Equal Aqua Uganda, an NGO set up by ICS alumni, is boosting access to clean water in parts of rural Uganda, enabling communities to fight COVID-19.
COVID-19 has cast a spotlight on the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in keeping us healthy and safe. But what happens when communities don’t have access to clean water? That's the question that former ICS teammates from Uganda and the UK came together to answer.
Abel Odeke and Tom Mclenachan met while volunteering with ICS Restless Development in 2019. They went on to co-found Equal Aqua Uganda (EAU) after being inspired by their ICS project during their placement.
“Seeing first hand the challenges with water that people in rural Uganda face daily inspired us to start a grassroots organisation with new approaches,” Tom says.
Since founding the NGO, they have been joined by five other ICS volunteers from their cohort - Josh, Georgia, Martin, Anita and Joan, and Tonny, who volunteered with Balloon Ventures ICS in 2016. It's very much an ICS team effort now!
Equal Aqua Uganda’s vision is water equality - meaning access to clean, safe and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene for all. People may suffer from inequal access to water due to characteristics like where they live, their ethnicity, gender or disability.
In turn, water inequality can affect the availability of food, livelihoods and educational opportunities. It has an especially marked impact on women and girls, who may spend hours each day collecting and carrying water and doing domestic chores.
- over half the population - almost 22 million people - don't have access to clean water,
- 35 million people don't have a decent toilet,
- over 3,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoea caused by dirty water and a lack of toilets.
EAU cofounder Abel explains, “A billion people worldwide still don’t have access to safe drinking water. In Uganda, over half of the country’s 42 million people struggle to access this basic human need. Through EAU, we hope to enhance the capability of communities to access water and sanitation facilities.”
Hygiene during a pandemic
EAU’s founders say their project, which began just 3 months before Uganda’s first confirmed coronavirus case, has come in the nick of time - and that their innovative access solutions could save lives. Abel explains:
“We started with small deeds to address short-term needs. For instance, we have been installing handwashing centres with soap in communities and helped distribute over 300 face masks to vulnerable communities.
“Through Facebook, we have also conducted training to help build the capacity of other young people to make liquid soap to ensure personal safety, but also to sell to earn a living.
“We have inspired many to embrace new skills to reconstruct their livelihoods that have been disrupted by COVID-19. To contribute to the Government’s safety awareness campaign, we worked closely with the local authorities to produce brochures showing how to wash hands and avoid contracting the virus.
“As a longer-term solution, we are mobilising resources to build eco-friendly 5000-litre water tanks to serve communities, and especially schools, to ensure they have higher sanitation when they reopen in a few weeks, after months of lockdown.”
In early 2020, EAU aimed to raise enough funds to build a version of their eco-friendly water-tanks for a local school.
“We needed about £650 for the project. We were pleased to raise more than £1000,” says Abel.
“The water-tank model that we are promoting uses discarded plastic water bottles as bricks. It’s a low-cost and carbon-saving alternative to baked bricks,” says Abel.
“In early July, we finished our first rainwater harvesting tank made from these ‘ecobricks’ for a secondary school in Eastern Uganda. Once the school reopens, we will run classes on WASH topics and community workshops teaching practical skills, such as making liquid soap and reusable sanitary pads. We are applying and expanding upon the skills we acquired on ICS”, Tom notes.
Water inequality persists in Uganda and around the world. It is one of the main challenges developing countries face in preventing community transmission of infections like COVID-19. Tom and Abel’s story shows the commitment and ingenuity of young people keen to end water inequality for good.