Rainwater harvesting aids tsunami-hit Sri Lankan villages
TWO years after the Asian tsunami, as the images of devastation fade off from global public memory, the disaster persists for villages along the coastline of Sri Lanka's Southern Province. Survivors here have new houses, boats, fishing nets and roads, but face a severe scarcity of drinking water. Unlike flooded areas in the eastern coast of Sri Lanka or Tamil Nadu in India, groundwater in this region remains highly saline and unfit for drinking (see box Salt of the sea). Traditionally, all along the coastline, people have always depended on dugwells for their water requirements. The National Water Supply and Drainage Board started supplying water to affected people using tankers, but it turned out to be an unsustainable practice. "I pumped out the saline water from my well, initially hoping to get fresh water. But it did not help. So, I abandoned my well," said Suwanaries W B of Palana village in Weligama.
lrhf builds the systems, also spending on skilled labour and material. A 5,000 litres tank costs 25,000 Sri Lankan Rupees (us$250); the 8,000 litre ones cost 33,000 Sri Lankan Rupees (us$330). unicef provides money to make the system; expenditure on administration and capacity building is funded by Malteser International, a German donor ngo. The management process is participatory in nature. Every household wanting a system must agree to supply all unskilled labour and a future committment on operation and maintenance.
It was an uphill task to convince villagers to accept the system as a clean and safe drinking water option, one achieved through numerous awareness meetings. After such a meeting, forum workers would conduct a household survey, followed by a village level meeting where households formally consented, also promising unskilled labour, land for the tank and future maintenance. Interestingly, most of the meetings were, and still are, attended by only women.
They play a major role in the decision to install systems. As Nuwan, co-ordinator of the forum, pointed out, "Women decide because they are the ones who actually walk long distances to organise and carry water. They also have to cook food for the family." A great innovation has been local 'capacity building'. lrhf held multiple workshops for local masons to learn to build the system. The process has generated 20 skilled local masons, making the programme independent of 'imported' labour.
The eastward march of installing rainwater harvesting system has reached Palana village in Matara district, where most wells are abandoned and the few still there are used only for bathing. The owner of the 686th system, E D Ranmali, happily poses with her daughter in front of her new acquisition. "Everyday I walk for 20 minutes each way to get drinking water," she says.
It was an irony that she moved to her new house after staying in a temporary relief camp, but has to go there everyday to access tanker water, supplied only to the camp. "This will stop that," she says with happy finality. She has to only wait for a few more days as the tank needs to be flushed thrice before using water for drinking.
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