Success and opportunity in the Sovu water pipeline project

March 18, 2019
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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.

Small children collect water in Sovu, Rwanda

“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.

A water pump with meter in Sovu, Rwanda

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.

“These biggest repairs really helped so that the water source is now even more reliable during the day with highest through point from the source to the lowest places in last rural village,” Alfred explains.

New opportunity for school children

Access to clean water hasn’t just improved home life in Sovu. Alfred says local medical facilities and schools are also benefiting.

“We revisited many secondary and primary schools in this rural environment along the pipeline, which all now finally have reliable access to drinking water via a few outside located taps. The principals of these schools were already very happy for their students.”

The new access to clean water also has also created a learning opportunity for local children. Most people in the rural area have never had access to sanitation, such as a flushing toilet. Many have never had soap. Alfred and Anna talked with school leaders about the importance of setting up a WASH programme and educating children about sanitation and good hygiene practices.

Simplicity and sustainability

Alfred explains that the greatest value that Engineers without Borders Netherlands brings to their Sovu partners isn’t high-level engineering. In fact, the solutions for fixing the pipeline and providing reliable water access were very simple.

The greatest success of this project to date is that the old existing 12 kilometer pipeline is now repaired,” says Alfred. “It’s maintained now by trained local plumbers who are paid by part of the collected fee of the drinking water used and paid per jerrycans by the locals taken from the taps in the rural villages.”

Just as in every Engineers without Borders Netherlands project, it is important that the local community can take ownership of the solution. This is integral to the sustainability of the project. That’s why Alfred says assisting in the implementation of a WASH programme is a key next step in helping Sovu.

“Even the teachers at primary school are not fully informed how to set-up such a programme step by step. However, once it is established, the whole project could be easily replicated in additional rural parts of Rwanda or other third-world countries.”

Would you like to help the Water4Sovu team achieve the goal of clean water and sanitation for all the of the local families? Your donation will help with travel expenses and the costs of developing a WASH programme that is sustainable and can be adapted in other rural areas.

Click here to see more photos of Anna and Alfred’s recent trip to Sovu.

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