The Ugandan water supply and sanitation sector has made spectacular progress in urban areas since the mid-1990s, with substantial increases in coverage as well as in operational and commercial performance. Sector reforms in the period 1998-2003 included the commercialization and modernization of the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) operating in cities and larger towns, as well as decentralization and private sector participation in small towns. These reforms have attracted significant international attention. However, 40% of the population still had no access to an improved water source and 57% had no improved sanitation in 2004. Low access to urban sanitation and wastewater treatment, compared to the progress achieved on urban water supply, is an area of concern.

The water and sanitation sector has been recognized as a key area under the 2004 Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), Uganda’s main strategy paper to fight poverty. A comprehensive expenditure framework has been introduced to coordinate financial support by external donors, the national government, and NGOs. The PEAP estimates that from 2001 to 2015, about US$1.4 billion, or US$92 million per year, are needed to increase water supply coverage up to 95%.



The framework comprises of a set of policies and laws the most notable of which include:

Provides for the protection of water sources, protection and preservation of the environment and allows for measures to promote good water management to prevent or minimize damage or destruction to air, land, water resources resulting from pollution and other causes.
The Water Act provides for a number of activities, which should be implemented in order to protect, manage and sustain water sources and developments as guided by the objectives. The policy direction for water quality management is guided towards protection of the public health, ecosystem integrity and enhanced human resources and social economic development. The legislative framework for protection of water sources, water contamination quality testing and monitoring is also embedded in the Water Act and is guided by National Water policy [NWP] 1999.

Standards and guides for water quality management in Uganda include the National Standards for Drinking Water [potable],(1994), World Health Organisation [WHO] Guidelines 1998 with due consideration to specific weather conditions and water use habits, national effluent standards for discharge of waste water into the environment , and a Provisional Water Quality Guidelines [1996] for untreated rural water supplies.

At operational level, activities with impacts on water quality are regulated through a range of authorizations, which are either being directly managed by the DWD, or in co-operation with NEMA.

Licensing of water abstraction and waste discharge is based on the Water Act, (cap 152:2000); The National Environment Act (cap.153:2000); The Water Resources Regulations, (1998) and The Water [waste discharge] Regulations, (1998).
Issuing of disposal site permits in the Environment Act,( cap.150:2000); and Waste Management Regulations, (1999).
Recommendation for approval of environmental impact assessments [EIA’s] in the national Environment Act, (cap.150:2000) and also the NWP, (1999). The water Act (cap 152) provides for self regulation of permit holders.

The National Water Policy (NWP), adopted in 1999, provides the overall policy framework for the water sector. The policy also emphasizes the recognition of water as being both a social and economic good, whose allocation should give first priority to domestic use.
The National Gender Policy, (1999) – which recognizes women and children as the main carriers and users of water. It anchors the importance of gender responsiveness in terms of planning, implementation and management of water and sanitation initiatives.
The Health Policy – which reiterates that sanitation lies within the mandate of the health ministry, and notes that the war against poor sanitation has to be intensified and maintained in order to consolidate and improve on the gains made in this area.

The Water Statute, enacted in 1995, is the principle law for the water sector, which incorporates legislation for both water resources management and water supply and sanitation.

The National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) Statute establishes the NWSC as a Water and Sewerage Authority and gives it the mandate to operate and provide water and sewerage services in areas entrusted to it on a sound commercial and viable basis.

The Statute empowers NEMA, in consultation with lead agencies, to issue guidelines and prescribe measures and standards for the sustainable management and conservation of natural resources and the environment in general.

The Water Statute, 1995, provides for the establishment of regulations for controlling water abstraction and wastewater discharge through use of permits. These controls also ensure that water is not treated as a free good but as a good with a value to be paid for.

The Local Governments Act defines roles for different levels of government in provision and management of water and sanitation related activities.

The Act allows for reasonable use by the occupier or owner of a piece of land, of water for domestic and small-scale agricultural purposes.

Following concern about the quality of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) s done by Practitioners, and in order to provide for a uniform system of certification and registration of EIA practitioners, the National Environment (Conduct and Certification of Environment Practitioners) Regulations, 2003 were gazetted and set minimum standards and criteria for qualification as an EIA Practitioner.
It is also important to note that Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) involved in water sector activities have formed a network called Uganda Water and Sanitation Network (UWASNET) for improved coordination of their activities in the water sector.


  • Access to clean water for slum dwellers

Access to clean water is a significant issue in slums located in the urban fringe areas, where population growth has outpaced the supply of water. The population in these areas are generally quite poor, and find it more difficult to pay for water services. Piped water is mainly provided in the wealthier and well planned core areas of towns, unlike the urban fringe areas, which usually comprise of informal settlements occupied by poorer people, many in make shift accommodation. These informal settlements, mostly access water from improved point water sources (protected springs or boreholes/shallow wells with hand pumps). Where piped water reaches the slums most people access it from stand taps (kiosks) or yard connections for a price.

  • Access to sanitary facilities for slum dwellers

It is difficult to provide sewers in slum areas because of their land requirements, particularly in the poorly planned areas, and high costs of construction and maintenance. The maintenance costs would make the resultant tariffs unrealistically high and not affordable. Many people depend on on-site sanitation, predominantly pit latrines, which has contributed to ground water contamination, especially in Kampala. In order to address this problem, the Ministry of Health and Kampala City Council Authority are promoting ecological sanitation by emphasizing the use of dry toilets in urban areas that do not use the conventional sewerage system.

  • Water quality issues

There are poor sanitary facilities in all urban centres in Uganda and these conditions result in increased risk of pathogenic contamination and epidemics. Increased incidence of water borne diseases such as cholera ,dysentery, and typhoid have been recorded across the country . It’s reported that annually over 80,000 cases a registered with these kind of diseases, in addition, there are many unreported cases. This situation clearly indicates the need for improved access to safe water and sanitation.

Another issue of great importance is the increased levels of nutrients and organic matter from urban and industrial point sources, resulting in eutrophication problems and oxygen deficiencies. Recent measurements of bio chemical oxygen demand loads from the major towns served by NWSC in Uganda showed that the established standards for discharge of BOD were exceeded most of the time in the period from 2003 to 2005.

Measurements from Murchison Bay in 1996 and 1997 showed that the chlorophyll level had increased 4-5 times in that period. The presence of opportunistic species such as water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and duck weed (lemna species) in many Ugandan water bodies clearly indicates water quality problems. Observations of oxygen depletion reduced light conditions and fish deaths underline the harmful effects of eutrophication on the aquatic eco system. Besides having an impact on the water use for the aquatic environment, the presence of blue-green algae is a danger to public health because some species are toxic. Such effects can make surface water inadequate for human and animal consumption and result in increased costs of production in water treatment.

The main industrial activities in Uganda are primarily concentrated in Kampala, Jinja, Mbale, Entebbe, Kasese and Mbarara. The major industrial polluters include breweries, textile factories, sugar factories, food processing, metal factories, paints, oil, soap and leather tanning industries. Under the water quality component of Lake Victoria environment project (LVEMP) it was estimated that the amount of of BOD, total nitrogen (TN) flowing from the major Ugnadan industrial points into Lake Victoria per day was 2455kg and 126kg per day of phosphorous (TP In addition to the major industrial activities, there are a number of cottage and semi-industrial activities (battery manufacturers, garages, fuel stations, local gin (enguli) distillers, etc.) which may affect the water quality in the vicinity of their location and other water bodies. The industries are poorly regulated and most lack pre treatment facilities for their wastewater. This situation can lead to unacceptable levels of toxic substances, organic pollution and nutrients in the receiving water bodies.

Moreover, poor waste management of solid and liquid wastes, wrongful dumping in wetlands, especially by urban authorities, have led to pollution of surface and underground water bodies. Previously, the significance of these pollution sources has been considered as relatively low due to the generally low economic activity. However, the magnitude of the industrial pollution is relatively unknown and with continued economic growth, water quality impacts from industrial activities will be an issue of high importance at the local and national level.