By William Janssen, January 2015
Water: recently a lot of discussion has focused on the subject of water independence for all people, especially those deprived rural dwellers at the bottom of the pyramid. The basic question that arises is,‘What does water independence mean and how can it to be achieved?’
In recent times we have seen plenty NGOs marching into rural Africa (and other places) and digging wells all over the place, as if it were a contest. The benefits of all these new wells are up for discussion; several reports have recently claimed that up to 50% of these new wells have run dry after several years and become disused. I would like to discuss a completely different aspect of this enthusiasm.
During one of our recent discussions with an NGO we got some very telling feedback: ‘If the investment needed to get water to an individual is above $15 per user, then we don’t proceed, because we can provide water for less than $15 elsewhere’. Now that is a statement, if you think of it a little longer. This specific NGO (we shall not name names) has apparently been taken over by the bean counters. They effectively say, ‘We’d rather dig a cheap well in a location with available groundwater for $10 per user, than go out to difficult saline places to help thirsty people there’. Shocking!
But instead of dwelling on these disturbing NGOs’ choices, let’s look at the basis of this line of thought, because this is not the exception: it is the rule! This starts with those people at the bottom of the pyramid themselves; they perceive the access to daily, clean drinking water as a right and it should be free! Everyone has an uncle or a cousin, who lives in a location with ample ground water or a river nearby. Since these relatives are common to most people, there is a sense, that since they get their water for free, everyone should. Sadly, this situation is becoming rarer and the access to water is becoming an ever bigger problem.
So if people are reluctant to pay for water, NGOs like to dig wells only there where the groundwater table is easily reached and the group left thirsty is getting ever bigger, it is time for a better plan. But how? Solving this problem might become easier if we try to help some people in the most difficult locations first; let’s say mangrove dwellers. These people are used to little annual rainfall and saline groundwater and are thus already exposed to the daily difficulty of obtaining water. But what can we do for these people?
By creating a sustainable supply of water from desalination, through solar driven RO (Reverse Osmosis) or solar still solutions (ie. Desolenator) we could provide families and small communities with a steady, reliable water supply. The case study of helping such a community should then become the example for more communities. The cost can be clearly documented and governments can take note of the solution, as offered in the case study.
Over the next 10 years over 1 billion people will become victims of water stress through over-used ground water supply and ground water that has turned saline. These people will all effectively join the ever-growing queue of potential customers in the search of water independence. Authorities will have to make a choice over how they offer independence – through community-sized solution or family-sized options for desalination.
Given the fact that municipalities do not have a very successful track record in providing a reliable daily supply of water to their consumers in the countries we are looking at, it might be an idea to first focus on family-sized solutions, to keep the middle man out of the equation.
One solution for this problem might be offered by providing water independence through family-sized desalination units. Desolenator offers such a system, which is affordable and provides 15 litres of drinking water per day. You can help us achieve this goal! Visit: www.igg.me/at/desolenator
Main image: TREEAID at Flickr Creative Commons