The roofs run dry – a missed opportunity for multiple benefits

By Stephen Twomlow

It’s close to forty years since Pacey and Cullis published their ground-breaking work - Rainwater Harvesting: The Collection of Rainfall and Runoff in Rural Areas.  Yet, despite this book and a host of others over the intervening years, including a recent publication by IFAD (Water Harvesting-Guidelines to Good Practice), the large majority of corrugated iron rooftops in rural Africa are not being utilised to their full potential, lacking guttering or any form of rainwater capture. The rainwater is allowed to cascade off the roof in torrents causing damage to housing foundations and the surrounding soils. 
©IFAD/Stephen Twomlow & Will Critchley
Many households lack ready access to potable water, with the women of the household often spending several hours each days walking to and from the nearest water source – which is often polluted. At times they find the water sources have dried up or the pumps have failed. This is a great cause for concern in these disadvantaged communities, especially where households are headed by elderly women who are too sickly to walk long distances.

A symbol of wealth throughout Africa is the corrugated iron sheet roof. A goal many rural households strive forWater scarcity is a reality throughout Africa. To address this, the IFAD-GEF project ‘Lower Usuthu Sustainable Land Management Project’ (LUSLM) made the management of rooftop runoff a priority and began to explore the multiple benefits offered, especially the economic empowerment of women. The project trained  women’s groups in construction of rainwater harvesting tanks using reinforced cement.

©IFAD/Stephen Twomlow & Will Critchley
The tanks are made out of concrete mortar reinforced with mesh fence and placed on a slab constructed of locally available material - either stones or bricks.  The benefits from the tanks are many and include a supply of clean water for domestic use, and time freed up for more income generating activities such as home gardens and poultry keeping.

The success stories from Swaziland are spreading across East and Southern Africa. Homestead rainwater harvesting activities are increasingly included in annual work plan and budgets of ongoing projects such as the ‘Community-based Integrated Natural Resources Management Project’ (CBINReMP) in Lake Tana Catchment, Ethiopia - and the new project designs taking place in Kenya and Uganda. 

Sometimes answers are simple. And often South:South knowledge and experience sharing is the key to success.
©IFAD/Stephen Twomlow & Will Critchley

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