Heavy rains put Gulu’s already fragile infrastructure under pressure

On a rainy Sunday evening, the stench that comes from a burst sewer pipe on the main street in Gulu town is unbearable. It has been raining here on an almost daily basis for the last two months. And each time it does, the rain sends raw sewage that flows from old sewer pipes into half clogged, half open drains.

On any day after a downpour, sewage flows past the offices of the National Water and Sewage Corporation, and past the Kenyan supermarket chain Uchumi, into a wetland that is being slowly eaten by human activity.

The National Water and Sewage Corporation has sacks in front of it to block the flow of dirty water. Stephen Okello.

On its website, the National Water and Sewage Corporation says its mandate is to ‘‘operate and provide water and sewage services in areas entrusted to it’’.

Gulu is one such area but a staff member in the corporation’s Gulu branch, who did not want to be named, said fixing the sewer system is the job of the Gulu municipal council.

The Gulu municipal authority, however, does not have the money and equipment needed to maintain the roads and drainage system, said Terence Odonga, the Gulu municipal engineer whose resource starved and underfunded department is tasked with cleaning the town’s roads and drainage system.

Stagnant water in a street in Gulu has nowhere to go. Stephen Okello.

As the rains continue to pound hard, putting the already fragile water and sewage facilities under more pressure, health experts warn of a possible outbreak of disease in the town.

‘‘The poor drainage system carries contaminated water that can eventually end up in water that people drink,” said Dr. Freddie Oyat, a Gulu based public health physician.

‘‘It could lead to the outbreak of diseases such as cholera (and) dysentery,’’ he said.

Gulu’s mayor George Labeja declined to comment on the poor drainage system that poses a health risk to the town’s residents, but said he would release a statement in one week.

Over the past two weeks, Labeja has been under pressure from his councillors to explain what they term as the “irregular” transfer of Gulu’s town clerk, the top most technocrat in the municipality.

With no immediate solution to the drainage problem in sight, residents of Gulu town will continue to live with threats of water borne diseases during the rainy season.

“The city is based on a lightning belt. That means it is predisposed to heavy rainfall. It is lowland with a lot of swamps around.  This increases risks of water borne diseases especially for children because of the (amount of) stagnant and dirty water all over the place,” said Andrew Simbo, a resident of the town.

Gulu’s authorities say the roads and drainage system will be fixed in the long-term, since Gulu is one of 14 municipalities in Uganda that has benefitted from a World Bank grant made to improve roads and sanitation facilities.

Once the roads are completed it will lead to an improvement in the sanitation situation, said the town’s engineer Terence Odonga. “What makes the town dirty is the loose soil choking the drainage. When the drainage problem is addressed and the streets are clean people will even fear to litter the roads,” he said.

Local residents and the leadership of Gulu municipality are aspiring for the town to be legally declared a city. But critics say the dirt in the town dampens Gulu’s city aspirations.

See Urban Africa‘s previous coverage of Gulu:

Gulu: clamouring for city status after war

Improved roads coming to Gulu

Main image: The drainage system in Gulu is clogged a day after heavy rains. Stephen Okello.



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