collaboration, community, development, general, homeless, international, ngo, participatory management, sanitation, united nations

Empowerment and Gender Equality in Water and Sanitation: What does it mean? What does it matter?

If you know of work done by non-profit or governmental organizations globally, you have likely heard the words –  empowerment and gender equality. Groups worldwide use these terms in apparent pursuit of more equitable water and sanitation projects ranging from entrepreneurship to provision. When first exposed to these terms during my master’s studies in 2010, I became intrigued with understanding how empowerment and gender equality related to more participatory water and sanitation projects. Yet after conducting research for my master’s project [Empowerment and Gender Equality for Water and Sanitation in Rural India: Two Case Studies], it became clear these terms were used by organizations very differently. While some organizations might imply a borewell for water results in empowerment, others said participating on a decision-making committee results in empowerment (and so on).

Amidst this array of disparate definitions, it appeared to me such terms still might have some capacity to be somewhat useful conceptual approaches for more equitable water and sanitation projects. So when I received the opportunity this past summer to attend two different workshops focusing on empowerment and gender equality, I took the chance. In July, I attended a United Nations program in Geneva to see how different UN entities employed (or failed to) these concepts. In August, I traveled to UCLA for another workshop focusing on empowerment in public health.

After attending the UN Graduate Study Program, I began to wonder if there might be better discourse for equitable water and sanitation projects globally. Study program participants heard over twenty seminars from UN agencies – International Labor Organization, International Organization for Migration, Inter-Parliamentary Union, UN High Commission for Refugees, UN Human Rights Council, Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN Office at Geneva, UN Secretary General Envoy on Youth, UNAIDS, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNEP, UNFPA, and UNICEF. Many of these organizations talked about how they focus on women internally and externally, but it was often difficult for them to describe how they incorporated a true gendered-approach into their practices (e.g. focusing on power differentials between all people not just looking only at women). It appeared some of them were stuck in a paradigm of second-wave feminism when more transnational feminist approaches are now critical. What this means in basic terms is that most UN agencies use a “universal woman” approach (i.e. a “western woman” approach) instead of looking at larger nation-state and economic structural disparities.

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Above Photo: Author of blog post is located in left front row in white short-sleeve button-down. UN Photographer.

Studying at the UCLA Global Health and Empowerment workshop provided a chance to dig more into the theory behind empowerment in various disciplines. We read everything from Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Naila Kabeer’s Resources, Agency, and Achievements, and Jane Parpart’s Lessons from the Field. See entire syllabus here. This course covered a variety of critical and conservative empowerment theories in global health and global development (that word again) literature. My final grant-proposal project focused on sanitation and health issues in the US for two reasons: 1) the global north/global south binary is highly disconcerting to me, and 2) we have dire sanitation needs here that also demand attention. One of those sanitation needs is sanitation with/for those living outside in many cities in this wealthy nation. My proposal “Together for WASH: Pilot Program for Participatory and Gender-Sensitive Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene with Unhoused People in the United States” is currently undergoing final review. Here’s a sneak peek:

The long-term goal of this proposal is to improve measurable public health outcomes linked to WASH among unhoused people (men, women, and children) living in group camps furthering their upward social mobility and capacity to participate in social change. The objective of this proposal is to pilot low-cost and scalable WASH solutions coupled with participatory WASH programs in two group camps in two US cities. This pilot program is gender-sensitive using gender-specific solutions (e.g. eco-urinals and a menstrual hygiene management program) and gender-sensitive participatory techniques (e.g. community dialogue about gender burdens of WASH and representative participation). This pilot program uses an arts-based approach to give unhoused people a venue to highlight vulnerability in water and sanitation while communicating with policymakers to influence greater social change. This pilot program will lead to engagement in both individual and collective processes of empowerment resulting in critical consciousness among unhoused people in the realm of WASH.

So the jury is still out on water and sanitation development sector usage of terms like empowerment and gender equality.  It is not that empowerment and gender equality approaches are incompatible with true participatory water and sanitation programs. It is just that: 1) empowerment water and sanitation projects should be bottom-up instead of the top-down, 2) empowerment and gender equality definitions should be clearly outlined prior to development of water and sanitation programs, 3) larger structural frameworks and power structures have to be taken into account (e.g. examining how someone can experience empowerment on a local scale while being disempowered on the global economic scale), 4)  it is critical to consider scale when thinking about empowerment and gender equality in water and sanitation, 5) empowerment as part of international-development discourse might actually reinforce oppressions, and 6) alternative conceptual approaches for examining and participating in equitable water and sanitation programs could include liberatory or autonomous frameworks.

Author’s Postscript: If you would like to read more about empowerment theories from multiple disciplines, please check out this shared Google Drive list put together by colleagues and myself.

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collaboration, community, ngo, participatory management, united nations

Does The Human Right to Water and Sanitation = Water and Sanitation Justice?

Has anyone ever asked you “What do you do?” An interesting philosophical question for sure, but one of my condensed answers often is “I work for water justice and sanitation justice.” This means I want to participate in a more just water and sanitation world on individual, community, and political scales. In 2010, the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council officially adopted The Human Right to Water and Sanitation resolutions. These resolutions represented the emergence of an international legal framework to recognize water and sanitation (WatSan) as a human right through availability, quality, acceptability, accessibility, and affordability. In my mind, this consecrated right was also a potential catalyst for a more just WatSan world. But I had never stepped back to ponder why the right to WatSan might seem equivalent to WatSan justice until I read an insightful paper called Forests, development, and the globalisation of justice by Forsyth and Sikor. Their paper provides a background on the historical connection of rights and justice concepts and challenges readers to evaluate universal notions of such.

Here’s a quick history on the right to WatSan as documented on the great The Rights to Water and Sanitation website. In 1948, close to 50 states agreed in the UN General Assembly to sign a Universal Declaration of Human Rights which identified about 30 rights: the right to education, the right to a standard of living for adequate health, and so forth. This Declaration led to multi-national treaties, national constitutions, and national laws. In 1966, two legally binding treaties identified a right to life and right to health which inferred WatSan were necessary to human life. In 2002, a UN committee issued a comment on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights saying “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.” Finally, Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque was appointed in 2008 to work with civil society organizations and states to identify best practices for WatSan, clarify the legality of WatSan human rights, and make recommendations towards MDG 7C. It was likely her work, along with a proposal from Bolivia, that forwarded the adoption of UN General Assembly Resolution 64/292 in July 2010 “calling on states and international organizations to provide financial resources, build capacity and transfer technology, particularly to developing countries, in scaling up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation.” There were 122 states voting for the resolution, 0 against, and 41 abstentions (including the United States). The UN Human Rights Council passed an updated resolution the next year. But will this universal human right to WatSan lead to a more just WatSan world?

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Above Photo: Urban Semillas.

Forsyth and Sikor offer a case study of UN REDD – a global mechanism that provides rewards to countries whose forestry practices augment global carbon stocks. They describe efforts within this program to incorporate a traditional view of justice distributing benefits fairly and recognizing all stakeholders. The authors argue this type of justice does “carry embedded notions of value, knowledge, property, access, and governance that need to be interrogated more fully.” They describe how this traditional definition of justice related to fairness in allocation and equality of opportunity arose from John Rawls. In their case study – even amidst discussions by multi-lateral organizations, states, and NGOs – certain forest users’ concerns about justice were not allowed to enter the conversation. Interestingly, Forsyth and Sikor highlight that a Rawlsian view of justice relies upon distributions of property rights, and they identify three problems with linking rights to justice: 1) difficult decisions about types rights to be granted in pursuit of just distributions, 2) universal definitions including some people and excluding others, and 3) property rights may still result in unjust distributions. They conclude: “there is an urgent need, therefore, to make the historical context of property rights and their relationships to justice transparent.”

Let us take these three problems of linking rights to justice to begin to probe into The Human Right to Water and Sanitation process. First, difficult decisions must be made about types of rights to be granted to ensure just distributions. Some aspects of WatSan resources (providing sustenance to humans and animals, filtering pollutants, sustaining plant life, etc.) might seem likely to take precedence. But the key question really is what actors decided which WatSan rights were defined in the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Organization resolutions? Second, universal definitions can result in “dispossession and exclusion” of rights for some people. WatSan rights, like forest rights, are not a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, think about varying levels of water purity in different locations, varying amounts of water at certain times of the year, different cultural uses of water, etc. Were these types of concerns incorporated into the 2011 Compilation of good practices for WatSan human rights? And how are these good practices adapted by region? Third, it is important to understand the process of distribution for property rights. WatSan rights are not always considered property, and they are not distributed on a global scale. WatSan rights are typically distributed on national and regional (or even watershed) scales. It could be valuable to decipher the scale of WatSan distributions in various locations to see what actors benefit from such distributions. As my Science and Justice professor recently said, he thinks Forsyth and Sikor call for participation of a different kind: to ask what is water and for who; to ask what is justice and for who; and to finally move into talk about WatSan rights based on those previous conversations. The authors themselves also say that Amartya Sen’s view of justice might be more helpful because it questions “what is being allocated and whose values and agendas are represented.”

community, development, general, global, ngo, united nations

What kind of world do we want after 2015?

Sometimes it can feel difficult to make our voices heard on this big planet. But I just found out about a new website created by the United Nations with civil society groups to collect ideas for solving global poverty problems [including water and sanitation] after 2015. It’s called The World We Want 2015. Like the internet and the United Nations, it’s not perfect. Themes aren’t inclusive, not everyone have access to a computer, and allocated time is too short. But if you’re interested in global conversations regarding “development” after Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, this is a chance to hear and speak about such issues from January 15th to February 15th.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were identified after the Millennium Summit in 2000. The eight goals cover topics such as poverty, environment, and health. Critics of MDGs cite problems such as lack of justification behind goals, difficulty monitoring goals, or inadequate attention to issues like agriculture or sanitation. Others believe MDGs encourage country progress, help the global sector focus on more than just income, and direct funding towards related projects. The UN has been tracking MDG progress. The 2012 MDG Report indicates targets for reducing extreme poverty, halving populations without safe drinking water, and improving conditions for those in slums have been met. But differences between regions are stark. For example, Sub-Saharan Africa is far behind all other regions. And sanitation targets have not been met worldwide.

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Above Photo: Tarek on Wikimedia Commons

People are talking about what should happen after 2015. Should there be another set of goals? Should “development” embrace bottom-up processes? What about foreign aid? Should indicators be universal? Some of these post-2015 topics are documented on The Broker – an online magazine for globalization and development. And The World We Want 2015 website provides an opportunity for civil society groups to engage in similar conversations. There are a few ways to get involved. Join the website using this registration link or follow on twitter at #post2015, #beyond2015, and #inequalities2015.

If you’re interested in water and sanitation like me, you can check out the water consultation – the portal on the website for talking about water and sanitation after 2015. There are three water sub-consultations: 1) Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene 2) Water Resources Management, and 3) Wastewater and Water Quality. Each week until February 15th, the sub-consultations will feature a different topic for discussion. Discussions will be compiled at a meeting held in The Hague around World Water Day 2013 on March 22nd. On a side note – it’s disconcerting they didn’t include sanitation as an independent consultation. Especially when the world is so far behind in meeting the MDG for sanitation. But I guess here’s my chance using the website to say so. Happy Friday!

international, ngo, video, water events, workshop

‘Transparency in the Water Sector’ Live Broadcast Review

This morning, I was energized to listen to a live broadcast of the “Transparency in the Water Sector” panel discussion hosted by Water for People. This talk featured a variety of professional development practitioners, and viewers were tweeting about the event at #waterhonesty. I’m not an expert on water-project transparency, and this talk was a good opportunity to learn more.


First, a primer on transparency in the water sector.

Before the broadcast, I tried to find a good definition of “transparency in the water sector” online. Transparency International indicates transparency leads to accountability which leads to integrity which leads to less corruption. Corruption is defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain “. IRC says integrity and honesty lead to less corruption in the water sector. Transparency is defined as “sharing information and acting in an open manner”. SIWI states “Transparency, accountability and integrity are critical governance components without which corruption issues cannot be successfully addressed.” So in lay terms – transparency in the water sector leads to accountability, honesty, and integrity which leads to less corruption. This is good because corruption has been identified as the major barrier in meeting the Millennium Development Goals including MDGs focused on water and sanitation.

Now, the goods of the talk.

Much of the talk centered around defining water-project transparency in practice. The talk broached several subject areas, and I attempted to compile a few main points on water-project transparency below. If you have any updates to this review, send me a message. Water for People will host another live broadcast in the future, and – with Portland PHLUSH – one idea for a topic is emergency sanitation. Nonetheless, what a great way to open up global dialogue on water and sanitation issues. Hats off to Water for People and all presenters today!

Water-project transparency components:
Transparency in funding essential. USAID dashboard good example.
Other project components need transparency: design, construction, and long-term use.

Water-project transparency challenges:
Indicators for success not working. Indicators for Millennium Development Goals not applicable.
Many tools for evaluating transparency, but no streamlined system.
Lack of long-term monitoring for water and sanitation systems. Many donors not supporting longevity of WASH systems.
[Lack of analysis of project failure to promote learning and adaptation for future project success.] – See comment by Paige.

Water-project transparency solutions:
Indicators of project success developed unique to location. Cultural systems incorporated.
Low-cost monitoring tools, like Akvo Flow, used.
Transparency tools and frameworks compiled and streamlined. WIN site to compile tools.
Different responsible roles created for monitoring, evaluating, and learning.
Long-term monitoring and evaluation emphasized to donors. Sustainable funding source ensured for project, monitoring, and evaluation.
[Analyze project failure in detailed methodological way to be accountable to funders and incorporate lessons for future improvement.] – See comment by Paige.

community, donation, drinking water, natural disaster, ngo, outreach, unicef, united nations

Disaster in Haiti: Loss of Life and Lack of Water

A catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. The 7.0 magnitude quake was centered offshore the populated capital of Port-au-Prince. One of ten deadliest in history, causalities range from 50,000 to 200,000 people. Almost three million of the country’s nine million people are affected, and many are still trapped in the rubble. Aid efforts have been hampered by the scale of impact and current instability of the Haitian government.

Survivors are in desperate need of drinking water. Running water is not available due to damaged pipes. A lack of clean drinking water after this type of disaster can lead to dehydration and widespread waterborne illnesses. The Government of Haiti commandeered two water treatment facilities and is sending water to the capital in trucks. Four US ships are en route with desalination units to produce 25,000 liters of water a day. Another aircraft carrier, stationed off the coast, can produce 35,000 liters of water a day. Two NGOs, Water Missions International and Oxfam, left water-filtration systems in the country. Red Cross is dispensing bottled water, food, and medical supplies. UNICEF is distributing water and sanitation supplies to help protect the health of children.


Above Photo: Survivors collecting water from a broken water main in Haiti. Courtesy United Nations Photo on flickr.

The best way to help victims in Haiti is through monetary donations! To donate for a variety relief efforts, please see these links on Water Wired. To donate for water-related relief efforts, please see the links below:

Water Missions International
Previously established in the country to work on water-supply concerns, they shipped 10 desalination units to the region after the quake. They are collecting money for water-related relief efforts.

Water.org
In September 2009, this organization committed to provide safe drinking water to 50,000 people in Haiti. Now they are helping re-establish local water-focused NGOs. They are collecting donations to restore/expand water services in Haiti.

UNICEF
UNICEF is focused on distributing supplies related to water and sanitation, therapeutic food for infants and small children, medical supplies, and temporary shelter. They just appealed for donations of 120 million USD to help with relief efforts in Haiti.

CARE
This long-standing NGO is distributing emergency water purification tablets to local hospitals. They will distribute water purification tablets, buckets with covers, jerry cans and other water containers, hygiene kits, high-energy biscuits, plastic sheeting and cooking kits to 50,000 to 75,000 people in Haiti.

Oxfam
This well-known organization recognizes that clean drinking water is “the most immediate problem.” They are shipping 10 tons of water, sanitation, health, and shelter equipment to the area and collecting donations for these endeavors.

charity: water
This NGO, based out of New York City, is dedicated to raising money for water-supply projects in developing nations. They are accepting donations for health-related (that is, water, sanitation, etc.) and general efforts for partner NGOs in Haiti.

asia, ngo, participatory management, rural, sanitation, sustainability, water justice, water management

Gandhian Thoughts on Gender, Water, and Sanitation

An eight-hour overnight train journey leaves me waking up just before arrival to Dindigul Junction as the engine rumbles to a stop. For my final field visit in South India, I have come to Gandhigram Trust to see how their recent water and sanitation interventions, funded by Arghyam, have affected women and men in rural villages as part of my studies on gender, water, and sanitation.

Gandhigram began with the encouragement of Mahatma Gandhi. He supported his two friends, Dr. Soundram and Dr. Ramachandran, in starting an organization for local development in rural areas. Since 1947, Gandhigram has engaged in a number of activities to empower those in rural communities through promotion of local industries to strengthen economies, building low-cost health centers, providing housing for abandoned children and the elderly, creating schools for youth to study, and – lately – assisting villages in developing water and sanitation systems.

Kasturba, Gandhi, Soundram, and Ramachandran
Above Photo: Dr. Ramachandran, Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturba Gandhi, and Dr. Soundram.

My interest in Gandhian principles (non-violence, simplicity, empowerment, equality, localism, and others) excites me for this visit. I am curious to see how such principles are incorporated into Gandhigram’s water and sanitation activities. What’s more, gender equality and Gandhian philosophy have much in common as they both advocate equality for all people regardless of socio-economic backgrounds and bottom-up, participatory social structures.

Upon arrival, I visit with the Secretary of Gandhigram, M.R. Rajagopalan. He claims not to be a scholar, but his shelves are filled with the writings of Gandhiji and other books on Gandhian thought. He authored a paper entitled “Gandhi – A Divine Environmentalist.” In this paper, he argues if all people are able to embrace Gandhian principles, the world (people, plants, animals, and inanimate objects) will be a kinder, more holistic, and more sustainable place. He says:

“Gandhiji would have wanted us to follow the path of the robust left – of the – centre social democratism where empowerment of women and the weaker/poorer sections of our society was guaranteed. Secondly, he would have liked us to link environmentalism with some basic social, economic, and ethical tenants.”

With this in mind, how does Gandhian thought translate to Gandhigram’s mission to assist villages in access, planning, and managing water and sanitation systems? Further, how does Gandhian thought overlap with reaching gender equality for water and sanitation systems?

By raising awareness about the importance of the use of toilets in reducing the spread of diseases, renovating community standposts and other water structures, and providing micro-credit for the construction of toilets, Gandhigram is creating better access to water and sanitation resources for some women and men in villages. If all people are able to garner equal access (a gender equality and Gandhian goal), less people will fall ill or have to relocate to urban areas (a gender equality and Gandhian goal). Access to water and sanitation resources for many women in these villages is improved by the creation and renovation of community standposts, which reduces their time fetching water, and the construction of toilets, which provides a place for them to manage their menstrual cycle (a gender equality goal).

Renovated Standpost
Above Photo: A renovated standpost in village.

Gandhigram assists with the formation of community groups in villages. One group, called the Village Water and Sanitation Committee, consists of village elders, government leaders, religious leaders, and others of influence. Another group, called the Water Users Group, consists of women in the villages. Both of these groups are intended to facilitate a bottom-up, participatory approach to water and sanitation planning and management (a gender equality and Gandhian goal). But these participatory management structures for planning and management are still evolving, and there are subtle caste, economic, political, and gender disparities which result in unequal participation in planning and managing water and sanitation resources in these villages.

Even in the presence of these existing hierarchical social structures which detract from true equitable and participatory systems, Gandhian principles provide valuable guidance for fair and just access, planning, and management of water and sanitation systems. Other scholars, like Amartya Sen, argue that Gandhian thought is not the answer for global environmental problems. Yet, seemingly, few would contend that fair and equal access, planning, and management of water and sanitation resources is a negative aspiration. It is my belief that equity and empowerment must also come from within each individual. It is up to every one of us in our daily lives – whether in a village or in a city – to incorporate gender equality and Gandhian principles (non-violence, simplicity, empowerment, equality, localism, and others) into our routines in order to create and maintain equitable systems for water and sanitation resources.

“Success attends where truth reigns”- Gandhi’s last phrase for Gandhigram.

Author’s Postcript:
I am living in India for an internship with a water-focused NGO called Arghyam. Along the way, I will document my journey. Please see the Water in India page above for more information.

india, music, ngo, outreach

Kids and Songs for Safe Water and Good Hygiene in Tamil Nadu

About 6,000 children die EACH DAY from water- and sanitation-related illnesses. But did you know songs can save lives? One NGO in rural Tamil Nadu is teaching songs to children about the importance of safe water and hygiene practices to help them and their families lead lead longer and healthier lives.

Around 2.6 billion people worldwide lack access to adequate sanitation facilities. Poor water and sanitation conditions lead to illnesses such as diarrhea, parasites, and malaria. Young children have weaker immune systems unable to protect them from these sicknesses. Simple actions like washing hands with soap, using a toilet instead of defecating in the open, proper food preparation and storage, or keeping rivers, lakes and streams clean could help save 2.2 million lives each year.

Over the past two weeks, I visited Gramalaya. They work on a variety of water and sanitation projects across the state of Tamil Nadu (more to come in a later post). A highlight of the trip was hearing kids from rural villages sing songs about the importance of healthy water and sanitation practices. These songs were written by S. Damodaran, founding-director of Gramalaya, now working for organization called Water.org that focuses on funding water and sanitation programs in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Singing Songs about Water and Hygiene
Above Photo: A colleague at Arghyam listening to songs.

They had one song about low-cost toilets:

Toilet! Toilet;
Low cost Toilet!

The toilet my mother loves!
The toilet my sister likes!

Toilets for the primary school;
And toilets for the Anganwadi

Toilets for the poor;
and toilets for all!

Toilets for every house;
and toilets for healthy life!

And another about kitchen gardens:

Garden! Garden everywhere;
a garden for every house!
A garden from waste water;
garden to remove disease!

Avaraikai in April;
Next month we can get Pagarkai.
Very often we can get sundaikkai;
and for good taste you can get Suraikkkai

A garden out of waste water;
A garden for vegetables.

A garden to remove mosquitoes;
a garden to ensure cleanliness.

And another about safe drinking water:

Drinking water from rivers
Is to invite diseases many.

Water from ponds nearby
Invites killer diseases.

Drinking water from canal
Attracts diarrhea easily. But

Drinking water from handpumps
Leads to a healthy life.

And, lastly, one about a beautiful village:

A beautiful village
Dotted with houses
Surrounded by feces
Flies rest on it.

Flies with germs
Flies sit on food
When brother eat food
Diarrhea is the result.

When sister also affected
Mother started crying
And the beautiful village
Becomes a filthy village.

Because of the feces in the village
Diseases spread everywhere
Because of the feces, germs
Spread in the village.

Let us build a toilet
One for each house
When everyone uses it
Life is totally disease free.

Here is a video of one of the songs from Water.org:

community, drinking water, general, india, ngo, sanitation, water availability, water justice

My Soon-to-be Journey to India: An Arghyam Internship

Life has been bustling as I prepare for an internship in India. This year, I was accepted for an internship with Arghyam – an NGO that works on water and sanitation projects across India – in Bangalore. This internship is part of my master’s studies at Oregon State University (my major is Water Resources Policy and Management and my minor is Women Studies). It will last from September 1st until December 31st.

Arghyam Header1

My internship with Arghyam will focus mainly on gender and water issues in South India. Such issues are important to understand to ensure all people have fair access to and participation in the management of water and sanitation resources. Through my adventures, I will continue to post on Water for the Ages (both on my internship and other international water issues). Stay tuned for more information to follow. There will be photos, videos, and more.

If you are interested in an international water internship in India, Arghyam has other internship opportunities available. Be sure and check out their impressive India Water Portal for details on these positions.

africa, agriculture, community, drinking water, groundwater, ngo, visions of water, visions of life, water availability, water management

Visions of Water, Visions of Life: ECAG in Kenya

This is the second interview for the series Visions of Water, Visions of Life. Today’s interview is with Gibson Munanga. He is the director of an organization called Environmental Community Assistance Group (ECAG) working on water and land issues in rural Kenya. And, let me tell you, Gibson is one busy director. He works as a teacher at a school for the deaf. Somehow he still manages to find time to dream-up ideas, organize work parties, and implement a variety of projects to ensure water and land sustainability in his village.

Gibson and Kids
Above Photo: Gibson and students at Kakamega School for the Deaf.

Your organization originally started growing tree seedlings and working on land restoration projects. Can you please tell us why you decided to direct your focus towards water issues?

Our organization began and is still growing tree seedlings and working on land restoration projects. In the course of undertaking these, we encountered enormous challenges to finding water for irrigating the tree seedlings in preparation for planting during the rainy season. Water problems are a chronic issue here in the dry and rainy seasons. We have not shifted our focus, but we had to approach them [water and land restoration issues] at the same time because they go hand-in-hand. We left water problems to be addressed by ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE GROUP. The tree nursery and land restoration projects are handled by our co-organization called WESTERN TREE NURSERY, SEED COLLECTION, STORAGE AND VENDING GROUP.

What is the water situation in your village? What is the water situation in Kenya?

The water situation in our village is bad. People have to walk long distances in search of water. This mainly affects women and children (especially their standard of education and quality of life). The overall water situation in Kenya is worse. In Turkana, Pokot, Ukambani and other northeastern parts of Kenya near the border with Somalia, the search for water may take a whole day. It takes over a year for these places to receive rains, which may last only a week or luckily a month. This type of rainfall pattern can not support crop growth or open-water systems. It is rocky and expensive to drill for water in these areas. The water is very deep.

What do you believe is the solution to improve the water situation in your village?

The solution to improve the water situation in our village is to strategically situate boreholes in central places where water can be used easily by families. In addition, many trees were destroyed in most water catchments over twenty years ago. Water-catchment friendly trees should be planted in those areas because many small streams and rivers have dried up. The range of climate and rainfall in our village allows for rainwater harvesting. Provision of water-harvesting tanks would help to solve water problems here. Provision of water lorry tankers [see picture below] would help provide water to people during extreme water shortage events for a small fee.

Lorry Tanker
Above Photo: This is the type of water tanker that ECAG would like for their community.

Do you talk about water issues with your students at the school for the deaf? What do the children believe is the solution to improve the water situation in your village?

[The students are deaf so they wrote their answers on a chalkboard. Mr. Munanga took pictures of their answers with a camera. Please see the forthcoming post called Kakamega Youth Talk About Water Problems in Kenya.]

Has ECAG completed any significant water projects?

Six years ago ECAG constructed a very successful water project [well] at Alfred Amulyoto’s home (in Kambiri in the Kakamega District) to serve neighboring communities. Community members agreed to maintain the well pump through small donations. We constructed another successful water project [well] at Emily’s home (in Sichirayi) with the help from neighboring homes. Another water project [well] was constructed at Mr. Peter Matwanga’s home (in Khayega Village) which services a big homestead and 15 nearby homes.

What are a few other non-water projects that ECAG has completed?

We are producing tree-seedlings for planting in water-catchment areas. We are propagating medicinal trees for blood purification, stomach problems, malaria treatment, and other ailments. We are propagating fruit trees to alleviate hunger and provide vitamins, and we are propagating trees for firewood. In a nut-shell, trees are very much related to water, environmental issues and rainfall-storage quantity.

What is your advice for future generations on water?

My advice for future generations on water issues would be to conserve water and use it wisely, protect all water sources, and plant trees. Every drop of water counts!

For more information about ECAG or if you would like to make a donation, please visit their website here.