By Molly Powers
When the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) was first launched in Ruhiira, Uganda, in 2006, community members identified their most pressing problem as lack of access to water. Nearly all 6,500 residents of the mountainous parish of Ruhiira live on hilltops, and most water sources are deep in the valleys. The daily task of fetching water largely falls to women and children, who often travel more than two kilometers to fill their 20-liter containers. “It is so difficult for women—especially pregnant women and those with children—fetching water while carrying their babies uphill,” notes Tweheyo Justus, the local council chairman of Kakoni, a sub-parish of Ruhiira.
Safe water coverage has increased from 7 percent to 45 percent since 2006, largely due to the protection of 12 springs and the provision of nine shallow wells throughout the Ruhiira cluster. This figure will improve significantly in the next few months, however, when the MVP makes history in Ruhiira with the installation of a pumped water distribution system. From protected springs in Kakoni, treated water will be pumped to a central holding tank in Ruhiira trading center. Gravity will do the rest of the work, delivering water to 40 tap stands along three distribution lines.
Robert Ayesiga, the infrastructure coordinator for the Ruhiira Project, estimates that upon completion of the first phase in August, the system will be capable of providing 115,000 liters per day. This number will triple in the second phase of the project when another spring source in Kanyerere is connected to the system.
Access to this volume of water is unheard of in Ruhiira, where the average family of five gets by on 40 liters per day. In Uganda, such water delivery systems are usually only found in urban and peri-urban areas. This ambitious project also marks an infrastructural first for the 14 Millennium Villages throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.
Women and families stand to benefit most from this change, not only because they will be relieved of hours of backbreaking labor, but because the availability of improved quality and quantity of water is associated with improved health, hygiene and sanitation outcomes. Less time spent fetching water also means more time available for other activities, including possible adult education or enterprise programs that are offered and promoted by the MVP.
Due to the continuing costs associated with maintenance and energy, the Ruhiira Water Supply will be a paid service. Schools, businesses, health centers or private homes may request a private metered tap, and community members understand that they will pay at the tap stand for each jerry can filled. According to a 2009 survey carried out by Technology Consultants Ltd., more than 50 percent of Ruhiira residents already pay 1000 UGS per jerry can for water during the dry months. The pumped system promises to reduce these costs, improve water quality and provide revenue that will be used for system maintenance and community improvements.
The Ruhiira Community Water Supply Project was officially commissioned on July 16th by Flavia Munaaba. the honorable minister of water and environment; Jeffrey Sachs; and Walter Wang, CEO of JM Eagle, who generously donated 100 kilometers of pipe for this water system and other planned water projects in the cluster.
Hundreds of community members gathered to see the ceremonial water flow from the taps at Mururama trading center, to dance and to celebrate the arrival of water to the highlands. If only the guests of honor could have seen the faces of women and children a day earlier, when water was test pumped to the Ruhiira holding tank for the first time. Community members came running with jerry cans, buckets, pots and pans—laughing and shouting with joy, eyes wide and disbelieving at the miraculous arrival of piped water. For the first day in Ruhiira’s history, they would not make the trek down the hill for water. Instead, the water came to them.