Water: A Slippery Situation


Much of the required reading for this week deals with the issue of water and peoples’ rights and access to it. Massimo sites many examples of community management of water in Bolivia and Ecuador, and how it creates a sense of responsibility and ownership for each individual. This made me wonder about other developing communities and whether or not this same model would be as effective there.

In my time in Kenya, I saw many non-profit and NGO programs fall victim to theft and embezzlement by trusted Kenyan workers. So when I envision a community managed water program there, I am skeptical that the monthly monetary contribution each family has to make will actually end up going towards the program and not the pockets of the collectors. In areas with such extreme poverty and lack of resources, it’s not shocking or unexpected that people would take advantage of this new access to money when given the opportunity.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened in similar water and sanitation programs already in the country. The European Union allocated $2.3 million to UNICEF to implement these types of programs worldwide, one of which is in Lolpulelei, Kenya. Although the EU grant allowed for a new generator for their water pump that now provides clean water to over 600 families in the community, they soon found that the male elders were embezzling money from contributions collected “for pump maintenance and diesel purchases.”

Luckily for the community, the women knew what was going on and refused to stand by quietly. They called a community meeting and argued that “water is women’s responsibility because it is them who collect it for the homestead,” so they should be the ones handling the water program. I’m sure the men reluctantly agreed, but the program is now completely managed by the women and running smoothly (although not easily). You can read the entire article on UNICEF’s website here

But this story could have had a much more tragic ending. The success of these types of community management programs obviously relies largely on the variables of the community and the education of those members involved. Like Massimo stated in his blog about Don Abdon, who after receiving a degree in Agronomy was able to help his community build a well, experienced and educated members need to be available for those lacking knowledge about the way these water systems work. The Kenyan woman who is now managing the water program in Lolpulelei was appointed this responsibility because she’s one of the only community members who is educated and  knows how to keep records. Without her education, the male elders may have already let the system fall to dysfunction.

Regardless of the outcomes in these many different communities, it is still obvious that access to water is part of the commons and should remain accessible to the public without privatization. As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. from the Waterkeeper Alliance states in a CNN article on water justice, “the law of the commons is that whether you’re rich or poor, everybody has the right to the public trust asset. Nobody has the right to use it in a way that will diminish or injure its use and enjoyment by others.” Water privatization takes the rights away from the people and further decreases access to an already limited resource.


4 Responses to “Water: A Slippery Situation”

  1. jplange Says:

    Unfortunately, embezzlement is a common features in African communities so its no suprise that you have raised this issue in your blog. Unless Africans ( by this i mean ordinary Africans and prominent Africans alike) learn to uproot the tendency to abuse the trust, responbility and power given them, positive progress be it large scale or on small scale will remain an elusion.
    It amazes me how policies makers advocate for the privatization of commons. Privatization has one underlining objective which is profit making even it its to the detrement of others. It obviously takes away right of access from the grisp communities. This goes to explain that some of these policy makers have vested interest in some shape or form in the privatizing commons under their jurisdiction.

  2. Josephine Ihediwa Says:

    After reading your blog, I rang my uncle Alex in Nigeria and asked him about water commonning in my village. He said, decades ago in the Delta State area of Nigeria (formerly known as Bendel State), scarcity of water was considered poverty in most families because, as we know waters plays a big part in our day to day survival especially in villages where farming was the main occupation.

    In those days, villagers had to walk several kilometres to other village streams for water.This was the responsibility of women and the girl child. Women would take their younger ones with them so that they could bath them, do the laundry, wash the dishes and soak the cassava, later to be used to make Garri ( a popular casava meal) and on returning would fetch some water for drinking and other domestic uses .

    The stream water was clean as it is a constantly flowing source with waterfalls at some of them, but the journey although fun as there was a lot of chit chatting amongst the women and the children played as they journey with their mothers , sisters and grandmothers, it was not only a tedious one but a tiring one, the roads were hilly, slippery and the routes where in the forest which was not very safe for the girl child or woman who sometimes had to go alone to the stream usually in the evenings. There was also the issue of carrying water on their heads back to the village; a task which accomplished less than was expected especially when they had to climb the hills on their way back which sometimes made the calabash on their heads wobble spilling the precious content, in some cases the calabash fell and broke to pieces.

    Due to this and other problems which my uncle said he did not want to go into, the community decided to look for another means to get water. The usual town meeting was held , and it was decided that it was best to dig a public well so that when it rained, the well would serve as a reservoir for water. This was managed by the community so use was properly supervised. According to my uncle Alex, during one their ogbeobi (clan) meetings, they all agreed that the water in the well did not last as long as envisaged because the red soil typical of that area soaked it and it turned it muddy unlike the stream water which would come as clean and fresh. They then decided to cement and connect a bamboo pipe to the closest building roof into the well. This was a turning point in the lives of the people because they did not only get clean water, but it was stored for longer and easily accessible. This of course did not meet the demands of the community because of the size of families in those days and the fact that the stream was then a thing of the past after the introduction of the well as everyone got water from the well.

    He added that during another village meeting, the issue of water scarcity was discussed again and it was decided that members of the community who had land in their compounds for well, should volunteer the land so more wells could be dug but the wells remained the property of the land owner. He said there was community effort in digging and completing several wells in people’s compounds and this resulted in a better community water management system where families got water from the compound closest to them.

    This system has worked for decades and although there has been no government interference in terms of privatisation, it is the belief of the village heads that; any interference on the water system will not succeed because the villagers own their homes and the wells are either in front of the houses or in the middle of their backyards.

    I have grown to experience other shortages of resources like electricity, bad road, poor telecommunication and lack of employment opportunities all of which are within reach except for the bureaucrats who take the money from the government, promise to resolves these issues, but greed rear its head and they decided to keep the money to themselves. However, water remains a resource that is in abundant and shared within my community.

    Having said that, it is obvious that my village depends sorely on rain water for our water supply and according to Sawin, Janet L. (2003), the United Nations’ World Water Development Report released in March, up to 7 billion people in 60 countries–more than the whole present population of the world–will face water scarcity within the next half-century.. “Water scarcity could overwhelm the next generation.”.

  3. spessima Says:

    World Population passed 6 billion in 2000,up from 2.5 billion in 1950,and 4.4 billion in 1980.World Population is projected to grow to about 8 billion in 2025,to 9.3 billion in 2050 and eventually stabilize between 10.5 and 11 billion.The world will eventually need to feed,house and support about 5 billion additional people.This increased population,combined with higher standards of living,will pose enormous strains on land,water,energy and other natural resources(United Nations).The issue of water shortages and mismanagement is indeed a grave challenge faced by not only developing countries but also the developed countries .With reference to your article”Water :A slippery Situation” let us look at other causes to this grave problem.According to the International Water Management Institute(IWMI) in Battamulla.SriLanka,Agriculture is the biggest user of water ,making up 70-90% of the annual water demand for many countries.It is my belief that this will have to change,because global food production is going to have to double over the next 40 years to meet the needs of growing population.Farmers will have to increase production without using any more water than they do today.If all the water in a river is used by agriculture and industry,leaving nothing for the acquatic enviroment,fish and plants wont be able to survive and the river will die.
    Despite some progress in recent decades,over one billion people in developing countries do not have access to safe drinking water,and 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation facilities.The great majority of those people live in rural Asia and Africa.Improved access to safe water would also give more time particularly for children,but would also give more time and energy to women and girls-who bear most of the responsibilty for fetching water-for more productive purposes including education.In rural Asia ans Africa,women on average walk about 6km for water(WHO/UNICEF).
    Coming back to the Lolpulelei Women’s initiative, water is a common and an intrinsic functioning,but lets us reflect that developing countries such as Kenya,India,Ghana ect.have traditionally used surface -irrigation systems,which use gravity to distribute water over the soil surface.But these systems are no longer adequate,and farmers are now using up ground water supplies to irrigate their land.Governments are not regulating groudwater extraction properly,and the water tables in many regions are declining.Governments(including Kenya) need to introduce policies that allocate water to agriculture and industry,and that will enable them to reduce allocation when supplies become scarce or demand from other sectors(eg.Lolpulelei/Kenya) increases.
    Ten years after Rio,the united Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development was held in Johanessburg/South Africa(sept.2002),Kofi Annan(the then Secretary-General on the UN)identified five themes for particular attention at the summit:water,energy,health,agriculture and biodiversity.These are long -term development,involving complex interactions among economic,social and enviromental factors and involving different sectors,organisations(eg.Lolpulelei Women in Kenya) and disciplines.

  4. Josephine Says:

    A recent article (Bello, 2010) looks at water situation in Nigeria and he states that “water coverage in the country appears to be decreasing and deteriorating. This is a result of enormous socio-economic rate of development, which far outstrips the level of water supply development”
    He added that the lack of clean water and poor sanitation is a contributory factor in resultant disease burden, negative impact on human capital development and ultimately restriction on production. This resultant effect he says limits self-development of children from poor families who have no access to clean drinking water, stay home due to illness, and miss school. He added that, inadequate clean drinking water and sanitation services rob poor families of opportunities to comfortable life. Furthermore, he blames poor coordination, lack of clear policy direction, lack of focus in terms of the rural population with safe water and improved sanitation services as one of the reasons for high morbidity and mortality rate in Nigeria.

    I am inclined to agree with Bello on how lack of access to clean safe drinking water and poor sanitation can reduce individual and community development. Unfortunately, the government and policy makers act as if they are unaware of how the cycle of disease, lack of education and self-development can be the consequences of bad management of water.

    Since the beginning of this blog, I have read a bit on water and for me, one quote summarises the importance of water as a social and global sustainability factor.

    “Clean water changes lives. Girls return to school. Women begin small businesses. Men are no longer too sick to work. Fields are watered and food supply becomes more reliable. Health returns and children grow up to be productive members of their community. The cycle of poverty is broken. Lives change” (thewaterproject.org)

    Hopefully someday, the Nigeria government would act on the precept that “water is a means, not an end” (thewaterproject.org).

    Having said that, there is now a practice in my village for community members to boil the water from the wells before drinking. Although this may not be practised by everyone, the awareness of the benefits of boiling water before drinking is spreading at a slow but sure rate.

    Currently, I am putting together a clean water campaign with the help of the village elders, the priest and our mothers. This is a project that would ensure that awareness is sustained about the importance and benefits of boiling water for drinking. We are still in the early stages of the project but hope that by the end of the year, we would have completed it.

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