Education spin-off from Indian RWH

As Delhi hosts national Mass Awareness Week on Rainwater Harvesting for India (see News), Dr Rolf Leutert, president of the philanthropic Bicentenary Foundation at Georg Fischer AG, explains how RWH projects are not only improving clean water provision in some villages but improving literacy rates among women and children.

In India, as in other countries, planners and engineers now generally prefer to exploit groundwater by installing hand pumps. Where this is not possible their second choice is to pipe water from sources many miles away.

The practice of rainwater harvesting (RWH), collecting water where it falls, is an ancient tradition, undertaken for many generations and still found all over the world. Swiss manufacturer Georg Fischer (GF), in partnership with the Barefoot College in India, and its leader Bunker Roy, is supporting a number of projects aimed at re-establishing old RWH structures in Rajastan and in the Himalayan state of Sikkim.

The main focus of the projects is to upgrade tanks; by increasing tank size and volume, more water can be collected. Where 200L is already being collected, the potential is for 20,000L. For a mere $5000, tanks and piping systems for the collection of up to 100,000L are being installed in India.

The collection area, usually the roof of a building, is cleansed annually, before the monsoon rains arrive, and the greater the water collection area, the greater the amount of water needing storage. In addition, pipes to transport the water from the collecting surfaces to the tanks and reservoirs are needed.

The water stored in the tanks can be used during the dry season and in the best-case scenario, the supply is sufficient to sustain the community year round, without the expense of water delivery by carrier.

RWH at school

In India, women and children are usually responsible for fetching the family’s daily water supply. Women and children living in remote areas frequently have restricted access to primary education and are, therefore, often illiterate.

By using the schoolhouse roof of the Government Primary School in the village of Hathan Cheda in Rajastan to collect rainwater, for example, the essential occupation of water collection was combined with the highly desirable objective of educating children. It has been proven that in areas with RWH incorporated into school roofs, the indirect benefit of greatly improved literacy has been achieved.

Selection and monitoring

All the projects chosen by GF are closely monitored and checked against certain project criteria:

· The agency undertaking the
project must have experience
of water projects and neces-
sary cultural understanding.

· Projects have to be of a
reasonable size, in the region
of US$100,000 each.

· The primary purpose of all pro-
jects must be one or more of the
following: ensuring survival,
improving health, preventing
migration, disaster recovery or
training and education.

· Social compatibility and
local political involvement
are crucial.

· Local resources such as
material and labour must be
utilized, abiding by local
terms and conditions.

· Projects must be sustainable
using simple technology so
that the local community
can undertake maintenance.

Clean Water Projects: a history

In 2002 Georg Fischer shareholders voted unanimously to forgo a bicentenary dividend of one Swiss franc per share, in order to fund the creation of a philanthropic foundation, with the focus on ‘clean water’. The object is to use the ¬2.58 million fund to help as many people as possible, throughout the world.

GF works exclusively with experienced aid organisations such as Swissaid, Mass Education, Helvetas, Die Wüste Lebt and Vivas Major, who select, monitor and assist the project on the ground. This ensures that the financial resources made available bring the maximum benefit and have a lasting effect.

Currently, 44 projects in more than 20 countries are in progress, the majority in Africa and Asia, but help has also been provided to flood-affected communities in Germany and Switzerland.

The foundation is independent of GF’s manufacture and sales business. Its purpose is to promote effective and sustainable drinking water projects.

The company does not insist on its philanthropic projects using in-house piping systems.

In the case of RWH projects in India, for example, sustainability is better achieved by using local solutions because equipment is easier to maintain and is not subject to high import taxes. It is always the project execution agency that makes the decision on what kind of technoogy and specialist skills they want from us.

All Bicentenary Foundation projects contribute to the fulfilment of the UN Millennium Development Goals. By providing clean drinking water, GF is helping to eradicate poverty and improve the education and health of some 100,000 people in developing countries.

GF is convinced that it is doing its part to improve living conditions in an appropriate way and would be delighted to see other foundations and corporations help to improve water quality throughout the world.

Contact: Georg Fischer

Bicentenary Foundation

Email: [email protected]

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