3 Minute Stories

3 Minute Stories

on individuals, initiatives & institutions

Africans are drinking polluted water; here’s a great approach to solve this problem.

Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have a peculiar problem. The ground-water in many places is contaminated and yet many, especially those from the poor settlements depend upon it for their daily needs (drinking, washing, bathing etc.).

Drinking polluted groundwater without adequate treatment regularly leads to outbreaks of contagious diseases - typhoid for example.

There are several reasons for dependency on ground-water, in spite of it’s contamination:

  1. some don’t have access to treated piped water supply;
  2. others who do have access, don’t receive the treated water on time / consistently;
  3. many can’t afford the treated piped water (ground-water in many areas does not require any monetary expense);
  4. and then there are others who don’t believe that the treated water is any better than the ground-water they consume.

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Health issues apart, dependency on ground-water creates other concerns too. In many areas, ground-water simply dries up in the hot months. Secondly, as population of these low income settlements is on a rapid rise, there is a direct risk to the availability of ground-water source itself!

This is a complicated problem and no one has been able to resolve it so far. I visited Kampala in Uganda to shoot this 3 minute video story which documents how a group of academicians and researchers from few European and African countries are now trying to tackle the issue of safe and sustainable ground-water management. They plan to implement an approach called Transition Management – and the four year long Project has just started (in Uganda, Ghana and Tanzania). Transition Management is an established social learning protocol but never been tried in Sub-Saharan Africa or for ground-water management.

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What these academicians have realized is that, a complex problem like this cannot be solved by them alone. So once they have collected all the relevant data around ground-water (how much of it is there, what kind of pollution actually exists in these water sources, what is the economics of using this water etc.), they plan to share the information with the residents of these low income settlements themselves, in the hope that, in spite of their relatively poor living conditions, these folks still have the ingenuity to solve this problem that they are predominately a part of.

This approach (Transition Management) is in total contrast with the the typical approach of solving such complex problems where a group of learned folks (consultants or academicians or government bodies) try to bring about a change by imposing a solution that they think is best. Thus, this attempt by these academicians is worth documenting. Would they eventually succeed in bringing out a change in which the poor urban community consumes ground-water? Only time will tell (four years to be exact). But I really hope they do!

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Once all the data has been collected, the academicians also plan to rope in any other entity (a government body or an NGO) that can be part of the solution seeking team, called the Learning Alliance (along with themselves and the poor community members). The idea is that once all the members of the Learning Alliance have the required data and information, they can learn from each other and together envision how the future for ground-water management should look like. And then, as one group, they shall be able to come up with Transition Pathways to work towards the shared vision. The academicians will help setup Transition Experiments (that will be redefined as times goes by) till the vision is finally achieved. All this may sound technical, but well, that’s the reason why this initiative is being driven by academicians in the first place!

You can follow the work by these academicians on http://t-group.science/

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Documentary and text by Amrit Vatsa

Pictures by Mahesh Shantaram

Acknowledgements:

  • Dr. Foppen from UNESCO-IHE for commissioning this assignment, and working with me to finalize the story (both before and after the shoot).
  • Dr. Robinah and Dr. Philip of Makerere University, Kampala, for being great hosts and taking us around to the low income settlements
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