Piwa Maleng: Bringing clean water to communities in Northern Uganda
From March 2020 to August 2021, Amref Health Africa implemented Piwa Maleng, an ambitious water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) project that sought to improve the health and well-being of people living in Lamogi Sub-County, Amuru District, Northern Uganda.
Approximately 31% of people in Amuru do not have access to safe water – much lower than the national average – leaving them susceptible to water-related diseases. The Piwa Maleng project sought to improve access to safe and sustainable water sources as well as increasing knowledge of, and access to, sanitation facilities at both household and community level. Piwa Maleng – a name chosen by the communities involved in the project – means "Our Clean Water" in Acholi.
New boreholes for the community
In June of 2020, spot-checks carried out by the Uganda Water and Environment Sector revealed that only 75% of water sources in Amuru District were functioning, with three boreholes in every ten damaged or broken. As part of the Piwa Maleng project, 45 non-functional boreholes were rehabilitated, and four new ones were drilled – ensuring access to safe water for 14,700 people in 45 villages.
To keep the boreholes working sustainably, Amref trained a team of 22 hand pump mechanics to carry out timely repairs and maintenance, ensuring that any future breakages would not cause a lengthy interruption to water supply.
Tito Titus' story
Tito Titus Okello, 36, is a hand pump mechanic in Lamogi. Prior to the Piwa Maleng project, he was one of only two hand pump mechanics in the whole sub-county, and has been doing the job – unpaid – for twelve years. Tito Titus played a pivotal role in the successful implementation of the Piwa Maleng project by training, supervising, and mentoring the newly-recruited hand pump mechanics who were rehabilitating the 45 non-functioning boreholes.
“Even when the project has ended, the team of hand pump mechanics left behind will not have any problems in repairing the boreholes,” predicts Tito Titus. “What keeps me going [personally] is the fact that I have realised my childhood dream of becoming a mechanic. I’m also glad that in my position as hand pump mechanic, I’m making a big contribution in ensuring my people have access to reliable safe water, saving them the burden of consuming dirty water.”
Tito Titus’ passion and dedication led to him being elected secretary of the Lamogi Sub-County Hand Pump Mechanics Association. He doubles as secretary for the Amuru District Hand Pump Mechanics Association.
Image of Tito Titus Okello at work © Amref Health Africa / Ikochila Associates
The importance of ownership
The project also sought to increase knowledge of, and access to, sanitation facilities at both household and community level, through radio talk shows, community dialogues, health drives, and door-to-door visits by Village Health Team (VHT) members and Environmental Health Staff. In total, more than 27,000 people in Lamogi were reached with information on sanitation and hygiene best practices.
54 Water User Committees (WUCs) – a total of 537 people – were trained to promote hygiene and sanitation best practice among their communities. WUCs are comprised of men, women, and young people, all volunteers, who are elected by the community to manage ongoing financing for water sources. They have a crucial role to play in creating an enabling environment and ensuring the sustainability of changes brought about by a project like Piwa Maleng. Each WUC collects a monthly water user fee from households using the water source for which they are responsible. The money is saved in a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) account and used to pay for mechanics and equipment to repair boreholes when they break down.
Adapting to COVID-19
Amuru District lies on a transit route for truck drivers travelling to South Sudan. Its proximity to a busy border crossing meant it was hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. By August 2020, Amuru had contributed toward 45% of national cases.
While other projects running in Amuru were placed on hold in March 2020, national and district authorities agreed to let Piwa Maleng continue, recognising that improved water, sanitation and hygiene could help reduce COVID-19 infection in the district. Amref was able to adapt and complete planned interventions to achieve our goals by the end of the project, as well as integrating COVID-19 infection prevention and control messaging into community-level activities.
(Based on a baseline evaluation conducted in July 2020, and an end-line evaluation conducted in July 2021):
- The number of people in Lamogi with access to safe and convenient water sources increased from 32.2% to 98%.
- 12 out of 15 targeted villages were declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). The other three villages require more time for new attitudes and practices to take root and lead to sustainable change.
- The proportion of households walking less than 500 metres to collect water increased from 40% to 55%.
- Waiting times at boreholes were significantly reduced: the end-line evaluation conducted in July 2021 showed that 100% of households had to queue for less than 30 minutes, compared with 52% one year earlier.
- Approximately 98% of people surveyed (a representative sample) now collect drinking water from boreholes and the remaining 2% from taps. Before the project began, 54% accessed water from unprotected water sources (i.e. dug wells and springs).
- Across the sub-county, there was a 3% reduction in WASH-related illnesses, from 26% to 23%, contributing to the over-arching goal of improving the health of people living in Lamogi.
The Piwa Maleng project was so successful that it has been renewed for a second phase. Piwa Maleng II, which launched in September 2021 and is funded by the same anonymous foundation as its predecessor, builds upon the successes and lessons of the first phase. The five-year programme aims to bring water even closer to people’s homes by setting up solar-powered systems to direct water from boreholes to taps in schools and villages. It will combine WASH interventions with training on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) to enable girls and women to access water safely and make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.
Translating as "Our Clean Water" in Swahili, the Piwa Maleng project aims to improve access to safe, clean water and reduce teenage pregnancy rates in Amuru District, Northern Uganda.