Money for Water, Water for Money REMIX
A microfinance loan program that combines soft loans for both water development and income generation could provide a model of sustainable water supply expansion and improvement for much of rural SSA.
Rural Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from the lowest rate of access to improved water resources in the world (less than 45%). Coincidentally, poverty rates are among the highest in the world, with the vast majority of the population earning an income from small-scale agriculture. With the vast health improvements associated with improved water sources coupled with the income-generating potential of increased access to water, these two challenges can be met simultaneously through strategic water resources development and improvement initiatives throughout the region.
Figure 1: Program Overview
1) The first component of this initiative is to develop a structured microfinance framework that allows household groups or entire communities to borrow a soft loan for their own water resources development. The loan itself should be offered on a voluntary basis to those who are willing to meet its requirements: full cost recovery in 3 years.
2) The second component of this initiative is to promote through community awareness campaigns specific low-cost water development approaches. These technologies include:
A) Low-cost drilling approaches.
The "Baptist" drilling approach developed by Terry Waller of Water for All, International (), is a very practical, low-cost approach for drilling wells that can be profitably made for less than $1,000.
Photo: The “Baptist” drilling method developed by Water for All, International. Here it is being used by a team of local drillers in Samfya, Zambia.
Hand-augering approaches also allow low-cost development of wells at a fraction of the cost of conventional drilling rigs,
Photo: Hand-augering technique- in coordination with IDE-Zambia outside of the capital, Lusaka.
B) Low-cost pumping approaches.
The rope and washer pump, developed by, among others, International Development Enterprises (IDE) Zambia, is a low-cost, simple pump that operates with a wheel that guides a rope fitted with knots or “washers” that ascend through a column and carry water up as the wheel turns.
Photo: Rope and Washer pump developed by IDE and in use in Zambia.
The Access2 pump, developed by Water4 Foundation (www.water4.org) is a simple PVC-based pump designed to be a low cost, effective alternative to standard hand-pumping approaches. It is sold for $18 and pumps roughly 10 Liters / minute from depths of 20 meters or more.
Photo: The Access2 pump working after installation on a 24-meter borehole in Samfya, Zambia.
The Treadle Pump operates on both suction and pressure and is able to lift water from a depth of up to 7 meters and push it another 7-10 meters high. It is operated by moving one’s legs up and down in a treadling motion, which causes less exhaustion than hand-pumps. It is also able to pump larger volumes and is applicable especially for small-scale irrigation. They are also manufactured in coordination with IDE-Zambia and are locally available.
Photo: The Treadle Pump, in a workshop in Lusaka where it was being modified for use in Zambia.
C) Low-cost treatment approaches
BioSand Filtration is a simple, low-cost approach to household water treatment especially relevant for rural, resource poor areas. It consists of a simple concrete housing into which is placed varying grades of sand. This column of sand creates a natural filtering system that is able to reduce levels of fecal contamination to potable levels. Since the materials are locally available, this is a very feasible technology for rural SSA.
Photo: This housing for a BioSand Filter was poured near Ndola, Zambia by a local non-profit organization, SHIP. It can be made locally or bought for $65.
Such appropriate, low-cost technologies could be offered first as pilots (though at full cost) to determine the market feasibility among the vast majority of SSA's rural population that already fits the market niche of a small-scale farmer. This would not require more than one or two pilot sites in which the community is made aware of the technology to make an informed choice for their own water resources development.
3) The third component of this initiative is the promotion of additonal income from the newly developed water supply. Especially among small-scale farmers, the marginal returns on water supply for activities such as irrigation of cash crops or other small-scale enterprises are tremendous. Previous studies have demonstrated that farmers can pay for drip irrigation kits, for example, in several growing seasons with the additional benefit, of course, of having a supplemental income.
Photo: Dr. Elijah Phiri, head of the Agriculture Department of the University of Zambia in Lusaka, demonstrates low cost drip irrigation’s potential for income generation for small-scale farmers.
4) The fourth component of this initiative is actually a combination of the first three. By offering a micro-loan to households or communities interested in improving their water supply, income-generating activities together with low-cost water resources development or improvement can provide a model for full cost recovery of investments (and thus economic sustainability). This "package" approach would address several key challenges to rural SSA's economic development.
To actually implement this plan would require a pilot study to determine the economic feasibility of certain keystone technologies for both water development and income generation as well as the performance of full cost recovery. Once these are tested in several rural contexts with various water development characteristics, larger policy implications could be determined and adjusted for large-scale implementation. This would require a government-backed micro-loan program with the resources and cooperation of ministries of agriculture and water resources. As the model would be financially robust, income generated from ongoing projects would be recovered and used toward furthering water development goals.
The pilot study will be conducted in a rural setting 57 km north of Livingstone, Zambia in a village named Simango. This setting has been identified as a fitting location for this project due to the fact that it shares many characteristics with rural Sub-Saharan Africa at large. Recent surveys conducted in December, 2009 indicate that roughly one third of the population suffers from recurring health problems due to contaminated water sources, and over 98% would participate in such a proposed loan program at some level. The vast majority earn income from farming activities from the main staple crop in the region, maize meal or “Nshima,” leaving many of them with many hours of free time in the long dry season to participate in off-season gardening, if water and other inputs were available.
An important element of this holistic microfinance model is the market support necessary for rural products to be sold profitably. This support is to be arranged through the loan program itself. Since a major obstacle to market access in rural SSA is the scale of produce against the costs of transport, an important benefit to this approach is the eventual scaling up of the program to ensure a profitable market, even at export levels. This could easily be arranged through the same mechanism of government cooperation. In fact, repayment of loans could be in the form of marketable produce at a fair price, thus ensuring a market for the rural population at least in the short run after which the natural growth and stability of the market could expand to benefit their long-term economic development.
This and other challenges will be addressed in Simango starting in January, 2011 in partnership with a doctoral research program at the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.
Limited funding has already been secured and additional funding will be used toward diversifying the range of technological approaches and the number of replications investigated.
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