For lack of safe water, residents take any flowing water from the hills
Bulambuli-Ms Angella Namagidini, 34, of Soti village in Bulugunya sub-county in Bulambuli district bends with her Jerrrycan carrying her child to fetch water that flows from Mt Elgon, Wagagai peak.
When Daily Monitor approaches her, she simply says “ Fe kunywa mezi gga, kekugadekako dda, mezi enga wagadekile nonywe, gegabamo bulayi bosi dda, gabagawo gatyo]” Loosely meaning We take this water without boiling it because the taste changes when you boil it and does not taste well when you boil it,”
Ms Nabukwasi says as pupils they drank the water and that today pupils of all primary schools also drink this water that flows naturally from the ridges and nothing has happened to them.
“Our parents, relatives and adults took this water, we saw them on many occasions at this running water fetching, from the rivers, from spring wells and nobody ever got sick. We don’t need to boil our water not even treating and we are safe, the water is tasty, we like it,” said Ms Nabukwasi.
Ms Nabukwasi is not alone, most residents of Mt Elgon region drink the water that flows from Mt Elgon using a centripetal force and flows narurally along various ridges as children also prance about in the same water and animals drink the same water.
Although it is clear from the residents living around Mt Elgon that diarrhea, dysentery, skin diseases and cough are on the rise in the area, in Mt Elgon area residents share water from the mountain as this is the only “clean” source of water for the people.
The District Health Officer for Bulambuli Dr. Mupalya Gidale was surprised when he heard that people from Mt Elgon take water directly from run offs around the mountain in rural mountainous sub-counties neighbouring Mt Elgon.
Dr Gidale, stood still, looked at the woman fetching water from the running stream, he wanted to speak back but an inner voice restrained him when he saw another group of pupils and adults come to line up at the same stream to fetch water for domestic use.
The looks on his face left no doubt in his mind that at some stage, he would order them to stop taking the dirty water direct from the running stream but he could not speak it out.
Ms Namagidini’s experience illustrates how the Bagisu from the hills [At the slopes of Mt Elgon] are not bothered about the dirt that surrounds the water in the landslide prone areas and flooded lowland areas that exposes them to water borne diseases like cholera, dysentery, diarrhea and Bilharzia.
The LCV chairman Mr. Simon Wananzofu revealed that the 2011 floods destroyed pit-latrines in the homes and schools which in turn have contaminated the water sources and destroyed spring wells in the area.
“Apparently as we speak, all the water sources are contaminated, it is no longer safe to take water directly from the springs wells, rivers and streams that is why many a people are suffering from diarrhea, dysentery and we are likely to have cholera anytime if people don’t boil the water for domestic use and drinking,” said Mr. Wananzofu.
Dr Mupalya said Mt Elgon districts experience heavy rainfall that usually cause mudslides and flooding in the area adding that the torrential rains that caused landslides in Bulambuli in 2012, 2013 destroyed besides life, pit latrines for people staying at the slopes of Mt Elgon.
“The mudslides and floods in the lower parts of this district affected over 60,000 people, contaminated the rivers, streams, spring wells that puts the lives of the people in danger of water borne diseases. Our people must learn to boil water or use tablets to be safe,” said Dr. Mupalya.
He revealed that about only 24% of the people in Bulambuli know how to treat water using the modern tablets and how to boil it in order to drink but majority of the people still believe that boiled water is not good enough to drink.
He said most of the people when you talk to them about boiling water or even using a tablet to treat it, they regard it as a westernized way of living that destroys the water and that it does not taste well.
“Our sanitation coverage has reduced due to the mudslides, heavy rains and floods because all the latrine facilities were washed away, people have left their villages and although about 55% of the people in Bulambuli use surface water, due to the deteriorating sanitation in the area, Cholera, diarrhea , dysentery and water borne diseases are likely to break out,” said Dr Mupalya.
He revealed that the greatest problem in the district is lack of human resource and inadequate money to fund the sensitization of the people because there are 18 sub-counties and the district has only six health assistants that makes the health department only concentrate on acute diseases only.
Dr Gideon Wamasebu the DHO Manafwa attributes the contamination of the water sources to encroachment and settlement in the hills neighbouring Mt Elgon where the source of the water is.
“And ofcourse settlement comes with construction of latrine pits up in the hills and whenever it rains, the water just washes the pit latrines and human waste ends up in the water sources in the low land areas. Waterborne diseases becomes an inevitability so people should be sensitized on hygiene and sanitation,” said Dr Wamasebu.
The Health Assistant Mr Julius Manza who has started educating the people on how to make water safe for drinking using Aqua safe tablets learnt that attitude and tradition are the greatest road blocks to hygiene and sanitation in the district.
“Can you imagine people still belive that it is a taboo to take safe water boiled or treated by the Aqua tablets! And as long as this attitude is not changed, many people will die of water borne diseases in this area,” said Mr. Julius Manza, the health inspector of Bumasobo, Buluganya, Bulago, Bulegeni, Simu, Sisiyi, Masira, Namisuni and Bulegini town council.
Mr. Manza urged the local leadership and teachers in UPE schools to play a leading role in helping the local population know that boiling water and using a tablet is the only better way to save people from cholera, dysentery, diarrhea and bilharzias in the area.
This report comes barely a year after a syrvey on the Water quality analysis from selected rivers at Mt Elgon national park by Mr David Ogaram for Mbale revealed that massive encroachment beyond the bamboo zone were endangering the ecological functions of Mt Elgon at a great rate thereby pausing great danger for an environmental catastrophe.
“For of the rivers samples taken inside the park, park boundary and outside the park for Physico-chemical and bacterial examination and it was deduced that due to massive encroachment the rivers had a high number of dissolved solids that contaminated the waters,” reads the survey report signed by Mr Ogaram for Mbale area manager.
The report says that river Manafwa that supplies water to Mbale municipality, Tororo, Busiu and Butaleja was the most contaminated water with a total of 59.7 mg per litre total dissolved solids while Chebonet River in Kapchorwa stood at 22 mg/litre and Sisiyi stood at 25.3 mg/litre.
Reports at UWA also reveal that the water colour, turbidity, electrical conductivity, Alkalinity, hardness, iron content and manganese content have also been affected greatly.
The Mt Elgon area conservation manager Mr Adonia Bintorwa said Mt Elgon zone stands prone to heavy landslides, mudslides, massive soil erosion, desertification and water borne disease outbreaks if the encroachment is not checked now.