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Lighting up dark rooms in slums with plastic water bottles

By Vision Reporter

Added 24th October 2012 05:58 PM

Until October 31, New Vision will devote space to highlighting the plight of slum dwellers as well as profiling those offering selfless service to improve conditions in these areas.

Until October 31, New Vision will devote space to highlighting the plight of slum dwellers as well as profiling those offering selfless service to improve conditions in these areas.

Until October 31, New Vision will devote space to highlighting the plight of slum dwellers as well as profiling those offering selfless service to improve conditions in these areas. Today, Andrew Masinde brings you the story of how Uganda Human Settlement has improved the housing conditions in Busega Central, Kifumbira and Nabisasilo zones in Rubaga Division

“All flooding in Busega starts from Chairman Ssalongo Kyambadde’s zone. “The biggest drainage channels in Nateete start here. Given that the zone is located in a low lying area, whenever it rains; flood water carries waste from higher grounds and deposits it in the blocked drainage channels. To make matters worse, waste from latrines constructed on raised ground is also washed into the drainage channels,” laments Kyambadde, the Busega Central Zone chairman.

Alarmed by the filth in the slum, Kyambadde opted to mobilise residents to clean the drainage channel, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Fortunately Uganda Human Settlements Network (SSA/UHSNET), a local NGO, came to his rescue.

The body asked him to mobilise residents to clean up the area, but he was sceptical about the campaign, given his experience. Fortunately, residents heeded SSA/UHSNET’s call and cleaned up the area.

After the clean-up exercise, division authorities embarked on impromptu checks in all the homes every week, which encouraged a number of residents to keep their homes clean and also deterred them from dumping garbage in the drainage channels. 

What is SSA/UHSNET? Uganda Human Settlements Network (SSA/UHSNET) is an umbrella body that unites civil society organisations, academia, private firms and working communities to advocate for the improvement of standards of living in slums.

The body, which was set up in 1999 by a group of Ugandans, argues that there are several stakeholders in the human settlements sector, but they lack one voice to effectively address the issues on adequate housing, especially for urban slum dwellers.

According to Habitat International, adequate housing is more than a roof over one’s head. It also means adequate privacy; space; security of tenure; lighting and ventilation; basic infrastructure, such as water supply as well as waste management facilities.

Other qualities include adequate and accessible location with regard to work and basic amenities, all of which should be available at an affordable cost.

The partners in SSA/UHSNET also formed a national human settlements network to provide a forum to discuss issues on housing.

Such issues include the formulation of policies that can be used in the mobilisation of technical and financial resources to provide decent and affordable housing, especially for low-income slum dwellers.

According to the executive director of SSA/UHSNET, Dorothy Baziwe, the organisation has a number of objectives that include mobilisation of resources to improve the living conditions of urban slum dwellers and also work with other organisations and the government to obtain assistance to address challenges in the human settlement sector.

To fulfil these objectives, the body came up with a strategic plan for 2012-2016. The plan entails service delivery together with the Government and other stakeholders to provide adequate housing.

It is estimated that out of 2.6 million slum dwellers living under squalid conditions in Uganda, 1.2 million live in Kampala. Busega slum houses over 70,000 out of these. 

Helping slum-dwellers

The project officer, Justus Tumuhimbise, says most slum dwellers live in one-roomed, insecure shacks that have poor roofs and no windows, which blocks natural light from entering the structure. He explains that this has led to their houses being constantly damp as there is no natural light to dry them after a heavy downpour and flooding.

SSA/UHSNET’s intervention has been to help residents in slums in Busega Central, Kifumbira and Nabisasilo zones in Rubaga, in the outskirts of Kampala, to make solar bulbs using locally-available materials. 


“We make solar bulbs for the slum dwellers using an idea we borrowed from Brazil. The bulbs are made from 1.5–litre transparent plastic bottles, a small piece of corrugated iron sheet to act as a base holder for the bottle, liquid bleach, silicone (water proof sealant), water and four nails.

A hole is cut in the iron sheet where the bottle is inserted. The bottle is sealed in place and filled with water and a small amount of liquid bleach. A hole is made in the roof where the bottle and iron sheet comb are fitted. The unit sealed in place with silicone and the bulb is ready to light. 

The bottle is used only during the day and it emits light equivalent to that of 60-watt bulb, the solar bulb provides light for 12 hours a day and last up to seven years. A complete unit of the bulb, costs sh4,000, and takes about an hour to assemble and install. 

According to Tumuhimbise, using the innovation, over 370 residents have light in their homes. He adds that SSA/ UHSNET is helping many more slum dwellers across the city to assemble and install solar bulbs. 

“We used to sit outside during the day because it was dark in our houses. However, with the new lighting system, we now have light during the day,” says Matthias Kisembo one of the beneficiaries in Nabisasilo Zone.

Many residents who have benefited from this scheme are full of praises for it. 

Lighting up dark rooms in slums with plastic water bottles

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