Finding a pure and simple solution to poor people’s basic needs
Water: vital for life
For those who live in cool and temperate parts of the world, it’s hard to imagine that there are still more than one billion people worldwide who can’t get access to the safe, clean water they need. What’s even harder to imagine is that there are millions of deaths every year because poor communities across the developing world live without the means to fulfil this basic human need. Lack of access to adequate water supplies means people’s lives are at risk. Drinking, washing, cooking, growing crops and rearing livestock all require water. With low and unpredictable rainfall, water becomes scarce, and without money to pay for water it’s the world’s poorest people that suffer. For Maasai herdsman Sosoika Karanda, and his wife Neshoo, it’s a long walk across the Rift Valley to water their cattle. The further they walk the animals, the less milk their herds produce as they dehydrate. Inadequate water supplies don’t just affect people’s health, but put their livelihoods at risk too. Time spent collecting water is not only exhausting, it means that families like Sosoika’s have less free time – time the children could spend at school. Often in urban areas the water supply is there, but access is too costly – or the water’s polluted. Josephine Nduku lives in one of Nairobi’s sprawling slums. While there is plenty of water in her area, it’s all contaminated by open sewers. To get to clean, safe water she must pay money that she doesn’t have – and these prices soar when there is a shortage. So she must spend a large part of her day walking to fetch safe, clean drinking water. Poor disposal of human and household waste encourages vermin and insects to thrive, and water and food become contaminated. Water-related diseases cause the death of 3.4 million people every year, and many children die before the age of five from diseases caused by drinking dirty water and living in unsanitary conditions. Many more become sick so they miss out on schooling, and fall behind in growth and development. Despite improvements in the 1990s, with more and more people gaining access to improved water supplies, a massive effort is still needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals set by the international community. By 2015 the aim is to halve the number of people without access to safe, clean drinking water and basic sanitation – there’s a long way to go.
• One sixth of the world’s population – 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe water. • Every day, nearly 5,000 people, mostly children under five, die from diarrhoea as a result of unsafe water and sanitation. • In order to achieve the 2015 international development target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, more than 300,000 people need to get access to clean water every day for the next 10 years.*
Harvesting a precious resource
The world’s water resources are under increasing pressure due to intensive farming, increasing population, and political tensions. This situation is exacerbated by climate change and environmental degradation. Practical Action continues to show how water resources can be managed even in the face of drought and other extreme weather conditions. Competing demands for water mean an integrated approach is required if the needs of poor communities are to be met. For projects to work in the long term, local women and men must be involved every step of the way. Ultimately, it’s their skills and resources that are needed to plan, implement and maintain facilities. In many regions, getting clean water to people’s homes and land is difficult. Often the rainy seasons are short and at times non-existent, so what is needed is a way for families to collect and store sufficient rainwater to see them through the dry months. Our projects are designed using simple but effective technology made from resources that are found locally. Rainwater harvesting is a low-cost initiative, widely used in Sri Lanka, in which containers collect and store rainwater that is channelled by gutters and pipes as it runs off the roofs of houses. For poor people like Nandawathie, a widow living in the village of Muthukandiya in southern Sri Lanka, rainwater harvesting has been life-transforming. With a cleaner, more reliable source of water on their doorstep, her children’s health has improved – they have more time for school work as they no longer need to fetch water from the village well – and Nandawathie now grows vegetables and has opened a small shop from her home.
Practical Action’s earliest work on water was building water storage systems, developing small-scale irrigation systems, and wind-powered water pumps. Our work on water has always been an integral part of our projects. This means our shelter projects include rooftop water harvesting techniques, and our energy projects include water-lifting and microhydro. Disaster mitigation projects address drought and flood security issues, while transport projects include the movement of water by animal traction and handcarts. Drought affects many of the countries where Practical Action works. For example, in the Chivi District of Zimbabwe, drought comes approximately every five years, so saving water is a priority. Introducing a drip irrigation system proved to be a great success.
Rainwater harvesting container in Sri Lanka
This technology has several advantages: it requires less water and labour, but produces high quality crops in greater yields. Locally made clay pipes used to carry water underground for irrigation dramatically reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation. Farmers have been able to grow three cycles of crops, producing far greater yields for families and the communities. Ulita Madusise, one of many villagers involved, said: “Because of the project, our crops improved and we are slowly moving away from poverty.” In the Vilcanota Valley in Peru, irrigation was also key to improving the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. High in the Andes it only rains for a few months a year and in the dry season the only water source is miles away across dangerous rocky terrain. Practical Action worked with the community to create a suitable irrigation system, building lined irrigation channels and reservoir, and installing sprinkler and gravity-fed irrigation systems. Many of the channels followed ancient waterways originally created by the Incas, and a tree-planting programme on slopes helped conserve soil and water. With greater access to water a greater diversity of crops is being grown and malnutrition has begun to decline. In fact, 90 per cent of local women reported that children were doing better at school.
Project in Action
Women from the Kipsongo Spring Women’s Group who manage the spring.
Finding a new spring of life
In Kenya urban poverty is a rapidly growing problem, not least in Kitale in the west, where population growth has exploded at the rate of 12 per cent per year. The majority of the town’s population are struggling to live in overcrowded housing without even the basic services of water and sanitation. Until recently, these people had been powerless to influence the local council to respond to the dire need for change. All this changed as Practical Action formed a unique partnership with the Kitale Municipal Council and the local community. After residents identified water and sanitation as their most important needs, work began on the rehabilitation of local springs, heavily polluted by a nearby river. The Kipsongo Spring Women’s Group was formed and its members now take a weekly turn to ensure that the newly protected spring stays clean. The health of the community has improved and cases of cholera and diarrhoea are rapidly reducing. Monica Ekirata, a group member, sums up the feelings of the community: “Now we have clean water, which everyone wants, more and more people are coming to our spring. When we walk in the neighbourhood we feel dignified and proud; we have uplifted the reputation of Kipsongo.” By bringing people together, they have been able to fight back against the spread of killer diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation.
Water flowing through an irrigation channel in Peru.
Even with our track record of success, Practical Action continues to research new initiatives to meet the water needs of poor communities in developing countries. In Bangladesh 60 per cent of the country’s water supply is thought to be affected by arsenic, and at least 18 million people have been exposed to arsenic poisoning. Practical Action is researching the effectiveness of using oxidising agents, coagulants and slow sand filters to purify existing water supplies, as well as looking at alternatives such as rainwater harvesting from roofs.
In Sudan, within farming communities in El Gedarif State, while we’re working to construct new hafirs (water reservoirs) and pit latrines, we have also implemented a hygiene awareness campaign in schools, health clinics and villages, which is making a huge impact by discouraging unsafe hygiene practices which contaminate water and food. In Zimbabwe we are tackling the problem of broken water points. In some rural districts as many as 55 per cent of water points have stopped working. Rather than build new ones, we are working to repair the existing ones in ways which transfer skills and management systems to the communities, to ensure the water points keep working for years to come. As one pump caretaker reported “Since our borehole was rehabilitated it has broken down three times and I’m happy to say I am the one who repaired it – we did not lose a lot of time nor suffer going to fetch water from faraway boreholes. Because our borehole is always working and I put grease on it to make it light during pumping, villagers from other villages are coming to our borehole.”
Woman farmer harvesting aubergines on wadi land in Sudan.
Project in Action
Northern Darfur: hunting for moisture
Life is always a challenge in the arid region of Northern Darfur in Sudan. Continued fighting in the region has left 60 per cent of people without a permanent home. Frequent droughts add to the misery, which is why Practical Action’s long-term relationship with the local people means we are in the right place to listen to their needs. By working together, we have helped rural communities save some of their precious water supplies for the days when it doesn’t rain. Despite very low annual rainfall, water caught and retained by earth dams can help to irrigate the surrounding land for a whole year. Rainwater can be conserved and channelled in earth dams or hafirs that are constructed across gullies. This has helped increase the amount of cultivated land by up to eleven times in some areas. For Nima and her children it has made the future look a little brighter. Nima lives in the Shangil Tobya village in the El Fashir province. She has been the sole breadwinner for her family since she was widowed five years ago. Practical Action’s work with the villagers to rebuild the local dam has boosted the amount of farm land available to Nima. Now she can grow a range of different plants and crops, including chillies, tobacco and sorghum. Not only can she feed her family throughout the year, but she can now even afford to send her eldest son to school.
In Nairobi, Kenya, we are working in a new partnership with the city’s water company to help improve supplies to informal settlements. Water is supplied to small distribution chambers, where legal connections are made by water vending enterprises who own kiosks inside the settlements. The water company is assured of regular payments and residents enjoy more regular supplies and no longer risk polluted water from illegal connections.
The lack of access to clean water has so many far-reaching effects, it is only by adopting an integrated approach that Practical Action can move this work forward in the best way for the communities that we work with. A safe supply of water, coupled with adequate sanitary facilities, not only improves the health of villages, but improves livelihoods and ultimately food security year on year. Managing local resources and harnessing the limited rainfall will continue to be top of our agenda to mitigate the long-term effects of drought. Tried and tested systems will continue to be shared from neighbour to neighbour and adapted from village to village.
For further information on Practical Action’s work in general, please contact: Supporter Services Unit, Practical Action, The Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby CV23 9QZ UK T +44 (0)1926 634400 F +44 (0)1926 634401 E email@example.com W www.practicalaction.org
Practical Action is the working name of Intermediate Technology Development Group Ltd. Charity No. 247257 l Patron HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB.
Whilst stories in this leaflet are true, names and photos have been changed to protect the identity of individuals. * Source: DFID (2006) ‘Why we need a Global Action Plan on Water and Sanitation’. Photography: Practical Action/Emma Judge, Practical Action/Zul, Practical Action/Annie Bungeroth, Practical Action/Lucy Stevens.