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Rainwater harvesting, the alternative to pipe-borne water - Dr. Fahmy Ismail

Human life, as with all animal and plant life on the planet, is dependant on water. Not only do we need water to grow food, generate power and run industries, but we need it as a basic part of our daily lives - our bodies need to ingest water everyday to continue functioning.

Communities and individuals can exist without many things if they have to - they can be deprived of comfort, of shelter, even of food for a period, but they cannot be deprived of water and survive for more than a few days.

Because of the intimate relationship between water and life, water is woven into the fabric of all cultures, religions and societies in myriad ways.

"Our children are reluctant to go to school most of the time and often they go to their relatives' homes in the town. For this whole area, only Vakarai has a proper water supply," villagers of Hijra Nagar and Koolavady, which are two villages situated in Valaichchenai lamented.

"There were so many INGOs in these areas but nobody bothered about our villages.

"They assumed that Vakarai had all the problems. We were isolated and had to trek more than three kilometres everyday to collect water. Life was not easy till UN Habitat identified the problem and came up with a concrete solution", said Kaanthammai who is a beneficiary of the rain water harvesting project.

"The tsunami of December 2004 caused undue loss of life, infrastructure and economic assets. The tsunami destroyed most of the communal infrastructure including structures of water supply and waste water discharge.

The most vulnerable segments of the population, children, the aged and sick people were the most affected. However, water resources are limited in the Northern, Eastern, North Central and North Western parts of Sri Lanka. In most of these areas ground water is the only source of water.

However, groundwater in these areas is subject to deterioration due to excessive use of agro-chemicals and lack of environmentally safe toilets.

Many diseases in these regions are suspected to be water related," Dr. Fahmy Ismail, National Technical Advisor, UN Habitat said.

The tsunami destroyed and polluted a large number of water supplies and in particular badly affected the main sources of water. Household water supply was affected. In addition some areas in the East have a poor groundwater supply. Long periods of drought affects households where the water supply is low," he said.

"Identifying the situation, UN Habitat took the first step by introducing rainwater harvesting system to the Northern and the Eastern provinces," Dr. Fahmy said.

The project, Water and Sanitation for Settlements in the Eastern Region, Sri Lanka (WASSER), and NGO -EMAS International to provide support to the urban poor and the tsunami-affected by rehabilitating and expanding basic infrastructure in the water and sanitation fields in the tsunami-hit areas of the East Coast of Sri Lanka.

"EMAS provided training to a few officials from the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) and the Batticaloa Municipal Council and trained 20 local (community) representatives in the drilling of tube wells, construction of ferro cement tanks, manual pumps and more - based on a variety of simple technologies. EMAS also established a Well Drilling School where a large number has been trained, thus creating job opportunities in the field of well drilling and construction of RWH tanks," he said.

Under the WASSER project, a large number of RWH tanks were constructed in the city of Batticaloa.

Many of the beneficiaries have stated that they were satisfied with the process and that they collect water during the rainy season from September to January, and use the water during the drought period of 6 months.

The project proposes rainwater harvesting as an effective and expedient support option to meet the needs of water supply to low-income households in areas where they have no access to pipe-borne drinking water. "The project will be implemented in Batticaloa covering two areas of Tamils and Muslims.

The criteria for selection will be, low income settlements, settlements where there is scarcity of water, settlements where there are Displaced Persons, settlements which do not come under projects which will be provided pipe-borne water, settlements will be selected in consultation with the National Water Supply and Drainage Board and the respective local authority., lack of water supply and poor sanitation making these areas as risky areas for the spread of diseases.

The target groups are people affected by terrorism, tsunami or poverty. Special attention would be given to gender and ethnic/religious issues," Dr. Fahmy said. Identifying poor settlements for construction of RWH tanks, identify or establish community-based organisations/rural development societies (RDS) in the settlements, introduce and create awareness on the use and benefits of RWH to meet their needs are the main activities included.Introduce technology for constructions, using the EMAS technique, to potential beneficiary families (who will be selected by the local authority and the RDS) through trained personnel.

The trainers will be contracted by the RDS, 5 days hands-on training will be given to members selected from beneficiary families by the selected EMAS trainers.

"The beneficiary will participate through provision of their labour, learning the skills during the construction process, which usually would take about 5 days. During the construction period UN Habitat Project Officer will closely supervise the steps to ensure standard" material and techniques.

All construction material will be purchased and supplied by the RDS under the contract.Training householders - after construction, all householders will receive training on how to operate and maintain the system", he said.

 

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