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Giving the water of life

ICE news - Engineering has a crucial role to play in poverty alleviation - and it must continue to do so.

IMAGINE WALKING 14km to fetch water every day. Imagine that the source of water is a crocodile-infested lake and that every step risks your life. And, of course, the water is dirty.

Now imagine that this person is a seven year old who must fetch water every day instead of playing or going to school. She collects the water because she is the only person in the family healthy enough to make the journey - her mother and father are dying from AIDS.

Just think what a clean and reliable water supply could do.

Last month, these images came to life for ICE president Colin Clinton in a rural village in Kenya during a visit by the ICE Commission Engineering Without Frontiers. With Clinton were EWF chairman Paul Jowitt, disaster relief charity RedR chief executive Bobby Lambert, ICE director general Tom Foulkes and NCEI.

The EWF's mission is to see how engineering can help achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

These 'Engineering principles for development and poverty reduction' look simple on paper (see box), but the real test is in the fi eld - can engineering really pull Africa out of poverty?

Transformation of the villages of Mbondoni and Ndunguni in the diocese of Embu 150km north east of Nairobi were proof that it can. Until last year the villagers had to travel 7km to collect dirty water.

They now have three clean and reliable sources of water.

In Mbondoni a water pump and an earth dammed artificial lake were provided by American aid charity Catholic Relief Services (CRS), with the $1,370 and $88,700 cost of each coming from US Agency for International Development.

CRS has operated in Kenya since 1963 and usually works with established church communities as this provides an easy way of understanding the issues on the ground.

Choosing which village gets aid often depends on who shouts loudest. The feeling is that communities who express the need for clean water are also most likely to maintain the supply.

Mbondoni's appeal to diocese leaders in 2000 won the attention of CRS who also funded design work by Kenya's water ministry.

Construction of the 80m deep borehole for the pump was carried out by a local contractor between January 2003 and September 2004. Most of the local workforce have jobs in the city.

As well as receiving external help through cash loans, part of the deal was that the community appoint a committee to manage the water supply project as a long term business. Nine men and women of different ages were trained to take on the roles of chairman, treasurer, sales manager, and operation and maintenance caretakers.

Each household pays 100 Kenyan shillings (KSH) - about a day's wages or $1.40 - to buy into the water project and then KSH20 a month for as much water as they want. Non-members can use the pump, but pay KSH2 (about 2ó) for 20 litres.

The money raised pays for the pump to be maintained and for water quality tests. The pump now serves 50 households and the last quality checks in December showed the water could be drunk without boiling.

Empowering the community to manage and operate the supply and teaching them the importance of hygiene is a bigger challenge than construction.

'It takes a lot longer to enforce sanitation, but we won't build the pump until the community understands the importance of hygiene, ' says CRS east Africa senior technical advisor Dr Carmela Green Abate.

ocial worker Millicent Wawira works with the Mbondoni people. She began hygiene training two years before the pump came on line.

The pump has been so successful the community hopes to build a second borehole.

'We are very happy. Now our children can go to school and don't have to go down to the lake, ' says Rose Martungi, vice chair of the Mbondoni community based organisation. The new pump is located near the school, so children can carry water back after classes.

An earth dammed lake was also completed last year and now supplies water to 100 households. It took two years to build as it could only be dug during the dry season. Water collects in the pond during the rainy season (March to June and October to November) and passes through a sand filterbed before reaching the tap.

Villagers can sign up to using either the borehole or lake water supply on the same terms.

Water from the earth dam lake is also used for irrigation and, for the fi rst time, the villagers of Mbondoni can grow crops. Dominic Mutuku was chosen by the community to be trained in cultivation and the plan is to grow mangoes around the lake.

'I teach the community to choose good mango seeds which I will grow. When they are about a foot tall I will graft the seedlings and share them among us, ' he says excitedly, adding in a whisper that he can see a whole forest growing around the dam in the future.

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