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Life in the Slums of Kampala

Updated: Jul 2

Kids Club Kampala helps to support children and families in the slums of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. We are often the only organisation working in these areas, and understanding the daily challenges which these communities face is essential for us. It shapes our programmes and enables us to make an impact where it’s most needed. This blog aims to shed light on the obstacles which make families vulnerable and hinder their empowerment, fostering a deeper understanding of the context in which we operate. 


Slums in Kampala 

Slums, also known as informal settlements, are crowded neighbourhoods in cities that lack proper housing, water security, electricity, and secure land rights. In Kampala, these settlements are particularly relevant. The city was originally planned for 300,000 people, but Kampala now has 1.7 million residents because of its rapid growth over the last century.

This is driven by the growth in population, and the rural-urban migration. People from rural areas come to Kampala seeking better opportunities, jobs, social and economic services, and higher wages. Unfortunately, Kampala hasn’t been able to keep up with this influx of people. The city’s infrastructure and urban planning haven’t grown quickly enough, which means many people struggle with high rent prices and uncertain land rights. As a result informal settlements and slums have grown in numbers. 

These slums first started as a few homes on wetlands, or unoccupied low-lying land. As the city has grown more people have settled into these slums, expanding on wetlands, making them vulnerable to flooding. Now there are around 62 slum settlements in Kampala, where about 60% of the city’s residents live. 


Cycle of Poverty

This urban growth has helped to fuel a cycle of poverty for many inhabitants. With the city unable to create enough jobs to match population growth, unemployment is high, leaving 38.9% of Kampala’s residents in extreme poverty. In this tough environment, the informal work sector has become heavily relied upon by households. However, these jobs often lack legal protection, providing unreliable and low wages. As a result, many families live on an average of 3,696 UGX (1$) a day. 

Many children in the slums can’t go to school because of high fees and while government schools are available, additional costs for uniforms, meals, books, and equipment make it unaffordable for many families. These schools are also overcrowded, with 70-100 students per class, which reduces the quality of education a child receives. To support their families, some children don’t attend school and end up working in informal jobs, which is illegal in Uganda, to try and help earn extra money for the family


Lack of basic services 

In the slums in Kampala the demand for basic services is outpacing supply, creating human security challenges in relation to sanitation, electricity, clean water supply, waste disposal and environmental degradation.

Water security

With the slums growing so quickly and the city’s infrastructure lagging behind, water security is a big issue in Kampala. Only 10% of Kampala is connected to sewage lines, which means most people have to share pit latrines with up to 5 other households. The waste from these often ends up in the drainage ditches during the rainy seasons because the slums are built on wetlands. This contaminates the water and leads to poor sanitation, spreading diseases like cholera. Between 1997 and 2015, Kampala saw three cholera outbreaks directly linked to these poor sanitary conditions

Accessing clean water isn’t easy or cheap. For many slum residents, piped water is out of reach due to land ownership issues and high connection fees. A jerry can of water (20 litres) costs between 50 to 200 shillings, and for context, adults need 20 to 50 litres a day for drinking, cooking and cleaning. When unable to afford water, people turn to open springs, which are not filtered, and are often polluted with waste from pit latrines.  

The expansion of slums on wetlands makes them vulnerable to frequent and severe flooding. This flooding, combined with poor sanitation, leads to more waterborne diseases like worm infestation and malaria. The polluted water sources worsen these conditions. Treating diseases like malaria can cost on average 33,260 UGX, which is a huge expense for many households struggling to make ends meet.  

Women and girls are especially affected by these challenges, often taking on the bulk of labour and caregiving responsibilities, especially in the aftermath of floods. This unpaid labour takes time away from pursuing education or work, compounding the barriers they face. With societal norms often prioritising education and employment for males. In Uganda, these inequalities are stark, with 30% of secondary school-age girls are out of school, compared to 21% of boys. In the labour market, young women are twice as likely to be unemployed as their male counterparts, and they earn only 62% of what men earn on average each month

Challenges for girls and women continue with period marginalisation. A Ministry of Education and Sport report from 2020 reveals that 65% of females lack access to menstrual products and facilities. This deprivation causes many girls to miss school and work, with 77% missing 2-3 days monthly due to menstrual issues. Consequently, many drop out before completing primary school exams because they can’t afford sanitary products. Cultural taboos surrounding menstruation also lead to discrimination and social exclusion, perpetuating the cycle of poverty for women and girls who struggle to access education and opportunities.  

Waste Management

According to the Kampala Capital City Authority, Kampala produces between 2,000-2,5000 tons of waste per day, but the city can only dispose of about half of it. This means the other half is left uncontrolled or dumped improperly. The problem is made worse by a lack of resources and road networks that would let garbage trucks reach all areas. As a result, a lot of waste ends up in vacant land, open drainage channels, or is burned openly. This clogs the drainage channels, worsening flooding and pollution of surface and groundwater. 


Access to electricity in Kampala’s slums is very limited. A study by Yaguma et al. (2022) found that only 63% of urban households in Kampala have access to grid electricity, leaving 37% without it. This issue is worse in slums, even though they are close to the grid. Barriers like financial challenges, insecure land tenure, unsafe housing, and high costs prevent better access. The electricity supply is also poor and unreliable, with only four transformers serving a settlement of 40,000 people. 

Electricity is important for more than just lighting and charging phones. Many small businesses in slums depend on it to operate. Without reliable electricity, these businesses struggle, affecting the local economy and people’s livelihoods. 

Landlord-tenant dynamics also impact electricity access. Since 70-80% of people rent their homes or business spaces, landlords control access to electricity. They might choose not to connect properties, restrict the use of appliances, or offer only informal connections. This can make it harder for renters to get electricity depending on their financial situation, affecting the daily lives and economic opportunities of slum residents. 

Power cuts frequently take place at least once a week. This can create dangerous conditions, especially for young people and girls. With dark, unlit areas, making it easier for criminals to operate, making it a higher risk of theft, assault, and other dangers when there is no power. 


Innovative forms of income generation

Despite the many challenges they face, residents of Kampala’s slums are incredibly resourceful and creative, turning the lack of essential services into opportunities for income. For example, many have found ways to make a living from plastic waste. A local recycling plant pays people for collected plastics, with 1kg of plastic fetching about 1,000 shillings. Others have become ‘watermen’, hauling jerry cans of water from spring boreholes in the valley to homes using bicycles and wooden carts. These innovative solutions not only help them earn a living but also keep their communities going. 


Our work

Since 2009, Kids Club Kampala has been working hard alongside the local community of Kampala to help support children and families living in Kampala’s slums. Our work recognises the challenges these families face, such as the lack of income for basic needs like food and electricity,  and the absence of essential services such as sanitation and waste management, which greatly affect their health and well-being. This cycle of poverty negatively impacts the children within the slums, contributing to 37% of children not completing their schooling up to secondary school, with many children needing to work to help support their families, limiting future opportunities. 

Through our staff's dedicated efforts and the help of community volunteers, we have seen thousands of lives transformed through community outreach, education, child protection and skilling programmes. We have provided over 45 million meals to children and families, offered free education to 1,130 children, delivered vital income generating skills training to 1,000 individuals, and supported 4,000 young people with counselling. Reaching 309,370 people across all our projects so far.

Our work aims to empower children and families, helping them to become economically and emotionally resilient. By offering a guiding hand, we help support them in breaking the cycle of poverty within the Kampala slums, improving their quality of life. 

You too can help support our essential work by donating regularly  to our projects. Alternatively, you can sign up to our newsletter to receive monthly updates from our projects in Uganda.

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