A group of engineering students have recently designed a rainwater harvesting system for their school in the water-thirsty city of Pune in Maharashtra, India. At full capacity, it will collect 87 lakh liters (around 2,298,297 US gallons) of rainwater each year. The students are collecting rainwater in tanks on several buildings, and the water is filtered before it recharges the main well on campus. Pretty neat, eh?
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.
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.
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.
We’re back again with more great Public Service Announcements (PSAs) relating to water for the PSA-a-thon Series. The first two PSAs featured (on rainwater harvesting and the Tap Project) were great. But the third batch in the series is pretty fun, as well. Today’s PSAs were created by Sukle Advertising + Design for a Denver, Colorado water conservation campaign.
As an added bonus, here is another one of Sukle’s clever ways to teach people to conserve water.
Another about the shower.
And another about, ummm, drinking water.
An industrious friend of mine is planning life off of the grid. She will grow her own food, utilize alternative forms of energy, and supply her own water (without having to dig a well). Recently she questioned, is it possible to provide water for a home using only rainwater? In my neighborhood in Washington, many people use barrels under gutters to collect rain for simple gardening needs, but homes in this area that harvest rainwater for all household needs are few and far between.
Above Photo: World Hunger Year
The average American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day for cooking, washing, bathing, and cleaning. Still, it is possible to build a home in the United States that uses only rainwater (with a few water conservation measure implemented) for all daily needs. The amount of water supplied through rainfall events depends largely on location. Even areas with little precipitation are able to capture sufficient amounts of rainwater during seasonal occurrences as evidenced in India. If you know average precipitation , it is possible to calculate the amount of rainfall available for capture using simple math as shown in this post on Rain Barrel.net. After determining the amount of rainfall possible for capture, system design should evaluate the following parameters:
1. Collection Methods
2. Storage Methods
3. Water Conveyance
4. Treatment Process
This guide published by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality provides a wonderful overview of “Harvesting, Storing, and Treating Rainwater for Indoor Domestic Use”. While homes in the US relying on rainwater for all needs are not very common, there are people using such systems with great success. Understanding and installing rainwater catchment systems now could greatly reduce risks associated with decreased water availability in the future.
Thanks to Nilam Agrawal for informing me about the important work of Sustainable Innovations:
Sustainable Innovations is a non-profit corporation committed to serving vulnerable populations through innovations in systems, science, engineering and social enterprises. We take pride in finding out-of-box approaches to problems that have defied solution.
Check the Sustainable Innovations website for updates.