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Behind Kampala's sanitation woes

posted 30 May 2013, 02:59 by RCN Uganda

Jammed roads are choking with noisy and smoke-spewing 20 to 30-year-old cars. Almost every corner and end of every road has a boda boda stage, further narrowing the road. The roads flood within a 30-minute downpour.

Meanwhile, fresh sewage is gushing out of a broken pipe. On the other hand, there are garages and randomly-erected filling stations and kiosks. That is the mess Kampala is. According to Dr. Amin Tamale, a Makerere University lecturer of city and urban planning, there is a direct link between physical planning and sanitation.

6% connected to sewer

A modern city, according to Paddy Twesigye, the National Water and Sewerage Corporation senior projects manager, should have a fully established sewerage system, which covers a wide area.

This is not the case with Kampala, a city with a day time population of about 3.5 million. The city’s sewerage system is accessed by a few, especially the well-to do.

According to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) spokesperson Peter Kawujju, the city comprises five divisions.

 “Only about 6% (about 210,000 of 3.5 million people assuming the figure is constant) of Kampala is connected to the sewerage system. Ideally, about 30%should be connected to the sewage line. On the other hand, only 15% (about 525,000 of the 3.5 million) have septic tanks.

“Other families use pit-latrines, shared pit-latrines among families, communal and public toilets, while others do not have any,” he notes.

This poses severe sanitation and environment challenges such as pollution of Lake Victoria due to direct deposit of untreated faecal matter into the water body.

The level and type of toilet system used, Twesigye argues, depends on the social and economic ability of the people and nature of planning. He emphasizes that the pattern of human settlement determines the nature of sanitation facilities.

“With proper planning, it is easier and cost-effective to determine a uniform and manageable toilet system for a given area.

“However, this is not possible for much of Kampala because of mixed settlements, for low-income and high-income earners,” Twesigye says.

Extending such services to a few in such an area may not be cost-effective.

Poor land management

Tamale says proper physical planning is anchored in proper land use planning and management.

“Physical planning has to do with efficient and proper allocation of land resources and management, for instance, markets, abattoirs, bus terminals,” he says.

On the contrary, he explains, most human activities such as housing/settlement and recreation in Kampala have been undertaken without proper planning, coordination and development control requirements.

Tamale blames the failure in the provision of proper physical planning services on incapacitated institutions and centralization of power.

“KCCA has laws against building in wetlands, but petrol stations, churches and industries are built there. Institutions lack capacity because they are underfunded and lack personnel to immediately address problems and enforce laws,” explains Tamale, who is also a member of the National Physical Planning Board.

“In Ggaba, Luzira, Port Bell and Entebbe, people who have built on the shoreline are politically powerful. Otherwise, how else would they acquire land titles and have their plans approved?” he wonders.

On the centralization of power, Tamale notes that whereas the KCCA Act 2010 established the department for physical planning to regulate physical developments, for instance, roads or buildings, the department is located in the city and not in the divisions.

It is far removed from the people, Tamale argues, yet there are more physical planning challenges and problems in the divisions (each has over 500,000 people) than in the city centre.

The lecturer suggests that empowered physical planning departments comprising about 15 to 20 people be established at the divisions to provide immediate solutions to planning challenges before the centre intervenes.

On the other hand, however, Kawujju notes that although KCCA has all its 10 directorates based in the centre, it is not true that it is not on the ground in the divisions.

“We have physical planning officers in the divisions and it is the same with all the other directorates.”

Minimizing damage

In a bid to stem the poor planning challenges in the city, a January article in Saturday Vision reported that KCCA plans to construct 800,000 affordable housing in Kampala and its outskirts.

Apart from the proposed housing units, Tamale suggests that physical planning environmental laws should be operationalized if the damage caused by poor planning on the environment is to be curtailed.

Additionally, he advises the Government to take keen interest in the physical planning of the city.

On the other hand, Tamale suggests that the law should not allow the use of septic tanks because they are not centrally-planned sewerage services. “For instance, cesspool trucks empty their waste into lakes.”

Tamale emphasizes the need to engage people to appreciate the value of physical planning and environment protection.

He also suggests that the physical planning problems of areas outside Kampala should not be neglected. “Municipalities should be elevated to city status with strict enforcement of physical planning procedures,” he says.

He explains that this will relieve the population pressure on infrastructural facilities and also reduce environmental abuse. 

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