The EPICS project: a unique partnership to improve WASH access in Uganda

6 min read
Image: WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

In a unique partnership, WaterAid has joined forces with Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) and Uganda's Eastern Umbrella of Water and Sanitation (EUWS) to improve access to clean water and sanitation in eastern Uganda. In this blog, Hannah Davies shares how water operator partnerships deliver lasting change for communities.

In Uganda, only 2 in 10 people have access to safely managed drinking water. In rural areas, this drops to 1 in 10. There's limited access to clean, piped water and instead people rely on shallow wells or streams which are often contaminated.

The Enhancing Utility Performance for Increased Customer Satisfaction (EPICS) project is a water operator partnership (WOP) between DCWW in Wales and EUWS in Uganda. Since May 2022, the team has been working to strengthen the organisational capacity of three small-town water supply schemes in Buyende, Namayingo and Namutumba in eastern Uganda by:

  • Tackling systemic barriers that prevent water and public sanitation services being delivered
  • Increasing water supply services to low-income areas
  • Improving the quality and efficiency of water and public sanitation services
  • Creating model schemes for sustainable utility management that can be replicated elsewhere.

The project is funded through the EU WOP Programme – a three-year programme managed by the UN-Habitat’s Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA) and funded by the European Commission Directorate-General for International Partnerships.

Why WOPs work

WOPs are unique projects that deliver valuable peer support exchanges between water operators. They help utility companies exchange knowledge, share best practice and adopt new approaches to make the supply of water efficient, sustainable and inclusive.

Through WOPs, we create opportunities to improve infrastructure, strengthen systems and deliver lasting change around the world by connecting the UK water industry with peers in other countries. The EPICS project is achieving this across eastern Uganda in the following ways.

Christine Nambozo Negesa, 28, Water Quality Analyst, using a photometer, a mobile water quality testing kit, to test the quality of water samples in Namutumba, Eastern Umbrella of Water and Sanitation, Uganda, April 2023. This project is funded by the European Union and UN-Habitat. Image: WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

Developing a data-driven, systematic approach to managing assets

Before the EPICS project, it was difficult for EUWS to manage multiple small-town water supply schemes with the limited asset data available. But with the introduction of mWater – a data management platform for water, sanitation and hygiene – staff can map water systems, digitise asset records and track performance. As more data is added, staff will be able to track issues across the network, respond more quickly with repairs and develop asset management plans. It also allows DCWW to support their peers in Uganda remotely.

EUWS is also focused on reducing non-revenue water – the percentage of water entering the distribution network that is not billed to customers due to physical or commercial losses – which is currently averaging about 33%. DCWW has provided EUWS with leakage equipment and training during exchange visits to Wales and Uganda to address physical losses, while also building the capacity of the team to repair major leaks, such as one found on a distribution line in Namayingo. DCWW also collected a batch of water meters during an exchange visit and discovered that meters were under-recording, with older meters under-recording to a greater extent. The team replaced all 325 meters known to be faulty – about 40% of the connections in Namayingo – helping to address commerical losses.

Nadongo Federesi, 28, Technical Supervisor, fixing a loose water tap in the community, Buyende Water Supply Scheme, Buyende District, Uganda, April 2023. This project is funded by the European Union and UN-Habitat. Image: WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

Improving water availability, supply and reliability

The EPICS team is working quickly to connect more people to clean water services. Nyangoma Edith, who manages the Namayingo Water Supply Scheme, and is also the area manager for the Victoria Area water zone, said: “We had many people in the communities demanding a water connection, and many were far from the distribution lines, and we couldn’t support their connection to the water supply.”

The project team developed performance improvement plans to strengthen the water connection process and reduce the time taken from a matter of months to two weeks. The team also developed a water safety plan to improve water quality, and DCWW provided EUWS with a mobile water quality testing kit during their visit to Wales. EUWS has also recruited a second water quality analyst to test water quality across more samples to support this work.

Alongside these practical interventions, the team has been working to change the mindset of community members, ensuring they’re aware of the dangers of drinking water from unsafe sources.

Nambi Joy, 26, Plumber, installing a new water metre on a community yard tap, Namutumba Water Supply Scheme, Namutumba District, Uganda, April 2023. This project is funded by the European Union and UN-Habitat. Image: WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

Boosting diversity, equity and social inclusion

A diverse workforce is a strong workforce and the EPICS project is focused on boosting diversity. The team has undertaken a socio-economic survey to assess the current situation across the three locations and identify any blockers – particularly for low income and marginalised groups.

WaterAid Uganda is also supporting EUWS to assess its gender equality work. Together, they are working to develop gender and inclusion action plans for the three town schemes, as well as a consolidated strategic plan for EUWS to realise its ambitions as stated in the Ministry of Water and Environment’s gender strategy. As part of this work, the team held gender workshops with town councils and water board representatives to introduce gender concepts, encourage local leaders to support gender-focused activities and engage the wider community on the work being done and its benefits.

Najiba Mukoya, a social mobiliser and the focal person for gender mainstreaming in EUWS, said: “If there are women representatives on the water users’ boards, then women’s interests from the community will be catered for.”

Najiba Mukoya, 35, Senior Social Mobiliser, talking to Kagoya Perepetwa, 70, community member, for feedback on the quality of water services provided in Namutumba, Eastern Umbrella of Water and Sanitation, Mbale, Uganda, April 2023. This project is funded by the European Union and UN-Habitat. Image: WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

Ensuring customers are front and centre

Customers are at the heart of the EPICS project. The project is giving people access to clean water, but beyond that, it is setting up systems that have lasting benefits for the people who use them. These systems ensure water supply is consistent, reliable and available to all, and also detect faults and ensure they can be resolved quickly.

DCWW provided customer service training to EUWS, including workshops on water collection strategies and problem solving, to help staff support people with their new tap connections. They have also completed a full review of the new customer care centre in the EUWS office in Mbale, together with a ticketing system, that allows customer issues to be easily tracked, monitored and actioned. There is also an ongoing advertising campaign to encourage customers to use the centre.

Kagoya Perepetwa has lived in Namutumba for more than 20 years. Before the EPICS project, she collected water from an open spring down the valley: “I was one of the first people who submitted their application for a water metre connection, and when I got tap water within my compound, my life changed for the better.”

What’s next for the EPICS project

A lot of work has happened already – but there’s still more to do. Work will continue across the four focus areas of asset management, non-revenue water, water quality and customer service to strengthen systems. Practical interventions will be coupled with education and training, ensuring that as water and sanitation services are improved, hygiene behaviours follow suit.

The EPICS project will continue to tackle infrastructural challenges, drive forward technical exchange and put people front and centre – ensuring that essential water, sanitation and hygiene services are available to everyone, every day.

Top image: Nyangoma Edith, 30, Water Scheme Manager, supervising piped water extension works, Namayingo Water Supply Scheme, Namayingo District, Uganda, April 2023. This project is funded by the European Union and UN-Habitat.