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Sri Lanka rural communities bank on safe drinking water
14 Jun, 2011 11:09:39
By Anushika Kamburugamuwa
June 14, 2011 (LBO) - In Kathankudy, Baticaloa in Eastern Sri Lanka, Fathima Izana, a mother with a young child, worries about the quality of the water she gets from a tube well. "The water had different colour and it smells sometimes," she says.
Fathima believes the water may be contaminated by a nearby latrine pit.

"That is a biggest problem I have because I have a child," she says. "Fever and various deceases attack my baby through water. I can't give him the water."

She is among the many who are eagerly awaiting pipe borne water supply.

The Eastern Baticaloa district is in a region that was ravaged by war for three decades. The government is now building water supply sanitation projects both in the East and the North.

Sri Lanka provides safe drinking water to 92.5 percent of urban households but only 39.0 percent of rural population.

In some areas people have to walk long distances to get safe drinking water.

Sri Lanka has a rich history in hydrology and has thousands of man-made reservoirs called 'tanks' dotting the country from the time the island was ruled by ancient kings.

The island has with 2,400 irrigation canals and some 3,500 deep water tanks and over 4,500 kilometres of rivers. The country also has natural wet lands. But not all water is safe drink.

L Siriyawathie a mother of one, and a wife of a rice farmer, walks nearly four kilometres to collect water.

"I have only one child," Siriyawathie "I leave him alone in the home when I am going somewhere. I had to bring the water and keep at home before I leave anywhere which takes so much of time. But I don’t have any choice."

The problem worsens during the dry season.

Siriyawathi is just one amongst the thousands villagers who face this predicament each day. Experts say to a large proportion of population in Sri Lanka's war torn and neglected East coast access to drinking water is luxury.

About 18 percent of the children in Sri Lanka lack access to water or sanitation facilities. The lack of clean water is now affecting education.

"Water is a big problem in the school," says Sujatha Kulendrakumar, principal at Vincent Girls High school in Baticaloa. "There is small quantity of water supply from the municipal council, but that is not enough since we have nearly 3000 students in the school,"

Over 60 percent of the population in Polonnaruwa, a key agricultural district in North Central Sri Lanka also lack access to safe drinking water.

"In Polonnaruwa access to drinking water means walking long distances for secured source where it is clean and safe," says M Thiruchelvam, a senior project officer at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

"The quality and the quantity are small, as one village would have two or three wells that could share for drinking purposes."

Asian Development Bank and Sri Lanka's government is expanding water and sanitation facilities through a 5-year project.

Project covers eastern Batticaloa, Trincomalee north-central Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and southern Hambantota districts.

The total project cost is 263.26 million dollars which includes the government and community contribution of 142.96 million dollars while ADB contributes 120 million dollars.

Upon completion at the end of 2011 the project will provide 90,000 people with safe drinking water.

Community participation is a key part of the project.

"First of all we have to mobilize the community that is the most difficult part," said Mohamed Razil deputy director of the projets.

"If you take urban water supply, there the everything done by the government water supply body, while those who benefit only to reserve the water.

"But hear what we do is we get the community to participate in to project and they have to make some contribution. That means minimum 20 percent of the project cost and it is not an easy task."

The community is chipping in by providing 20 percent of the cost and labour.

The community decides the types of water scheme they want which can differ from pipe born, rain water collection, open well and covered well. Once the construction is completed the project is handed over to the villagers to manage.

"During the installation proceed we get to see the community to see it, trouble shoot, operation," Razil said.

"We give the training, so they know what to do."

At initial level discussions with potential beneficiaries, 50 percent of participants were women.

Thiruchelvam says the sustainability of the project gets stronger with the participation of the community.

"They said it is our scheme," Thiruchelvam said. "The word of ours makes a lot of different to operation, maintainers and the sustainability of the scheme where as in urban it is a service provision."

ADB also provides small loans for communities. Officials say it will take 5-years for the full impact of the project to be felt, though benefits are already being seen.

"Social development is there. Searching water half of the day was the role of the women in most of these villagers," says ADB's Razil.

"Now they can spend that time in income generation activities; even children can spend more time on studies."

A loan from a local women's association and the free time has helped Siriyawathie, who is in her mid forties to resume her career of painting portraits, which was neglected for over two decades.

Siriyawathie also grows her own vegetables for daily usage. This is from the direct result of digging a well in her back yard.

"Now I have enough time to do my work. I earn nearly 3000 rupees per month from my paintings," she said.

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1. Kossa Jun 22
Access to safe drinking water is a problem not in even this part of the country but also in other parts as well. systems which manage by people will help more to the sustainability of the projects. But there should be a way of monitoring each and every system time to time