Wednesday 13 November 2019

Scope for Irish water sector to help in Africa

Help: A water carrier in Uganda
Help: A water carrier in Uganda

After decades of piecemeal development and historic under-investment, Irish Water is delivering sustained improvements. However, over 200,000 people in rural Ireland continue to rely on private group schemes for water. Without these structures, which are generally voluntary, these communities might still be depending on their own wells for water.

I was reminded of this when recently visiting south-eastern Uganda with the charity Goal. In Uganda, millions of people exist on subsistence agriculture without clean water, sanitation or indeed electricity.

Polluted local drinking water sources, and a lack of hygiene awareness and practice, often result in chronic illness and exposure to life-limiting and life-threatening disease.

Consequences are especially critical for children.

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While billions of euro have been invested by donors in water facilities in Africa, up to half of all schemes can be out of action due to the absence of structures to manage them, the operational skills needed to maintain them and - critically - the funds required to put these arrangements in place.

Goal takes a community-led approach, encouraging the adoption by local village committees of responsibility for managing and maintaining water points, building latrines and promoting hygiene among families and village groups.

Only with this support are projects implemented, ensuring operational viability.

Historically, donors have been available to fund new facilities, but few are enthused by supporting their day-to-day operation and maintenance. Without this, however, the chronic deficit in the service will remain.

The scale of the challenge was highlighted in our visit to two Goal projects in the Bugiri district of south-eastern Uganda, near the shoreline of Lake Victoria.

Goal has facilitated a new handpump, which provides good quality, safe drinking water for the village community in Bugali. Previously, the community relied on the polluted Lake Victoria.

Goal has adopted a novel system which obliges 'pay as you use' to ensure that the pump will be maintained. Our second visit was to Namayingo school, with over 1,300 pupils and 13 teachers. Here, Goal had provided a new borehole, boys' and girls' latrines and a girls' washroom.

The visit confirmed that there is scope for the Irish water sector to support this work by Goal, and indeed other NGOs.

The water sector could assist through targeted funding, staff secondments, training in plant operation, research and development, project design and material resources.

Plans are being considered within the sector to make this collaboration a reality during 2019.

This approach would be mutually beneficial giving valuable experience and development opportunities at home, while making a real difference to those in need.

Jerry Grant is a former managing director of Irish Water

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