The Ministry of Health has proposed the construction of boreholes in healthy facilities in order to curb the increasing cases of unpaid water bill arrears.
This was after it was revealed that some hospitals have taken over a year with outstanding water bills.
The proposal was made by Dr. Diana Atwine, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health while appearing alongside officials from National Water and Sewerage Corporation, before Parliament’s Health Committee. The Committee was digging into issues of unpaid water bills that have seen some hospital’s water cut off for failure to pay their bills.
We need to see how we can budget for water harvesting and solar installations so that we cut down on the consumption. What we also noticed is that under the law of NW&SC, they can’t allow you to dig boreholes even where there is a possibility that you can get water. Although right now the discussion is on regional referral hospitals, but largely water challenges are real in our facilities, if you go to health centre IIIs and health centre IVs, service delivery is affected because they don’t have water but to dig boreholes and have the water in our facilities I think is the way to go, said Dr. Atwine
Atwine’s remarks followed a revelation by Johnson Amayo, NW & SC Deputy Managing Director (Technical Services) who revealed that as of 31st January 2024, Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have unpaid water bills. Of these MDAs, national and regional referral hospitals alone owe NS&SC UGX 14.9 billion of unpaid water bills, some of which are outstanding for over 2 years.
As at 31st January 2023, Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies owe NWSC UGX 81.4 billion in water utility bill arrears of which, bills totaling to UGX 15.8 billion relate to Government hospitals. The total outstanding water utility bills for national and regional referral hospitals as at 31st January 2024 amounts to UGX 14.9 billion. This amount includes verified domestic arrears totaling to UGX 8.4 billion and covering the period up to 30th June 2023, said Amayo.
Alternative water sources
Dr. Atwine informed the Committee that the Ministry of Health held several meetings with the Ministry of Finance and they both agreed to budget for water harvesting facilities in order to reduce the cost of water.
She however argued that some sections in The Water Act limit the construction of boreholes in urban areas, for fears that the water would be contaminated.
In urban areas we were guided that we can’t have boreholes and so you need a special way of treating that water but at least it can serve to clean because if you go to a big hospital, the big chunk of the water is actually for cleaning. So I think there are ways we can have that waiver to dig boreholes, to have water to keep our facilities clean, added Dr. Atwine.
However, Amayo denied existence of such a policy that bars the construction of boreholes in urban areas but warned the Ministry of Health that such a move would expose Kampala and surrounding areas to unmanageable cholera outbreak.
There is no such a policy that we can’t allow boreholes to be dug. Our biggest concern is that a hospital is a health providing facility, boreholes are good in rural areas, if you want to dig boreholes in Kampala which is 15% sewerage and most of the homes have septic tanks, the potential to poison a hospital, will turn the hospital into a poison entity by providing water which has no good quality is higher than pursuing a budget which meets the demand, he stated.
Otherwise, we have no problem, we can give you boreholes, if you want to turn yourselves into an unhealthy institution that is very good for us, but should cholera come, let nobody blame us. Should cholera come, you come to Parliament and explain why cholera is unmanageable,” added Amayo.
NW&SC informed Parliament that among the health facilities with high unpaid water bills include; Mulago National Referral Hospital whose bills stands at UGX 3.730 billion; Jinja Regional referral hospital, UGX 3.656 billion; Mulago Specialized Women hospital, UGX2.101 billion; and, Naguru Hospital, UGX 1.480 billion.
Amayo also informed the Committee that accumulated water bills for health facilities become worrying on an average of 10 months with most regional referral hospitals. He pointed out Nebbi hospital with outstanding bills of UGX 788.185 billion over a period of 12 years.
If you look at Arua regional hospital, the age of debt is 17 months. You have a utility which is serving you water monthly, but averagely, it takes you 17 months to pay us. Naguru hospital debt age is 44 months. We are demanding for water we supplied three years back, so really when we disconnect, you should thank God that we have an institution like NWSC which can supply water and it takes three years to disconnect. The worst one is that, if Nebbi Hospital hasn’t paid for 153.9months, we should have disconnected this hospital 11 years ago, so when you see us acting, it means our hands are tied, the official explained.