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More sustainable systems through consolidation? The changing landscape of rural drinking water service delivery in Uganda

Angela Huston
Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, McGill University, Montréal, QC, Canada; and IRC, The Hague, Netherlands; angela.huston@mail.mcgill.ca

Susan Gaskin
Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, McGill University, Montréal, QC, Canada; susan.gaskin@mcgill.ca

Patrick Moriarty
IRC, The Hague, The Netherlands; moriarty@ircwash.org

Martin Watsisi
IRC Uganda, Kampala, Uganda; watsisi@ircwash.org

ABSTRACT: The drinking water services sector in Uganda is in the early stages of a nationally planned transition; it aims to move from a paradigm based on community managed point sources towards one of professional utilities of piped networks. The implementation of this transition was studied in Western Uganda’s Kabarole District between 2017 and 2019; a systems approach (building blocks) was used to assess the sustainability of the different service models. The level of services was assessed using household and infrastructure surveys; these were supplemented by a management assessment, key informant interviews and stakeholder workshops. The two utility models present in Kabarole outperformed the community management model, with the existing national utility demonstrating greater maturity and performance than the newer Umbrella utility. The community management model, while relatively well defined in policy and planning frameworks, was poorly implemented, with less than 20% of community management structures operational at water points. The water sector is undergoing a process of consolidation of service delivery under a smaller number of larger providers, a trend that has been observed in other countries as they progress towards universal supply. In this paper, the prospects and risks of the current sector trajectory are discussed, as are the implications for monitoring, regulation and planning systems across the urban–rural spectrum.

KEYWORDS: Utility, service delivery models, systems, community management, Uganda