New initiative by ex-ICS volunteers to boost clean water access in Uganda, enable communities to fight COVID-19

Abel, Equal Aqua Managing director, says;

“We have started with small deeds to address short-term needs. For instance, we have been installing handwashing centres with soap in communities and helped distribute over 300 face-masks to vulnerable communities-” Abel Odeke.

Tom, Equal Aqua co-founder;

“Seeing firsthand the challenges with water that people in rural Uganda face daily, inspired us to start a grassroots organisation with new approaches.”

COVID-19 has forced much of the world to stay safe with better hygiene. But what happens when communities don’t have access to clean water? 

That is the million-pound question that two former International Citizen Service (ICS) volunteers from Uganda and the UK, have teamed to answer, through a new initiative dubbed “Equal Aqua” aimed at helping rural communities in Uganda to access clean water. 

Based in Uganda and the United Kingdom, Abel Odeke and Tom Mclenachan the co-founders of Equal Aqua Uganda met while volunteering under the ICS with  Restless Development.

The two young leaders are of diverse skills and social background but have one shared trait; a passion for solving community problems and this is the inspiration behind their new organisation, Equal Aqua. 

“A billion people worldwide still don’t have access to safe drinking water. In Uganda, over half of the country’s 42 million people struggle to access this basic human need.

Through Equal Aqua, we hope to enhance the capability of communities to access water and sanitation facilities,” says Abel, who serves as Equal Aqua’s Managing Director.

His co-founder, Tom, with whom he volunteered in Restless Development Uganda ICS programme says, “Seeing firsthand the challenges with water that people in rural Uganda face daily, inspired us to start a grassroots organisation with new approaches.”

Access to clean water and sanitation has recently become a matter of life and death as the natural resource is at the centre of the ongoing fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic. Uganda has over 600 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with no deaths recorded.

The government has launched a nation-wide campaign in which healthcare professionals are asking people to regularly wash their hands to lower chances of contracting the virus; but unless access problems in many communities are solved, such advice would only prove to be futile.

Tom and Abel believe that Equal Aqua has come in “the nick of time” to support communities of in rural Eastern Uganda that are struggling to have reliable access to clean water, as they could save hundreds of thousands of lives with innovative access solutions.

“We have started with small deeds to address short-term needs. For instance, we have been installing handwashing centres with soap in communities and helped distribute over 300 face-masks to vulnerable communities.

Through Facebook, we have also conducted training to help build the capacity of other young people to make liquid soap to ensure personal safety but also sell to earn a living. 

We have inspired many to embrace new skills to reconstruct their livelihoods that have been disrupted by COVID 19. To contribute to the government’s safety awareness campaign, we have made brochures with messages of how to wash hands and avoid contracting COVID-19, working closely with local government authorities. 

As a longterm solution, we are mobilizing resources to build eco-friendly 5000-litre water-tanks to serve communities and especially schools to ensure they have higher sanitation when they reopen in a few weeks, after months of lockdown,” says Abel.

Tom and Abel are banking on innovation to achieve their mission. One thing they have noted is if they could help communities address the challenge of water storage, it would significantly ease access and cut on long distances that children and women trek for their daily water supplies.  

“We have a water-tank model that we are promoting; using discarded plastic water bottles, as bricks to build water-tanks by interlocking them into stabilised soil blocks, which is a low-cost and carbon-saving alternative to the environmentally damaging baked bricks,” says Abel.

The young organisation which only launched operations in January 2020 recently registered their first fundraising success when they raised double the amount they needed to build a version of their eco-friendly water-tanks for a local school.

“We needed about £650 for the project. We were pleased to raise more than £1000,” says Abel adding that they are focused on rewarding donor support with tangible community impact measured by more people having easier access to water.

Tom and Abel’s new initiative has already enlisted the partnership of well-established agencies in the water sector,  including Water Action Hub, Getway 2 Missions and Water With Blessings.

The Uganda Vision 2040 promises universal access to water and sanitation whereby all Ugandans will have access to safe piped water and a modern toilet facility.

But according to WaterLex, a global agency that secures human rights to water and sanitation through law and policy reform, 82 per cent of the population’s sanitation facilities have no hand-washing facilities – only 8 per cent have water and soap. 

The agency adds that members of urban households travel 200 metres to the main source of water compared to 800 metres in rural areas; only 15 per cent of people have access to water on tap, despite improvements.

With such glaring gaps in access to clean water, Uganda’s fight against COVID-19 risk being derailed and requires to have all hands on the deck, to mitigate. 

For more on this story, contact

comms@restlessdevelopment.org