Burundi: Rainwater: storing a precious liquid (Syfia Grands Lacs)

| January 23, 2012

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A rainwater harvesting program launched two years ago in Burundi has made life easier for residents, and even tempted people to return to the area. Rosalie Nyambere and her family of five have benefitted. She says, “We have enough water for all our needs without walking for miles.”

Residents of Kirundo Province, in northeastern Burundi, had been facing a growing water shortage. The region has low rainfall and frequent droughts. Marcien Nzoia is a local community development officer. He says, “There are no water sources, no drinking water points, and people had to travel more than 15 kilometres in search of water.” Local resident Martha Kankindi adds, “Since we were very young, water has always cost us a lot, both in time and energy.”

The new program is called “Drinking water for all.” It has reforested bare land, and set up systems to collect water for household purposes and for farming.

The program was set up by the residents of Kirundo province, with the support of the state, and funding from a German aid organization, Welthungerhilfe. The residents received 45,000 Euros to develop systems for collecting rainwater.

According to a Welthungerhilfe representative, the program aims to collect rainwater, but also to encourage greater water infiltration in soils. This is why reforestation is an important component of the program. Reforestation helps to prevent runoff and soil erosion.

As residents benefit from the program, they are realizing the value of forested land and making efforts to protect it. Alphonse Marimbu is a local resident. He learned how to install plastic tanks to catch rainwater. He welcomes the tanks because he no longer has to carry water from distant sources. Also, the water quality is generally better than water from streams and creeks.

In the collection system, water from rooftops is piped into collection tanks. This works best with tiled roofs. Residents simply open a tap on the tank when they want water.

The tanks are easy to install, especially because residents bring stones and sand to help build them. A domestic tank costs about US $110, and stores between 500 and 1000 litres. Larger tanks for communities or schools are available, and hold up to 10,000 litres.

However, misconceptions have hindered the program’s expansion. Some believe that drinking rainwater leads to sterility. Another belief is that girls who drink rainwater will find it hard to find a husband. As part of the program, Welthungerhilfe tries to overcome these misconceptions. They recognize that people who have never lived with running water or sanitation lack basic knowledge of good hygiene practices.

Since 2000, many families have deserted the area because of drought and water supply problems. Through this program, people are gradually returning.

According to resident Martha Muhimbare, the tanks guarantee an independent water supply. Households do not need to depend on community or public suppliers. Her life is easier because the tank saves her time, money and energy.