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Nearly a billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water, so projects like our restored water infrastructure project in Sub-Saharan Africa are really important. The project uses carbon credits to finance its work delivering clean, safe water to local communities and driving down emissions by reducing deforestation, because water no longer needs to be boiled.
This Gold Standard project is primarily based in Uganda, Malawi, Rwanda and Eritrea, and provides clean drinking water to small rural communities by rehabilitating, repairing and drilling new boreholes.
For World Water Day 2019, we spoke to Paul Chiplen, Director of Sales and Marketing CO2balance, our project partner.
Rosie Helson (RH): Can you outline the reasons why this project is needed?
Paul Chiplen (PC): In most cases, a well-meaning NGO gave the borehole to the community a number of years ago and in half those cases it failed after two years. Perhaps it’s poorly positioned, or of poor quality, but mainly it’s just a lack of maintenance and spare parts. The boreholes are located in subsistence-lifestyle, dollar-a-day communities where people don’t have the training, funding, nor time to fix it. Sometimes the pipe that runs 50 metres down to the aquifer is rusted. The pump works but the water comes up with red, flaky bits of metal in it, which is not suitable for drinking. Sometimes large wild animals use the borehole as a scratching post, so the handle breaks.
RH: The theme of World Water Day this year is “leaving no one behind.” Can you talk a bit about how this project serves this purpose?
PC: I think it goes back to the fundamental human right to clean water. When you go there, you realise that this borehole is the most advanced piece of kit in the village, other than mobile phones. The borehole, although we may see it as primitive, is an important part of advancement in their lives. So without it, they have been left behind: they’ve got to walk miles to find a water source which is often shared with animals, and drink dirty water. Communities are spending time, money and effort fetching and trying to treat water, that could have been spent on something else more productive. So, by fixing the boreholes, we are assisting with that: there’s always a long line of people waiting to use it.
RH: How do you identify boreholes that need repairing?
PC: The local council in each district has a list of boreholes that need repairing and we undertake an assessment of each one. We started in Northern Uganda and have grown organically to other districts and other countries. In some cases, the borehole is not fixable because it’s simply in the wrong place, perhaps too near a swamp area, community toilets, or with a shallow water table. Sometimes we just need a spare part, someone with the technical know-how and some tools.
RH: How do you ensure everyone in the community experiences the benefits of the repaired borehole?
PC: Community engagement is key, right from the beginning. When we first go into a project area, we hold a stakeholder meeting and help set up a Water Resource Committee with a 50/50 gender split. That gender split is a condition of us repairing the boreholes in the future. Having women on the Committee helps ensure the borehole is used fairly and avoids corruption. We set up a payment system with everyone contributing a few shillings, which helps get buy-in so people feel a sense of ownership and therefore responsibility. Some villages hold a celebration event once it’s been fixed, which helps bring the community together and ensures everyone is aware of the borehole.
RH: How do you ensure the aquifer doesn’t dry up?
PC: We assess the number of people that would use the borehole to manage capacity. The local Water Resource Committee that is set up in each village only open it for certain time periods during the day, and it’s locked overnight. This means it’s not overused and allows the aquifer to refill. There have been very few cases of dried out boreholes, and we normally discover that in the initial technical assessment.
RH: How do you ensure the boreholes continue to deliver clean, safe water to the communities they serve?
PC: The Water Resource Committees are provided with training to look after the borehole, for example the importance of having a fence around it to prevent animals from contaminating the water source or physically damaging the pump. They’re trained to fix minor repairs like tightening screws, and to spot larger issues that might need specialist help. Our teams on the ground visit each community a minimum of once every two months and the boreholes have a larger “MOT”-style assessment each year.
We also carry out WAter Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) training in each community, covering the importance of hand washing, separating toilet and water source areas, and keeping jerry cans clean, which are used to carry the water.
RH: What role do carbon credits play?
PC: The communities no longer need to burn wood to boil water and this reduces carbon emissions. The sale of carbon credits funds borehole maintenance and further project development. The new project we’ve got is a solar pump borehole. Rather than a handpump, four large mounted solar panels power it to automatically pump water to a holding tank, which is high above ground. From there, the water is gravity fed into villages. So, it’s almost like bringing mains water into the villages, and we couldn’t have done this without carbon finance from the existing borehole projects.
RH: How do repaired boreholes make a difference to people’s lives?
PC: When you go there, you truly appreciate the impact the project has. Before the borehole is fixed, people do not have access to clean water, and to put it plainly, it kills people. At one of the boreholes in Ethiopia which we’d fixed 18 months prior, the village elder said to me “thank you, we haven’t had any fatalities in the village ever since the borehole has been fixed.” Before that, two villagers were dying of water borne illnesses each year. It doesn’t get more impactful than saving lives.
One lady told me that before the borehole was fixed, her children couldn’t sleep on their bellies because they were always distended from stomach illness, as they couldn’t afford the preventable medicine. Another said they’d boil the water and it’d have little things floating around in it, so they’d just scrape them off the top before drinking it. Ever since my first project visit, I look at the water from my tap with far more reverence.
But there are a whole load of knock-on effects beyond this. I can give you statistics about how much time and money a functioning borehole saves, but this will only really hit home when you hear a personal story from someone who has benefitted.
Gloria is a caretaker of the Aminalucu borehole in Dokolo District, Northern Uganda. Married with five children and living approximately 100 meters away from the borehole, it takes Gloria about 30 minutes to collect water adequate to meet the family’s daily domestic water demand, which she does two or three times a day.
“Before CO2balance rehabilitated Aminalucu borehole, my children and I used to travel over four kilometres to a seasonal open well and would spend a lot of time collecting water, leaving other home duties unattended to. Due to the distance to the only water source we had, we would only make one trip to collect water which was not enough for our family needs,” she said.
“On several occasions, my two daughters had to accompany me to collect water from the far-off open well, and since it was a very unsafe trip, we had to set off at around 8am, which meant that they had to skip school.”
Gloria is a maize farmer and, with time saved thanks to the borehole, she’s been able to build a granary for storing harvested maize. She is also part of the village’s Water Resource Committee.
“I am using the time saved to offer my labour to farm owners who will pay me as I plan on starting a poultry business with the money saved so that I can generate more income for my family needs. I am also happy with my position as a caretaker of the borehole because it has earned me respect in society and among my friends. With the time saved I am also able to attend water user committee meetings and contribute ideas towards the maintenance of our borehole.”
The repaired borehole project offers much more than clean water. It offers women the opportunity to engage in income-generating, leisure and social activities, as well as serving the community as part of the borehole committee.
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