Gulu Battles Acute Water Crisis Again

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In short
Dr. Nathan Onyachi, the Medical Director Gulu Teaching Hospital, says the maternity ward is the worst affected by the crisis.

Gulu town has slipped back into an acute water crisis for the second consecutive years. Pece Division hasn't had water since the crisis struck three weeks ago. Other low lying areas receive intermittent water supply that often comes late in the night for few hours.  National Water and Sewerage Corporation-NWSC blames the crisis on the declining water level in Oyitino dam, the largest natural water reservoir that sustained the northern Uganda town for decades.
Currently, residents fetch water from shallow wells, protected springs, wetlands and few boreholes in Gulu Municipality. Trucks loaded with water from nearby townships and long queues form around some hotels with underground water pump. Such kiosks charge between Shillings 500 and 1,000 for a 20 liter jerry can.

Hotel Nok in Pece Division, the worst affected division is one of the few hotels installed with an underground water pump. It has a giant water selling kiosk to the left of its main entrance in Pece Division. On Thursday, URN visited the kiosk at about 9am and saw more than 40 twenty liter jerry cans assembled in two long winding rows to collect water from the six taps at the kiosk.

The taps were however not yet running despite the fact that women and men were anxiously waiting for the attendant. Willy Komakech, one of the residents, said the kiosk is the only hope of people in the entire Pece Vanguard. He said a jerry can of water costs Shillings 500 due to high cost of fuel for pumping it. 

Komakech said "water from National Water and Sewerage Corporation had taken nearly three weeks without flowing to the division". Some residents now share water with schools. Stephen Gang, the Manager National Water and Sewerage Corporation, says the water level in Oyitino Dam has receded below the pumping level by nearly 2 meters. 

The first worst water crisis in Gulu in decades occurred in 2016. Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) soldiers were dispatched to dig a second reservoir to supplement the main supply. Gang says "for water to reach town, water from the second reservoir must first be topped up in the main reservoir. 

Unfortunately, the system can't generate enough pressure to push enough water uphill". And because water is life, an atmosphere of desperation has set in for the corporation to nourish the estimated 139,000 clients dependent on treated water in the northern Uganda town. National water and sewerage corporation manager says the developing town requires 2.3 Million cubic litres of water every day.

Gulu District Security Committee can no longer take the crisis sitting down. On Thursday evening, the District Security Committee held a crisis meeting in the Resident District Commissioner's boardroom to discuss how to help stressed public institutions. 

"We discussed the possibility of supplying water using the Police fire tender truck to Gulu hospital and other institutions", Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, the Gulu LC V chairperson told Grace Kwiyocwiny, the State Minister for Northern Uganda during a meeting at Ker Kwaro Acholi.


Dr. Nathan Onyachi, the Medical Director Gulu Teaching Hospital, says the maternity ward is the worst affected by the crisis. Grace Achen, a resident of Layibi Kirombe, says women have been worst affected. "If you are not up early, you can't find water ", she said. Achen draws water from a borehole at the Muslim's Green Hill Nursery and Primary school at Shillings 100 per 20 liter Jerry can. 

She says "fights are becoming common at the borehole as women scramble for water". With water hydrants running dry as well, National Water and Sewerage Corporation must think creative. According to Stephen Gang, the Corporation has sunk two more underground water pumping points in Mican, Bar Dege Division and Onang in Layibi Division to rescue the situation.

The points are being tested to determine its capacity and quality before they can be commissioned to start working. Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, the Gulu District LC V Chairperson, says the boreholes are temporary measures the district is resorting to. He says more durable solutions will be pumping water from River Nile, tapped from Karuma through Kamdini. 


About the author

Peter Labeja
Peter Labeja has been a practicing journalist for the last 13 years during which he has covered part of the brutal conflict which bedeviled Northern Uganda as well as the painful transition to Peace thereafter. Emerging post conflict issues such as land rights of under privileged widows and orphans, challenges of access to social services in the immediate aftermath of Lord’s Resistance Army conflict in Northern Uganda.

Labeja is now the Northern Uganda Bureau chief in Acholi Sub Region since 2014 - Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya and Omoro districts as well as South Sudan falls within his areas of jurisdiction. He previously worked with The Vision Group for four years.

Labeja’s major career interests are in Climate Change; Agriculture and Environment - natural resources such as Water, Oil and Gas; Transitional Justice; Human Rights, Democracy and Governance as well as South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis. In 2013, Labeja was awarded a prestigious Pan African Journalism Award for excellence in journalism at United Nation’s UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya for Climate Change and Health Reporting.