Rainwater collection tanks were the first project implemented by Village Health Project. Through the Wisconsin Idea Fellowship granted to us by the Morgridge Center for Public Service, we have constructed sixteen water collection tanks in the Lyantonde district in Uganda. The tanks provide a sanitary container to store fresh rainwater for the village members to use during the dry season.
Since its foundation (2005), VHP has focused on fundraising for rainwater collection tanks to increase the access to clean water and to educate the community on water and sanitation. The tanks are built adjacent to a building so that rainwater that falls onto the roof will be collected via gutters into the tanks. The tanks can store the rainwater to reduce further contamination and serve as a reliable source during drier periods. The
technology for building the tanks has come from a partner organization, Technology For Tomorrow (T4T), headed by Dr. Musaazi and his son, Paul Kimera. While T4T provides the technical expertise, CoBIN selects homes in the village that would be willing to raise half of the tank cost and share the water with the surrounding neighbors. VHP pays CoBIN for the full cost of each tank (approximately U.S. $1,000 dollars) and CoBIN keeps the half collected from the community for other project costs. The cost sharing of a tank is to promote ownership of the tank and to provide financial incentive for CoBIN to direct and manage the project.
The Makerere University Institute of Public Health (MUIPH), located in the capitol city of Kampala, Uganda, has been an integral component in helping us to design a cost effective, easy to use, low maintenance solution to the problem of clean water. Dr. John Kakitahi, former diretor of MUIPH and current professor at Makerere University, has helped guide us through this process and has served as our key contact partner in Uganda. Due to the public health research at MUIPH, and with Dr. Kakitahi’s help, we know that constructing rainwater collection tanks is the wisest first step in tackling this problem. To date, we have helped to build 16 water tanks in the rural areas of Uganda. The need for water tanks is still great and we continually look for support and funding.
The Need For Water Tanks
Most of the families that we work with gain their income from livestock farming and cultivation. As a consequence, the families must use their current water source for both themselves and their livestock. Most water sources previous to tank implementation are typically stagnant pools of water. An obvious problem results during the dry season when most of the water in these sources dries up and leaves the family with little water to work with. Also, because of its close proximity to the livestock, it is easy for the waste from the cows to seep into the water source, further contaminating it. As this is the only source nearby, however, the families have no other options for clean water.
Design and Construction of the Tanks
The rainwater collection tanks were designed by Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi, senior lecturer and engineer at Makerere Universtiy, with the help of his son, Paul Kimera. They designed and engineered an interlocking brick system that forms a solid, circular, water-tight structure made entirely out of materials found native to Uganda. Paul and his construction team make the bricks with a mixture of compacted sand, dirt, water, and cement, and allow them to dry and solidify before constructing the actual tank. Then, the bricks are placed together in Paul’s interlocking fashion and surrounded by wire mesh and cement to strenthen the structure.
Evaluation of Tanks
In the 2011 VHP/CoBIN evaluation we tested the water quality in seven of the thirteen tanks, and interviewed the owner (or someone else available that uses the water in the tank) for nine of the tanks. The nine tanks that we assessed serve 339 people, which includes 43 households and one school. This includes the number of people in the household where each tank is built plus the number of neighbors that share the water (those who live within walking distance). Seven out of the nine tank owners stated that they use the water in the tank for drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning. One said they do not use it for cleaning, and another (the tank in Biwolobo village that serves the most people) said they only use it for drinking. Seven of the nine tank owners also indicated that they boil the tank water before drinking and then store the boiled water in a container separate from water for other purposes.
Using a Portable Microbiology Laboratory (PML), water from different types of sources in the Lyantonde and Kiruhura Districts were tested for E. coli and fecal coliform contamination. The results were then categorized according to risk levels associated with drinking set by the World Health Organization (see graph below). Nine out of nine tank recipients surveyed (100%) indicated that the tank has made a difference in the daily activities of the household/school (eight of these tanks were built at a homestead and one at a primary school). When asked, “How has the tank made a difference?” one participant responded, “Availability of clean water has been a great experience, Rurambira [name of village] is a dry area so this tank has been a great help in providing rainwater”. When asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your experience with the tank?” another person replied, “[I’m] very grateful for having clean water; I feel comfortable because I don’t have to send for water all the time from the dam which is dirty; I don’t get sick due to dirty water”.
Having a VHP tank minimizes the burden of walking to and from the nearest water source to collect water. On average, having a VHP tank saved households 3.4 daily trips to the water source [When the tanks are dry or near dry, seven different families reported fetching water 31 times/day total (anywhere from 1-8 times/day per family). When there is water in the tanks, these same seven families reported fetching water 7 times/day total (anywhere from 0-2 times/day per family)]. Three different homes that have VHP tanks said that it takes them about an hour to walk to fetch water and come back. Using these results together, having a VHP tanks frees up 3-4 hours/day for a family that used to be spend this time fetching water (at least during the rainy season). Since it is mostly older women and children that collect water, this frees up time for other activities such as farming, cooking, or for kids to be kids!