The 9km long Nakivubo Channel, was built with World Bank funds to reduce flooding in the east African country’s capital, Kampala.
But what also serves as the main drainage point for the city’s two million people is now a toxic dumping ground for untreated sewage from the nearby taxi rank market, police barracks and neighbouring shanty towns.
The channel was scheduled for a clean-up in April last year, according to Ugandan media, but this didn’t happen and it regulary floods polluted water into people’s homes, causing damage and disease.
Mother of four, Benna Nassuuna, has been working in the channel for two years. She, and scores of other casual workers, is employed by the city council to unblock the channel. Like most of the other women working alongside her, she is a single mother whose only income comes from her job in the channel.
These women aren’t given protective clothing and end up passing their health problems on to their children through doing things like preparing food after touching sewage in the river.
“My children are getting sick with the same problems I suffer from,” said Nassuuna. “They are getting stomach problems. And it’s more common for women who are breast-feeding”, she told Uganda’s New Vision news service.
City council health assistant, Simon Muwayi, said some people living nearby even resort to using the channel as a toilet and that nearby clinics also use it to get rid of medical waste. And the people who work to clear the channel often aren’t paid nearly enough to afford the medicines they need for the illnesses they catch from the channel. “We encounter everything from malaria, yellow fever, tetanus, river blindness, respiratory problems and stomach problems like parasites and worms”, he told New Vision.
More than one billion people in the developing world have no safe drinking water, or water for washing their food, hands and utensils before eating, according to the African medical and research foundation, Amref. And some 2.4 billion people also have no safe sanitation.
The crisis is worst in sub-Saharan Africa, where 2 in 5 people lack safe water. A baby here is almost 520 times more likely to die from diarrhoea than one born in Europe.