How safe is the water we consume?

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By Lilian Namagembe

Water is life goes the adage, drawn from its necessity for the survival of living organisms. Besides quenching thirst, water is used for drinking, cooking bathing, washing and irrigating crops among other uses.
However, water can take life as a result of waterborne-related diseases that are triggered by consumption of unsafe water.
It is upon this background that government has invested in extending safe water to different parts of the country. According to statistics from the Ministry of Water and Environment, the country currently has 65 per cent access to safe water in rural areas and 77 per cent in urban areas.

Although open and spring wells, boreholes, tanks and piped water taps are the main sources through which government has extended safe water throughout the country, rivers and lakes are still the source in some remote areas.
The safety of water across all sources is, however, not guaranteed as it is sometimes compromised by different structural factors during transit despite the different treatment methods accorded to it, according to experts and suppliers.

Wells
Although it is one of the areas that have benefitted from spring water, residents of Namasuba Kalina Cell in Wakiso District are grappling with access to safe water. The district authority has since declared one of the wells to be contaminated with faecal matter due to the growing urbanisation in the area.
They say new residents erect pit-latrines on the upper level of the spring water, which contaminates water from the ground before it flows.

Residents therefore fear that they stand a high risk of waterborne diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, and dysentery spread while bathing, washing, drinking or eating food exposed to water infected by pathogenic micro-organisms.
Mr Bashir Ddumba, the area vice chairperson, says although two of their spring wells were tested by the district health officers and found to be contaminated with faecal substances; they can’t stop residents from using it if they have no alternatives.

“You have to first show them where else to fetch water before you stop them from using the well,” Mr Ddumba says.
As such, Ddumba says 80 per cent of the area residents have since resorted to using piped water in a desperate move to prevent waterborne diseases. However, piped water may not be safe either.

Piped water
Despite the different disinfectants added to the piped water currently supplied to a total of 15,500 villages in Uganda by the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), the body charged with water supply and sanitation, its safety is sometimes compromised during transit.

Mr Sam Apedel, the NWSC spokesperson, says they have since used different methods to prevent water contamination to remove bacteria with which it comes from lakes and other sources but they cannot guarantee the water quality in people’s houses.
Among others, he notes that as NWSC, they have employed water disinfectant methods, including filtration and the use of chemicals at the source where water is got, use of standardised chlorine measurements to substituting galvanised Iron pipes with the ‘safer’ plastic pipes.

“However, there are challenges [in the storage of this water]. Tanks on the roofs of houses don’t have covers; we have had incidents where someone calls you (NWSC) that their water has a bad smell only to find a dead bird in their tank,” he adds.
Mr Mike Buwembo, a private irrigation engineer and plumber says many clients, who seek plumbing services in their houses, are hesitant to invest in high-cost quality pipes.
“Some people use ungalvanised water pipes when designing the system in their houses… at least majority of the pipes I have installed in houses,” Mr Buwembo says.

Health effect
Dr Vincent Karuhanga, a general practitioner at Friends Polyclinic in Kampala, disagrees with the proposal to use plastic pipes as the safest way of water transit, saying that they have a chemical known as disphenol (dph), which is said to cause cancer and girls starting puberty earlier.

“It [dph] is used to harden many of the plastic pipes even in water tanks. The plastic pipes also have issues, especially when they become hot, it (dph) sinks in the [water],” Dr Karuhanga says.
He cautions that the galvanised iron or lead pipes can also cause harm, especially to one’s critical organs, including the pancreas and liver if one consumes water that transits through, advising that: “It should be [NWSC] to advise people on the quality of pipes to use in our houses.”

Boreholes
Water transit through boreholes is not entirely safe either, according to findings from a recent catalyst phase study carried out by WaterAid-Uganda, an international organisation working to bring change in local communities, in partnership with Makerere University.
The findings showed that corrosion is a major challenge, which contaminates borehole water.
“The corrosion eventually makes the pipes leak; and subsequently breaking the borehole down within apparently six months to one year”, the study aimed at strengthening the evidence base on the sustainability of rural water supplies, reads in part.

Way forward
Different stakeholders, including the NWSC, agree and recommend that there should be combined infrastructural planning among different sectors so that the water pipes are not cut when telecoms or road construction companies dig the ground. If this is not done, water quality is affected.
“The planning system should be overhauled to avoid water contamination. We need a sector wide approach as civil society organisations, ministry [of water] to dialogue and work amicably on the water quality test checks,” says Raymond Tumuhaire, a research officer at Uganda Water and Sanitation NGO Network .

WHO SAYS
Contamination. The contamination of water during transit is even worsened by the fact that majority water sources in Kampala were heavily contaminated after testing in 2015, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).
Impurity. According to Mr Apedel, sometimes soil leaks into the water and compromises its safety despite the pressure, which automatically flashes it out and the chlorine, which disinfects it to reach the final user when it is safe.

WHAT OTHERS SAY
Pipes: Mr Mike Buwembo, a private irrigation engineer and plumber, says many clients, who seek plumbing services in their houses, are hesitant to invest in high-cost quality pipes.
Safety: Dr Vincent Karuhanga, a general practitioner at Friends Polyclinic in Kampala, says plastic pipes have a chemical known as disphenol, which is said to cause cancer.

ADVICE
Pipes: Mr Mike Buwembo, a private irrigation engineer and plumber, says many clients, who seek plumbing services in their houses, are hesitant to invest in high-cost quality pipes.
Safety: Dr Vincent Karuhanga, a general practitioner at Friends Polyclinic in Kampala, says plastic pipes have a chemical known as disphenol, which is said to cause cancer.

Monitor.co.ug

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