It is on a bright Thursday morning of January 14, 2010 that I leave Kampala to travel to Mukono town to visit our NGO implementing partner - Uganda Environmental Education Foundation (UEEF). The skies are clear and the humidity is high, and the infamous Kampala traffic is fortunately less hectic than usual. After about 35 minutes on the tarmac road, a sign ‘welcomes me’ to Mukono District, the home of UEEF, our NGO partner on the newly introduced Sanitation as a Business programme. Upon reaching the UEEF office, I am joined by Stephen Ssemakula, the UEEF Project Officer responsible for the programme, and we advance to Nama sub county to assess progress of the work underway.
Upon arrival in Nama village, where one of the ecosan toilets are under construction, a resident, Mr. Joseph Kasirye, greeted us in the local language of Luganda with “Tuusanyuse nnyo kuubalaba, mwebare nnyo kutuyamba, mukatuzimbilawo kabuyonjo zomulembe. Siza kutekka wagulu omutindo gwe byobuyonjo mukitundu kyinno”, translated to mean, “We are happy to see you. Thank you very much for helping us with the construction of ecosan latrines which will greatly boost the sanitation standards in this area.”
The construction of this EcoSan toilet in Nama is part of the Sanitation as a Business Programme being implemented in Mukono and Kyenjojo Districts in Uganda. The Ugandan Programme is learning from Water For People—Malawi’s success where their programme has reached several milestones in terms of sustainability, increased latrine coverage, and stakeholder participation. The ideas behind the programme are innovative and stem from a simple truth – we do not have the money and human capacity available to build everyone who lacks improved sanitation a toilet. More importantly, traditional programs that build toilets consistently struggle to have impact or reach scale, and often distort the environment in ways that undermine future sanitation development. Sanitation as a Business tries to shift sanitation programming by changing the incentives and bringing the private sector into sanitation in new ways.
Findings from the January 14 field visit were promising. The household beneficiaries interviewed are very happy about the EcoSan toilets, they are offering community contributions to the project, construction is ongoing, and there is political will and support from district and sub county Local Government leaders in the area, and also from other stakeholders on the project. At one of the sites visited, the ecosan toilet was completed and expected to be fully operational within a few days. In spite of the tremendous achievements, it should be noted that the project also faces some challenges. These include: negative community perceptions on the health and safety aspects of EcoSan toilets, particularly in regards to women’s fertility; the depth of the EcoSan toilet; use of compost; use by Muslims who have different sanitation requirements; poor feeder roads in Nama Sub County that disrupt transportation of construction materials, particularly in the rainy season; community members who opt for bigger EcoSan structures instead of the previously agreed sizes; and the marketing of compost and urine.
As I rode back to Kampala following my field visit, I considered the programme and its potential for positive impacts for Nama sub county. Despite the challenges ahead, I am optimistc about the future of the programme. Myself and Water For People are working closely with district and sub county stakeholders, the Ministry of Water and Environment, local masons, and UEEF to ensure successful implementation and help provide the people of Nama access to clean and sustainable sanitation systems.