transitions have occurred in the last 5 years, the first of which was developing a new WaterAid Strategic plan for 2016 – 2030. Previous strategies mainly focused on WASH service delivery. The transition from service delivery to a system strengthening approach required an adjustment of the strategy which meant that we also needed to increase the time frame. The strategy timeframe is also aligned with SDG 6 to reach everyone, everywhere with lasting WASH services by 2030.

AS: What parts of the WASH system are you strengthening (e.g., which building blocks)?

CK: We are working directly on nine of the building blocks including planning, coordination and integration, finance, monitoring, and accountability, among others. The core focus of our systems strengthening work is to ensure active, empowered communities, strong government leadership, and gender and social inclusion.

AS: How are you working with the government (national and/or local)?

CK: We entrench all our WASH interventions within national government systems or within existing structures that government has created. We work with local authorities and WASH line ministries, departments, and agencies of government to provide technical support, facilitate policy dialogues, and develop and test inclusive and innovative WASH service delivery models for scale-up.

AS: Are you working with other civil society or private sector actors in Uganda? If so, who?

CK: We work with local partners as a way of leveraging technical capacities. For instance, on the building block for financing, we work with a local network, the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, that facilitates WASH budget monitoring and tracking. We also work with other local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who assist with our community work on aspects of sanitation, hygiene promotion, and raising awareness of WASH rights. In public institutions (schools and healthcare facilities), we work with government agencies and local NGOs to improve management arrangements for operation and maintenance to ensure lasting WASH services.

WaterAid is also part of the Uganda WASH Agenda for Change platform for country-wide advocacy and engagement, which includes IRC and Water For People[1]. We are working together as Agenda for Change members to profile the plight of marginalized people with low access to WASH services for evidence-based engagement with key decision makers. Another project we initiated together was strengthening sector regulation for urban water and sanitation supply, but that was challenged through different political dynamics so we could not move forward with it.

AS: Can you tell me more about those challenges?

CK: One of the challenging aspects with the system strengthening approach is that some of the issues or blockages you want to address end up manifesting politically in a way that goes beyond your remit as an NGO. In our case, sector regulation is one of those issues. It was critical for us to help strengthen the WASH sector by creating an independent regulator to address issues of inequality and financing (e.g., tariffs) for urban water supply. Within the government, the Ministry of Water supports independent regulation, but the national utility does not. So, we – as part of the Uganda WASH Agenda for Change platform – have agreed to follow a gradual process. We need to work on strengthening the capacity of existing water supply institutions at the sub-national level, such as umbrella authorities, which will ultimately increase demand for independent regulation in the long term.

AS: What are the next steps?

CK: In the next 5 years, we would like to have the government address systems strengthening as an approach where they will focus and give priority – not just focusing on service delivery as handpumps or latrines delivered, because at the end of the day, that has not resulted in sustained quality services. We have been in this engagement with the government over the last 3 years, and we think it is slowly catching up. We see more demand coming in from government in terms of capacity building for planning, monitoring, and stakeholder coordination across the different sector actors.

In the long-term, we hope to scale our approach nationally, focusing on engaging the political leaders and making sure that there are structures at the community level that allow citizens to understand and participate in government policy processes. The monitoring building block is where our strongest focus is now because we believe without accurate WASH data and strong monitoring systems, this long-term change will not be realized or sustained.

[1] IRC and Water For People are also Agenda for Change members.

Ceaser Kimbugwe is the Sustainable WASH (SusWASH) Manager for WaterAid Uganda. He is a program development specialist and policy analyst trained in environment and natural resources management. He has worked with civil society organizations in Uganda for over 10 years facilitating state and non-state actors’ collaborations on a broad range of sector strengthening processes across aspects of water, sanitation, hygiene, forestry, and climate change.

Back to top