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Agriculture - Nutrition

Efforts to provide Rwandans with clean water

afrol News, 7 June - Ex-refugees returning to Rwanda are increasing the pressure on scarce water supply in the drought-prone region. In many villages, people have to spend half their day searching for clean water. Humanitarian work now focuses on providing fresh water for thousands of rural Rwandans and the large number of returnees.

It used to take Coletha Mukabaziga half-a-day to fetch water. With her big yellow cans she had to walk five kilometres to the nearest water point. Today she walks a mere 200 meters to a water pump. Clean water was not available in her village Kabimba, not until a religious organisation, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), repaired the water supply system constructed by the government about six years ago.

Ms Mukabaziga says she is happy to spend less time fetching water for domestic use. Now the 49-year-old mother of five can use the extra time for other household and farm work. This is a great advantage for her family in Rwanda's Kibungo province, an agricultural area that has been hard hit by drought. They cultivate maize, cassava and beans.

Those who fetch water from the pump are members of the local water committee. But many of them cannot even raise the annual contribution equivalent to euro 2.00 for the pump's maintenance. Only about 60 percent can afford that amount. Didace Bugingo, who heads the local water committee with 935 members, is also in charge of the entire network of 18 water points, starting from the main one in Gituku extending over 32 kilometers.

- Around 16,000 people benefit from the project, which has been operating independently since July 2003, according to the LWF. The Lutheran Church has trained community members to maintain the networks and ensure the pumps are in working order. But the committee does not have money for everything.

Almost the entire amount from the membership fees is spent on spare parts and local repairs. There is hardly anything left for 25-year-old Mr Bugingo, who should be drawing a regular salary from his tasks as a technician and supervisor of the water pumps. It is an intensive job as he has to ensure that all the pumps are simultaneously supplied with water, which does not always work out during the dry season.

Water for the households is only a first step. Vincent Kasaja, coordinator of the LWF projects in Kibungo, explains that an irrigation system is necessary to improve the situation in the drought-prone province bordering Tanzania.

The agrarian engineer is planning construction of water supply systems for new settlements in Ndego on land that was part of the national park. Until now water was supplied in tanks. But there are not sufficient financial resources to cover the project yet.

Drought has become a major impediment to any agricultural activities in the province and more food is urgently needed. In the densely populated and drier areas, the pressure has increased since the return of about 20,000 refugees who had fled to Tanzania following the genocide. Many of those who recently returned do not even have a decent roof over their heads.

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