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Poverty Times #2

Harvesting rainwater yields better status for women

Water shortages are common in both urban and rural areas of many developing countries. Rainfall fluctuations and frequent droughts together with poor water storage facilities mean that water supply is erratic, and much water is wasted through illegal connections and leakages. Poorer communities suffer most, by frequently receiving water that is not of potable quality and by paying a higher price for it. Rainwater harvesting can provide communities with greater water security, by collecting rainwater and storing it for use in the dry season. Techniques include: By Mildred Mkandla

  • Rooftop catchment – covering the roofs of huts and animal shelters with iron, plastic, thatch, reeds or mud and channelling rainwater into storage tanks through gutters.
  • Ground catchment – construction of an earth dam or pan.
  • Rock catchment – collecting run off from rocky areas and channelling the water into storage tanks.
  • Construction of sand dams – a concrete wall is built across a river in a rocky area. Water collects in the sand and evaporation is reduced.

Women play a key role in local water management – they have considerable knowledge of water sources, availability, quality, and conservation techniques. It is women who carry the burden of water collection, and who perform most water-related activities (bathing children, cooking, tending crops, watering livestock and washing clothes). Water management schemes in the past that have excluded women, or that have not empowered women to actively participate, have often failed. Reasons for this include cultural dictates, lack of awareness on the part of authorities and development agencies, and lack of communication skills and confidence on the part of the women in the community to express their needs.

In a pilot project carried out in several urban and rural areas in Kenya, the women have been given an opportunity to articulate their ideas and use their knowledge in the formulation of meaningful and appropriate policies. The women have been involved in construction, management, operation, and maintenance of rainwater harvesting and sanitation facilities. A participatory method was used, which included workshops, demonstrations, role play, exchange visits, video shows, and open discussions in small and large groups. The first step was to assess the communities’ priorities, which included protection of water wells, prevention of diarrhoeal disease arising from contaminated water, water scarcity, poverty, and heavy workload of women. This was followed by an inventory of the existing water facilities, awareness raising, planning, training and empowerment, and construction.

In Kajiado district, one of the beneficiary communities, 700 people now have greater year-round water security. The water supplies are owned by the community,
and managed by a water council. Proceeds from the sale of women’s beadwork are used for maintenance and upgrading of dwellings.

Agnes Kimer from Kajiado, speaking at the Pan African Partnership and Implementation Conference of Water in December 2003 explained how she took part in the design and construction of the project. “We chose rooftop catchments and ferro-cement tanks as they would be easiest to maintain. We fitted the manyattas (traditional houses made of mud and thatch) with plastic roofing and guttering ourselves.” “At first I did not want to participate, but now my husband respects me much more because he sees what I have done for the community” she added. Agnes spends less time collecting water and now grows beans and vegetables for sale in the local market.

Mildred Mkandla is External Relations Director of EarthCare Africa Monitoring Institute, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A development activist for 35 years, she coordinated the Pilot Project on Empowering Women in Rainwater Harvesting in Kenya. The project was implemented on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme by EarthCare Africa Monitoring Institute, with funding from the Government of Sweden.