Monday, July 18, 2011

Water aid

I have always been puzzled by stories like these:

Aylito Binayo's feet know the mountain. Even at four in the morning she can run down the rocks to the river by starlight alone and climb the steep mountain back up to her village with 50 pounds of water on her back. She has made this journey three times a day for nearly all her 25 years. So has every other woman in her village of Foro, in the Konso district of southwestern Ethiopia. Binayo dropped out of school when she was eight years old, in part because she had to help her mother fetch water from the Toiro River.

When you spend hours hauling water long distances, you measure every drop. …

Why not move closer to the water source? Is this an example of lack of adaptation? Perhaps this is the reason:

Many villages in the tropics were built high in the hills, where it is cooler and less malarious and easier to see when the enemy is coming.

Or hysteresis? And the story of water aid is not very encouraging:
The villages of Konso are littered with the ghosts of water projects past. In Konsos around the developing world, the biggest problem with water schemes is that about half of them fall into disrepair soon after the groups that built them move on. Sometimes technology is used that can't be repaired locally, or spare parts are available only in the capital. But other reasons are achingly trivial: The villagers can't raise money for a three-dollar part or don't trust anyone to make the purchase with their pooled funds.

A new approach seems to be the following:
But the real innovation is that WaterAid treats technology as only part of the solution. Just as important is involving the local community in designing, building, and maintaining new water projects. Before beginning any project, WaterAid asks the community to form a WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) committee of seven people—four of whom must be women. The committee works with WaterAid to plan projects and involve the village in construction. Then it maintains and runs the project

But there is some skepticism:
WaterAid and other successful groups, such as, CARE, and A Glimmer of Hope, believe that charging user fees—usually a penny per jerry can or less—is key to sustaining a project. The village WASH committee holds the proceeds to pay for spare parts and repairs. But villagers think of water as a gift from God. Should we next pay to breathe air?

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