Engineering for development: fighting Covid-19 in Kampala’s urban slums

By Lydia Darby

Cities have become the frontline in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, and those living in urban slums are uniquely vulnerable. Physical space is scarce and social distancing measures almost impossible. An existing lack of basic sanitation makes slum-dwellers more susceptible to contracting and spreading coronavirus. In addition, many rely on the informal economy to make ends meet and staying home is a luxury most cannot afford.  To prevent an outbreak of coronavirus, people in urban slums urgently need their basic needs for shelter, food and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) met. This is why, at Project: Blueprint, we’re using our expertise in international development and engineering to prevent a potentially devastating outbreak of Covid-19 in Kampala’s urban slums.

© Project: Blueprint & Kids Club Kampala /2020

Handwashing – the often-overlooked intervention

The power of washing your hands cannot be underestimated – not just for preventing #COVID19 but other easily preventable infections which lead to early childhood mortality, absenteeism and school drop outs – perpetuating a cycle of poverty. Around 1.8 million children under 5 die every year from diarrheal diseases and respiratory diseases like pneumonia. In an emergency setting, it is diarrhoea, not conflict, that is responsible for 40% of child deaths. 88% of these diarrhoea-associated deaths are down to unsafe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene. Better handwashing practices could cut the rate of these infections by up to 50%. It’s one of the easiest, cheapest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of infections – yet too often, this simple intervention is overlooked.

Project: Blueprint have prioritised interventions in Kampala to help prevent a Covid-19 outbreak. Relying on donations, grants and fundraising activities, we’ve installed handwashing units in four different urban slums and at the site of our community compost toilet in Northern Kampala. Analysis shows we have already reached 58,345 people. These units are procured, fitted and monitored by our partners Kids Club Kampala – who are also running a ‘Feeding Families’ emergency response project.

© Project: Blueprint & Kids Club Kampala /2020

Making it meaningful

And it’s not just about the physical infrastructure. When it comes to making good habits sustainable, a change in behaviour is essential. Beyond providing the facilities, awareness activities must ignite a change in the way people think about hygiene. It must inspire people to seek out safe water and sanitation in their homes, schools and communities.

The location of the handwashing stations plays a huge role in how likely someone is to wash their hands. Project: Blueprint are targeting convenient community points in densely populated urban areas, in order to maximise use. Volunteers are ensuring that soap is available, and the units are maintained and refilled when necessary. Bright posters with behaviour-cues attached to the units remind passers-by to wash their hands – and save lives. Evidence shows that attractive and easy-to-use handwashing facilities are critical for enabling practice. Behaviour cues have been proven to increase handwashing rates.

At Project: Blueprint, our mission is to save lives, reduce human suffering and empower local communities with the technical knowledge and skills to build, maintain and take ownership of their own assets. Our work has included designing and implementing community compost toilet projects in Kampala, and designing humanitarian delivery drones to transport medical supplies. We are engineering human solutions to help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 6 – ensuring healthy lives, and water and sanitation for all. Our projects can help to prevent open defecation, reduce preventable diseases and the associated mortality. In an age of Covid-19, this is now more important than ever.

Support us

Project: Blueprint are always looking for new volunteers, partnerships and investors to secure their continued growth and fund their innovative new projects, including compost toilets and humanitarian delivery drones. To find out more, contact them via email or visit their website.

Follow Project: Blueprint on Facebook, and @blueprinteng on Instagram and Twitter.

Project: Blueprint relies on public support to continue their vital work. If you would like to support them, please donate here.

Lydia is the co-founder and Programmes Director of Project: Blueprint and is currently serving as a United Nations Volunteer with UNICEF in Cambodia.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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