In the Ugandan village of Kinekamukono, many people suffer from diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid EW3fever and occasionally even cholera. Often these diseases are caused by contaminated water from the nearby river, or due to water shortages during the dry seasons as dry periods force people to use the contaminated river near Kinekamukono. To solve this challenge, RAIN Foundation’s Maarten Onneweer works together with local organizations to clean up the river and to keep it clean on the long term. Part of this also involves installing eco-sanitary facilities some distance away from the river.
This example shows that making sure people live healthy lives is not only a matter of building proper sanitary facilities, increase awareness of good hygiene practices or developing enough and safe water points. It is often very much a matter of more sustainable use and management of water resources and waste (water) flows. To do so, we need to take into account the entire landscape, including its people and possibilities. In this article, I will explore our environmental sustainability approach more in depth with you.
Landscape specific approach
To contribute to environmental sustainability in WASH, adopting a landscape-specific approach offers great opportunities. To do so, WASH projects require a thorough survey of the area involved. We have to ask ourselves the questions: Which water resources, ecosystem services and waste flows are present in the area? How are these flows currently used and managed? What are the characteristics of the local ecosystem? How does the local community relate to these resources, services and flows? And what are the specific problems related to water supply, sanitation and hygiene?
When put together, the answers to these questions result in an integral, landscape-specific plan. The guiding principle is always that water, land and other resources are part of a single ecosystem, and cannot be dealt with separately. The characteristics of the ecosystem determine the WASH options and the development possibilities for the local population. In the end, the goal of this approach is to improve the quality of life for the local population without undermining the natural environment, and increasingly also to adapt to the impact of climate change.
In Kinekamukono, for example, installing eco-sanitary facilities away from the river has significantly reduced the amount of human waste that ends up in the water, which pollutes the entire river and contaminates the animals living in and from it. Today, farmers do not water their livestock in the same place as people draw their drinking water from anymore. Creating more awareness on proper usage of water and waste flows enables people to build their own healthy environment.
Environmentally sustainable solutions
In this landscape approach, we take the mutual interdependence between the ecosystem and the population into consideration. We look for environmentally sustainable solutions, such
as rainwater retention through approaches like 3R and ‘eco-sanitation’. Rainwater retention is a good alternative to the use of ground water, especially if there are shortages or if the groundwater is polluted, and eco-sanitation consists of sanitary facilities that
not only utilise water recycling, and also process sewage for agricultural purposes. These kinds of solutions keep water and nutrients available within the area and keep the environment healthy for its residents.
For example, in order to prevent water shortages in the village of Kinekamukono, we have encouraged the villagers to capture water during rainy periods through tanks, direct water retention in the ground or through the increase of ‘ecosystem services’ such as wetlands and forests, which soak up the water like a sponge. This keeps the water from flowing out of the area too quickly, making it more and longer available and allowing the villagers to use it during the dry periods.
Think big, act small
To conclude, the most important and basic principle of our landscape specific approach is to start by looking around and making smarter use of the resources you have available. Proper and effective management and usage of flows like water and waste not only keep an area clean, but also healthy and more resilient to for example climate change. Big solutions to big questions are not easily found. But starting to act small and think big is the next step towards more environmentally sustainable WASH projects.
To learn more about environmental sustainability, RAIN and Wetlands International have together developed the E-package, a toolkit that helps make environmental sustainability very practical and directly implementable in your own programme. The E-package, currently consisting of four factsheets and an animation, will be launched early next year, so stay tuned.
By Basja Jantowski, RAIN Foundation