Success and opportunity in the Sovu water pipeline project

In the small village of Sovu, in Northwest Rwanda, there is a high mortality rate due to a lack of clean water for drinking and sanitation. The sole water pipeline has long been in disrepair, so women and children often must travel far distances daily to fetch water. Families also rely on springs and surface water, which can be contaminated. “People rarely live to become older than 50 years of age,” explains EWB Netherlands engineer Alfred Mutsaars. “And, most children do not even survive to age four.”

Since last year, the Engineers without Borders Water4Sovu team has been working with local partners to improve access to clean water and sanitation in the region. The team first conducted a feasibility study. Then, they concluded that the project should initially focus on repairing the existing 12 kilometer water pipeline.

Last summer, Alfred Mutsaars and fellow EWB-NL volunteer Anna Goense travelled to Sovu to meet with the Sovu water committee and local government leaders. They also collaborated with area Roman Catholic priests, who own the water pipeline.

Two children next to a stream of water and green grass

“We explained that EWB wants to put in place a sustainable ownership. This means that they have to empower their local village people to take responsibility for the water fetching points and implement a robust fee collection system.”

Together the organisations and EWB-NL engineers began to form a plan for reliable clean water access in the area.

A real game-changer

When Alfred and Anna returned to Sovu in February 2019, they say progress was already noticeable. Locals had installed water meters at tapping points along the pipeline and developed a system for collecting a fee for each 20 liter jerrycan that is filled from the tap. A local family typically uses 40 liters of water per day.

“This is a real game changer because now not only do locals have reliable water, for the first time they even want to pay for it,” says Alfred.

Water pipes with a meter

But, there were still challenges to overcome. The local plumbers didn’t have good materials to repair the leaky pipeline because the necessary plumbing glue can only be purchased in the capital city of Kigali- a five hour drive from rural Sovu.

Alfred and Anna brought the glue with them along with PVC pipes better suited for the local water pressure. Then, they got to work. They assisted local plumbers in changing out damaged pipes and applying the glue.