This has been the most difficult day to take in and process. I have tried to walk you through life in the slums. I apologise as it’s longer than my previous posts but with such shocking living conditions and three deaths whilst we visited, I really wanted to show you what life there is like.
At breakfast the general conversation was about the rain which woke all us up 4am. It rained for just a few hours, and this was at the end of the rainy season moving into the dry season. It was later that day we would see the real consequences of these few hours of rain. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the slums. I had seen pictures in geography text books at school, but had no idea what the reality would be. We weren’t sure how we would be welcomed – but we had been told that it wouldn’t be the same kind of warm welcome I received from Grace, Augustine and their family a few days earlier.
When we arrived and began to walk further in, we started to hear the horrific stories of what life is really like in the slums. The slums are completely different to the pleasant rural life I had previously experienced. The homes and businesses were made of whatever material they could get their hands on: metal, wood, plastic. Children were looking at us out of their doorways. They were cautious but some were waving at us, just as the children in the rural area had. We walked through the market area, and the fish and meat for sale were swarming with flies. I couldn’t easily identify the vegetables for sale as they were all caked in mud. In the first part of slum we visited, the ground was muddy with large puddles, and we had to tread carefully so our shoes weren’t submerged in the mud.
We were guided round by the local partners who know the area. There were no readily available toilet facilities in the slums. We saw two latrine blocks which were raised up from the ground, due to a high water table. They explained how the latrines were full, and there is no way of emptying them as the buildings are so close together there isn’t room to get a tanker in. Their method of emptying them was similar to the one we used back in England 150 years ago in the year of the big stink. They try to use the rain to their advantage. To flush the latrines, they remove a brick which allows the sewage to flow out onto the street, and the rain then hopefully washes the sewage away. This is similar to how Joseph Bazelgette used the Thames tidal wave to remove sewage from the centre of London. The only difference is, with lack of drainage in Kampala slums, the sewage wasn’t really moving anywhere, just travelling further down the slums and soaking into the ground and contaminating their natural spring, the only free water source in the slum. We saw in the post intervention slums how they had a metered source of water. You could go to the caretaker and pay per jerry can. The price per jerry can varies; it’s generally 200 Ugandan shillings but can be anything up to 500 Ugandan shillings – basically any price the caretaker wants to charge on the day.
The area around the natural spring was filled with young children. Despite the spring being condemned in 2000 due to contamination, it is still used as a water source. They have been advised to boil the water before using it but the reality is they can’t afford the charcoal to do this. Since the source has been condemned the government has improved the area to make it easier and safer to collect the water by building a drainage channel, this really shows the power of advocacy and getting the local government on board. I found this really confusing: the water isn’t safe to drink, but they’re making it easier to collect? Boiling the water will remove the faecal contamination but it won’t remove the hazardous waste which leaches into the water source from batteries disposed of down the latrine. The area was surrounded by children collecting water for others in the slum. Despite it being a free water source they charge 200 shillings and deliver the water to the homes of their customers. The reality is, if the price of the metered, treated water was set slightly lower people may use this instead, but the caretakers are in charge of the pricing, so they are forced to go to a cheaper, more convenient source, despite the associated health risks.
As we walked through the a second area we saw the prepaid water meters which have been installed. The meters are at a set price – 25 shillings per jerry can. That is eight times cheaper than the previous slums, and it was clean, treated water available 24 hours a day. The reduction in price meant more money for families to spend on medicine, food and education. When speaking to partners we found out the installation of the prepaid meters had eradicated cases of cholera in the region. Another similarity struck me – this time to Jon Snow in London, who mapped outbreaks of cholera and linked them to a water pump, before the simple act of padlocking the water pump stopped the spread of cholera.
This post is longer than the others, but I have no photos to show you what slum life is like. It was so much to take in. I have tried to just give you the key points but it is this last point that really shocked me and highlighted how hard life in the slums can be. In the second slum there were drainage ditches to take the water away. The ground was drier and houses weren’t flooded. As we walked through we crossed the bridges over the drainage channels, which all joined into one larger channel through the middle of the slum. We crossed the bridges (there were no handrails), and we walked not paying too much attention to our footing as we all had sturdy boots and trainers on. It was later on we learned that two women had fallen in earlier that day. The water was at to the top of the channel earlier in the day, and by the time we got there it was a quarter full and still fast flowing. The first woman who fell in was with her baby, they were taken under the fast flowing current and unfortunately they both died. We then learnt that a second woman fell in with her seven year old child. People were able to help save the child, but unfortunately the mother died. This is an all too familiar occurrence for people in the slums. If three people died with just a few hours of rain then what must it be like in the height of the full rainy season? The work of WaterAid provides clean water and sanitation to the poorest people in the world, and drainage is an important part of this – something which is often forgotten. It’s now something I will never forget after seeing a community that lost three people in the space of just a few hours.