Amadhi n’obulamu – Water is life. When many of our Soga friends share this pithy proverb, they express the gravity of a perennial truth – a truth that one might walk three kilometers to access, and a truth that may very easily be polluted. The Busoga region is by no means a worst-case scenario when it comes to clean water access. The region, which now boasts a population of almost 4 million people and which covers approximately 3,443 square miles, is virtually surrounded by water – Lake Victoria to the south, Lake Kyoga to the North, the magnificent White Nile to the West, and the Empologoma River winding along the Eastern border. The lush hills, fertile soil, and vibrant wildlife well merit the title “Pearl of Africa” that Winston Churchill bequeathed to this small country years ago – a title that betrays the assessment of a lucrative profit venture or an ornament that one might wear around one’s neck.
And yet, amidst the rich resources that vitiate this equatorial country, only about 65 percent of the population has access to clean water. In many cases this access is very distant. If the closest water source is contaminated, additional time and resources (firewood in particular) are often required to boil the water – but let’s be honest– who has time for all of that. Almost 80 percent of the population in Uganda work as farmers.
I consider it an honor to work with Kibo Group this summer in this context in conjunction with the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at Southern Methodist University. Kibo Group has been imaginatively seeking partnerships in development between the United States and Uganda since 1998. In Busoga, Kibo Group has been working with local leaders through three main projects: on a community building reforestation initiative, a women’s empowerment program, and a health, sanitation, and clean water program. The work with water development functions under the area of Kibo work identified as “Water Source.” In October of 2006 Kibo drilled the first water well in Kirongo village. Since the initial project Kibo Group has formed partnerships with water organizations such as Busoga Trust and Draco drilling company in order to learn from those who have been working with villages throughout Busoga for decades.
Through these partnerships and through countless conversations with many people in villages throughout Busoga, Kibo has learned that lack of clean drinking water was only one part of the water problem. A greater cause of sickness comes through a lack of sanitation in the water cycle that includes clean jerrycans (the usual 20 liter container for water), dry racks to raise the dishes after washing, latrines, tippy taps (a hand-washing system located outside of latrines), rubbish pits, energy-efficient wood-burning stoves for the kitchen, and an eradication of mosquito breeding environments near the homes. Kibo has placed an emphasis on Home Improvement Sanitation Campaigns that take place in every village prior to the installment of a clean water source. Since 2007 there have been 12 villages that have completed both the Home Improvement Campaigns and the Water Well installment through Kibo Group.
My work with Kibo this summer involves assessment of these projects. International Development relationships are fraught with complex ethical issues. The questions of who owns the resources, who is in control of the resources, who is making the decisions, and who ultimately benefits from the development relationships are at the core of these issues. In addition, these relationships take place in the context of histories of past colonial relationships, which in many situations have continued through expansion of major economic centers.
Kibo Group is a small-scale development organization that seeks to address these complex ethical issues through particular contexts and local leadership. Through this internship with the Water Source projects, Kibo Group hopes to evaluate surveys that aim to gather data from citizens of the villages that have completed the Home Improvement Campaigns and who have received water wells. The surveys will cover three specific topics: The sustainability of the home improvement and water projects, the local perception of the projects (concerning responsibility, benefit, and ownership), and local perceptions of impact on health and death rates. So much of the ethics concerning “international development” as understood by Kibo Group comes down to how well these categories are negotiated, as the greater value is placed in the voices of people in the villages that the projects hope to serve.
I am working together with the manager of the Water Source Projects, Ronald, and three other individuals who bring experience with research in Uganda: Joseph, Harriet, and Enock. They bring a joyful spirit and a committed work ethic to the project every day. Katuje! (Let’s go!)