World Water Day: How we're solving the water crisis
How Made With Hope are using rainwater harvesting to tackle water problems in rural Tanzania
By Ollie Chow
A lack of access to clean, safe drinking water is a problem that affects many populations across the world. However, the water situation in Tanzania poses a unique challenge, especially to people living in rural communities. In this blog, I’ll be writing about how Made With Hope are using rainwater harvesting to provide clean, safe drinking water to 1,086 children in rural Tanzania.
Insufficient, irregular and dirty - the Tanzanian water problem
All over the world, people are working to improve access to clean, safe drinking water. Whilst many countries still have issues with this, the situation is generally worse in less economically developed countries. Tanzania is no exception: only 50% of Tanzania’s population of 53 million people have access to an improved source of safe water, with only 34% having access to improved sanitation.
Groundwater is the main water source for most of the population but the supply is irregular, the water isn’t always clean and there aren’t enough water points, even in urban areas. In rural areas, the situation is even worse: access to water has not increased in the last 10 years; in fact, it decreased from 55% in 2014 to 46% in 2016. People have to travel long distances to collect water that is dirty because many groundwater wells are full of contaminants from nearby toxic drainage systems. Surface water is another water source, although this also has high amounts of bacteria and human waste.
The above findings are supported by our in-country partner, CHETI NGO. They told us that Tanzanian tap water is not safe for drinking and must be boiled or chemically-treated to kill germs in the water. In addition, the country’s economic problems mean that the government are not devoting enough time to providing clean, safe drinking water to the population.
What are the consequences of a lack of clean, safe drinking water?
When we decided to take action over the water situation, we asked CHETI NGO to share some information about the water problem. They told us that more than 60% of Tanzanians do not have access to clean, safe water. This causes many people to spend a lot of time retrieving water rather than working a job or looking after their families.
The consumption of dirty water causes illnesses, with many people suffering from stomach diseases, cholera, diarrhoea and amoebic dysentery. This leads to a huge number of school absences resulting in poor academic performance. Globally, illnesses due to contaminated water are responsible for the loss of over 443 million school days each year. In Tanzania, 3,394 children under the age of 5 years old die from diarrhoea every year whilst, in schools, there aren’t enough toilets and water points to support the increasing number of children.
Why is the issue so complicated in Nadasoito?
At Made With Hope, our operations are focused in a rural area called Nadasoito, situated about 10 km outside Arusha in Northwestern Tanzania. Here, there is no nearby water supply. As a result, we purchased a tractor in 2016 to transport clean groundwater from Arusha to Nadasoito. Until November 2018, our tractor made this journey every 5 days and supplied enough water for students and teachers to use for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Whilst the tractor enabled us to provide clean drinking water in Nadasoito, it brought our attention to another problem: the high levels of fluoride in the groundwater near Arusha. This is thought to be caused by Tanzania’s location in the Rift Valley in Sub-Saharan Africa, with historical volcanic activity meaning fluoride occurs naturally in the groundwater.
Most of us consume a bit of fluoride in our water and a controlled amount can help prevent tooth decay. However, the fluoride levels of the groundwater in Arusha are exceptionally high, with concentrations ranging between 5 and 30 mg/L. This far exceeds the guidelines set by the Tanzanian government (4 mg/L) as well as the World Health Organisation (1.5 mg/L). In fact, Arusha has the highest concentration of fluoride in its water bodies in the whole of Tanzania, with the water we import containing up to 7.6 mg/L.
The consumption of fluoride-heavy water has negative effects on people’s health. The most common consequence is dental fluorosis, which involves the weakening and discolouration of the teeth. In Nadasoito, a lot of the children rarely smile or laugh due to their embarrassment of having brown teeth. In addition, it weakens the bones and increases the risk of osteoarthritis later in life, as well as affecting bone development. Some studies have even shown there to be detrimental effects on the brain.
To strengthen our case for taking action, CHETI NGO and we also felt that the tractor was neither economically nor environmentally sustainable. The tractor was being used every five days, which was costly in terms of time (three hours per trip), money (£12 for fuel and £17 for the driver’s wages every week) and the environment (2 tonnes of CO2 every year). Therefore, we decided to come up with a solution to provide low-fluoride water at a reduced financial and environmental cost.
The solution - rainwater harvesting
In 2018, we began developing a project that we believed would solve the fluoride problem. We felt we could take advantage of Arusha’s long rainy season, which lasts from November to April, to harvest rainwater in Nadasoito (rainwater is naturally low in fluoride). This would both increase the amount of clean, low-fluoride drinking water available and reduce the costs of transporting high-fluoride groundwater from Arusha.
In November 2018, we launched our pilot project by purchasing two 5,000 L water storage tanks and installing the necessary pipework and guttering onto our secondary school. We began collecting rainwater straight away and saw a significant impact within a month of the project’s inception. The tractor had made just two trips to collect groundwater over a period of 34 days, meaning we reduced the number of trips we took by 70%. This could save us around £2,000 and 1.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.
Whilst we would love to employ a completely carbon-neutral system, Arusha’s climate dictates that this may not always be possible. Outside of the rainy seasons, the weather is extremely dry and rainfall is very rare. Therefore, it is possible that we may not collect enough rainwater to be self-sustaining during the periods of drought. As a result, we are open to using the tractor on the occasions when it is necessary. Nonetheless, we will still reduce our operational costs and environmental impact whilst providing a large supply of low-fluoride water to over 1,000 beneficiaries in rural Tanzania.
Plans for expansion
As of March 2018, we are in the process of applying for grants and designing fundraising campaigns to generate the money needed to expand our rainwater harvesting project. We hope that installing rainwater harvesting infrastructure on all of our buildings will enable us to self-sustain and rely less on importing groundwater. Overall, it will have a positive impact on the health of people, particularly schoolchildren, as well as saving us money to spend on other projects and reducing our environmental impact.
According to the United Nations, the rainfall in Tanzania is more than adequate to meet the needs of the current population several times over. One 5,000 L rainwater harvesting tank costs just £250.