Third year BA Geography student Oscar McLaughlin, has recently returned from a six month placement experience with the National Association of Professional Environmentalists, (an environmental advocacy group) in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Oscar worked with a variety of Ugandan NGOs and community organisations to help improve poor communities’ access to water services.
Although progress has been made in the course of two World Health Organisation (WHO) mandated “water and development” decades and a number of similar United Nations-led designated periods, as many as 1.2 billion people worldwide – more than one in six of the world’s population – continue to lack access to sufficient supplies of water for drinking and hygiene purposes. Two people die every minute of every day from illnesses related to lack of access to water services – up to 1.7 million people per year. Moreover, climate change is rapidly changing the temporal and geographical distribution of water resources, greatly exacerbating conditions in many parts of the globe.
A key output from Oscar’s placement was a handbook for Water User Committees (WUC), who are responsible for managing their own improved water resources on a community or neighbourhood level. This reflects the fact that although the WUCs are a legal requirement for the communities, many lack organisation, community support and are subject to low level forms of corruption and intimidation (e.g. forcing payment for access to public water standpipes). Working closely with community members, a NAPE community liaison officer and local civil servants and using a variety of participative techniques, Oscar has produced a document which sets out clearly peoples’ rights as Ugandan citizens to water and sanitation and the roles and responsibilities of WUCs. The document, translated in local dialects, has already been distributed to over 200 water user committees in the country and is already being used by them to, for example, challenge illegal enclosure of communal water resources.
Oscar's work is part of FET's commitment to enable our students to apply their knowledge and skills in the field. UWE supported Oscar’s work through award of a UWE Better Together grant, which was used to finance printing of the WUC Handbook and hold a number of community consultation events in spring 2013. Oscar was also supported by Drs Chad Staddon and Alan Terry whose “Africa Water Security Project”, jointly funded by the UWE, Bristol-Hewlett Packard Community Fund and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation funded International Water Security Network will support placement experiences for future UWE students interested in doing similar work. Through other funding mechanisms Staddon, Terry and their colleagues have also rehabilitated a number of community water supplies and continue to look for opportunities to extend this vitally-important work.
Oscar McLaughlin discussing water access issues with local people, Kampala, Uganda