Creating a ‘Safe Water Chain’

30 03 2009

by Joshua Kyalimpa


Uganda spends close to $10 million each year treating waterborne diseases; the productive time lost to illness and caring for the sick has an even greater financial impact. But residents of Katosi village on the shores of Lake Victoria aren’t waiting for the government to find a solution.

In recent years, the Ugandan government has carried out several national campaigns geared towards the provision of safe water as a way of preventing cholera, bilharzia and other water-borne diseases.

But between 40 and 60 percent of Ugandans – the situation is worse in rural areas and amongst poor urban residents – still lack access to safe drinking water, according to Uganda’s directorate of Water Development.

Ninety percent of residents of the fishing village of Katosi, in the Mukono district suffer from bilharzia or some form of worms because of drinking unsafe water from Lake Victoria. Leonard Kulumba, outreach officer of the Katosi Women Development Trust, is encouraging rain water harvesting as a way of mitigating the problem.

“We wanted to create what we call a safe water chain, because pupils were drinking dirty water from ponds and the time they take to collect that water from the wells was longer than necessary. It could take them almost 2 hours to collect water from those wells, which time they would have used to be in class. So we helped them by putting up cement tanks to [store rainwater and] save them from that task.”

Kulumba says on a number of occasions fights would erupt between villagers and the children sent to fetch water. “Girls were not safe with villagers at the wells. Sometimes battles would erupt between the villagers and the pupils, in which case some pupils would get hurt. So we wanted to save them from those dangers.”

Katosi’s women build the tanks for themselves and train community members in basic hygiene. Namaganda Masitulah, a community leader and one of the beneficiaries, says her rain harvesting tank has saved her a lot of money she used to spend on buying water for domestic use and animals.

“I have benefited very much because when I didn’t have a water harvesting tank, I had to buy water from the people who fetch water from the lake. Some of us are widows, and the project has helped us very much. When people came to research us, they found that most of the people had bilharzia because of the lake water being contaminated. We were advised to get treatment for it and also be de-wormed because of water which is not safe in the community.”

Bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis, is caused by a parasitic flatworm found in freshwater along the shorelines of lakes and ponds, closely associated with snails. The disease is rarely fatal, but it damages internal organs and can impair the growth and cognitive development of children.

Apart from harvesting rain water for domestic use, The Katosi Women Development Trust realized that while their children enjoy safe clean water at home, they were taking dirty water at school. They have now provided rain water harvesting tanks for the four primary schools in the area.

Reverend Kintu Yosamu, the headmaster of the school, says the rain harvesting project has helped the children access safe drinking water. “Before the tank was constructed, we were badly off. Since we are near the lake shore we could not get clean water. We are now getting clean water and pupils are using it very well.”

Harvesting water is only the first part of the safe water chain the Trust is building. The Trust’s members are also teaching community members to wash hands, The importance of boiling water to kill germs, keeping water containers clean and most recently the use of Biosand filters to sterilise water.

The filters are concrete boxes filled with a layer of very fine sand, and some coarser sand then gravel at the bottom. When water is poured into the top, it filters slowly through the sand and can be collected from a pipe built into the bottom. Within three weeks of use, a biofilm forms, consisting of micro-organisms found in the water being filtered; along with the fine sand, these trapped micro-organisms become a highly effective means of sterilising water.

The Uganda Water and Sanitation Network, a national grouping of non-governmental and community-based organisations, is recommending the model set up in Katosi be rolled out in all rural areas if Uganda is to improve access to safe water. But some water experts, such as professor Charles Basalirwa of the Makerere University Department of Geography, believe even this may not be enough.

“In areas like northern Uganda where the majority of roofing is grass, rain water can be harvested just from trees like it was done in the old days. But this is very limited ,” the professor says. “What’s more, there is a problem: where do you keep this water? The costs of storage containers like plastic tanks are very high, and even those which can be built using cement… cement these days is very expensive.”

But for the members of the Katosi Women Development Trust at least, rain water harvesting has already proved itself a sustainable solution to a challenging problem.

Source: IPS News

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