SNV's Dorah Egunyu shares her thoughts on why we need to start asking questions before proposing solutions to water challenges.
“When we neglect our ecosystems, we make it harder to provide everyone with the water we need to survive and thrive.” Neglect is manifested in ongoing human activities such as wetland reclamation, deforestation, use of agrochemicals, open defecation, etc.
The Ministry of Water and Environment recently organised the first ever Uganda Water and Environment Week to celebrate Sanitation Week and World Water Day. The theme “Water and Environment, a catalyst for achieving middle income status by 2020” was clearly well thought out. During his key note address, Professor Emmanuel Kasimbazi spoke about the need for transboundary water cooperation and referenced the Nile Basin initiative. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a partnership among the 10 Nile basin states that “seeks to develop the river in a cooperative manner, share substantial socioeconomic benefits, and promote regional peace and security". Its effective use, Professor Kasimbazi noted, depends on how much the Nile basin states are willing to cooperate with each other to ensure long term access to water for all.
The challenges that the basin states grapple with are similar to what many people around the world face. Approximately 1.9 billion people live in potentially or severely water-scarce areas. An estimated 1.8 billion people use an unimproved source of drinking water with no protection against contamination from human faeces. In Uganda, 9 million people (22% of the population) don’t have access to safe drinking water, according to the Uganda National Household Survey of 2016/17; and 2.8 million residents still defecate in the open. This year’s World Water Day theme ‘Nature for water’ explores nature based solutions such as planting trees to replenish forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, and restoring wetlands in search of cost-effective ways to help rebalance the water cycle, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve human health and livelihoods.
But how do we get people to embrace these solutions?
Professor Kasimbazi believes we need to first understand people’s cultural beliefs, and what motivates them. Why do they act the way they do? Why do people for instance still practise open defecation in this modern era? Understanding the ‘Why’ is key to bridging the gaps because only then will we be able to find approaches that people can relate to and resonate with.
Once we have understood the ‘Why’, then we need to identify and understand the critical information gaps that relate to the practices we would like to see end. Many communities that practise open defecation in Uganda do not see the links between the lack of latrines to disease. And, it is important for people practising open defecation to understand the far-reaching implications of their behaviour on society as a whole.
What is the ‘carrot’ (benefit) that they stand to gain by abandoning open defecation? Professor Kasimbazi argues that conducting a benefits assessment can shed light to these potential gains, and make people appreciate the value of cooperation.
Promoting positive hygienic behaviour is certainly not a walk in the park. We however owe it to ourselves and the future generations to find lasting nature based solutions to our water challenges. And, a great place to start is to understand the ‘why’ behind people's actions.
Blog by Dorah Egunyu
Communications Officer, SNV Uganda