Magazine article UN Chronicle

Catalyzing Economic Activity

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Catalyzing Economic Activity

Article excerpt

Water is our most precious and indispensable natural resource. In many parts of the developing world, clean water can be a scarce resource, while in rural areas water supply is a major problem. Nestle in South Africa has worked with many community-based organizations in supporting numerous water development projects over the years, including EcoLink and the LEAP Project for Sustainable Development. Both operate development projects in rural communities in the north-eastern parts of the country where there is virtually no access to running water in the home. A lucky few can rely on a communal tap in or near a village, but too many have to rely on water from stagnant pools, which then has to be carried a long way back to the home, usually on the women's heads or, if they are fortunate, by wheelbarrow. Women in the rural areas spend as much as four and a half hours per day collecting water and firewood for the home.

A water project team has been set up at EcoLink and LEAP to teach villagers how to harvest what water resources are available. People are taught how to identify sources of underground springs, which are then capped with a simple stone and cement structure that protects them from contamination by animals and provides an opening through which clear water can be drawn. Another very good source of water is the run-off from the roofs of buildings. Where there are gutters, the water is allowed to run off into the ground. On most buildings, there are no gutters at all, so the teams teach villagers how to build low-cost concrete water tanks to catch the run-off. These can collect up to 10,000 litres of good water from each corner of a building. Villagers often colourfully paint these tanks to express their joy at a simple solution.

The benefits of constructing such rainwater tanks were made apparent during the devastating floods experienced by southern Africa in 2000. A badly affected rural community of some 8,000 villagers has been helped by nearly 20 Nestle tanks installed as part of the LEAP programme, which were built at the site of underground springs and placed below the source so that they can be gravity-fed. Sometimes if there is sufficient slope, a series of tanks can be filled this way. Any surplus run-off then provides water for the food gardens, which invariably get established around these tanks.

The skills learnt in this process provide the villagers with the know-how to build storage tanks at their homes, as well as for others, thus creating income opportunities. The manufacture of cement blocks used for the base of the tank structure is another resource that can be expanded into other building projects. To protect wells, springs and food gardens from animals, fences often need to be erected. Simple fence-making machines are provided for the village, and two to three people can manufacture a considerable length of diamond mesh each day from coils of wire. This activity also provides job opportunities for villagers, enabling them to supply fencing to other villages. Protected springs do not always have to be capped, but may be allowed to fill small dams, which act as water reservoirs. These dams can be stocked with fish to provide a sustainable source of protein for the villagers.

Projects such as these have gone a long way towards improving hygiene and the nutritional status of communities. They also provide a catalyst for economic activity around the village by creating job opportunities. …

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