Gravity Village Water Supply


By John La Roche

The 370 people of Gbewobu Village in the Kenema District of Sierra Leone are building their own gravity water supply with funds provided by New Zealand. Gbewobu is one of 15 gravity water supply schemes being supported by the British charity WaterAid, to provide desperately needed water supplies to 16,500 people. WaterAid has been working in the area since the late 1980's having completed 21 gravity schemes for a population if 45,000 people prior to the new program.

Sierra Leone in West Africa is a one of the world's poorest countries with an equivalent GNP per capita of US$210 (NZ US$12,350), with an under 5 child mortality rate of 249 /1000 (NZ 10/1000) where only 37% of the population have access to safe water.

During 1992 and again recently Sierra Leone has been wracked from incursions by rebel soldiers from Liberia causing many Sierra Leoneans to flee their homes. In one village threatened by rebel troops, the water supply caretaker, a volunteer, carefully removed all the taps and valves from the new gravity fed system and buried them in a safe place. Once the soldiers left he dug them up and restored the system to full working order. Although the situation had been relatively calm for the last 18 months fighting has occurred again in March when operations in the Kenema district had to be temporarily closed down. On Christmas Day the WaterAid Toyota truck was taken by 15 storm troopers and has not been seen again!

The village of Gbewobu a Water Committee was established to oversee the construction and long tern management of the scheme. The Community is responsible for;

* providing all necessary local materials used for construction (sand, stone, and time for water supply works; mud blocks and roofing materials for latrines);

 * feeding and lodging all technical and health education personnel working with the project;

* providing all unskilled labour necessary for the project's completion;

 * selecting from within the community two maintenance caretakers to work alongside the projects' health education staff and learn aspects of hygiene and sanitation education;

 * participating fully in integrated health education workshops;

 * establishing a tariff system for the regular collection of a maintenance fund and the payment of the maintenance caretakers.

The Sierra Leone Ministry of Energy and Power (MEP) Water Supply Division in partnership with WaterAid are responsible for the program implementation. The involvement of the community is considered to be a crucial feature in the success of the project, building on the strong traditional structure of Mende society.

Untreated gravity supply schemes are the preferred option in the area as they are simple, easy to maintain, lend themselves to a high degree of community participation. A small dam collects water from the stream at 70m elevation above the village. Water is piped through 770m of galvanized and MDPE pipe to a ferro-cement storage tank. Galvanized pipe is used in rocky areas, and where a trench can be dug, MDPE pipe is used. Distribution in the village is by a branch system with one tap for every 150 people which is approximately one for every 10 houses. The tap is usually less than 150 m from the consumer.

The sanitation program involves the provision of ventilated improved pit latrines (VIP). As part of the community commitment WaterAid requires a minimum of 30% of households to have duo latrine pits before construction of the dam is commenced. By 27 January all latrines had been completed.

Most of the trench line has been dug and the pipeline laid. WaterAid Resident Engineer Geoff Marks commented that the only problem with the Gbewobu community is that they work so fast that the installation team have difficulty keeping up! What can you say about a village which is pushing you?

Health education is of prime importance to the success of projects. The MEP/WaterAid traveling education and motivation campaign team visit all communities several times during the construction period. Two five day workshops have been conducted consisting of a series of entertainments and activities designed to encourage full community participation in construction and to improve water management and personal hygiene practices. Presentation techniques include stories, drama, songs, puppet plays, visual aid boards and drawing on the local culture , a roving WaterAid "spirit devil"!

Geoff and his NZ born partner Judy will complete their contract with WaterAid in August and will return to Christchurch to be married.

The Gbewobu project is being supported with funds raised by Wellington Regional Council staff and people from the Wellington region who have contributed to Water for Survival. You are invited to join Water for Survival and contribute to this or other similar projects throughout the developing world by contacting John La Roche, Phone and fax 09-5289-759 or by writing to P O Box 6208, Wellesley Street Auckland.


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