The following content was contributed by J.O. Haselhoef on behalf of Engineers Without Borders-USA.
Linda Avadza walked the 500 yards with her baby still wrapped to her back to the water stand in her Labolabo, Ghana, neighborhood. She balanced an empty plastic bucket on her head, stepped onto the clean concrete pad, and affixed a round tag to the stand’s exterior. Within a moment, water gushed out of the overhead tap directly into her bucket. She stood there for just over a minute and knew from her finger tips placed on the bucket’s edge and the weight (now, over 40 pounds) that it was full. She stopped the flow of water by removing the tag, which contained electronically-stored information, that was linked to her mobile money account through her phone. The water supplier, Safe Water Network, automatically deducted from her account five cents for the five gallons. She stepped off the platform and headed home to her husband, her other two children, and their grandmother.
Safe Water Network would later meet with Linda’s community to say that technicians would soon lay pipe to provide water connections directly to their households. That $80 hookup, payable through a low-cost, long-term e-loan, would eliminate Linda’s ten daily walks to the water stand.
There was an additional advantage to having a household connection: studies confirm the more that clean water is available, the more it is consumed. Users who drink the water expand its use, first to cooking and eventually to bathing. The more water a family uses, the better that family’s health.
“Making water clean is not cheap and it’s not easy,” said Joseph Owusu-Ansah of Safe Water Network in Ghana. Each part of the clean water process requires time, effort and commitment—from the initial piping of the water from its source, through testing of taste, odor, clarity, and residual chlorine, to ensuring it flows at an optimal rate. In addition, the organization must engage with residents to emphasize the ways in which clean water ensures health among their families.
In 2016, the Safe Water Network partnered with Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA), a nonprofit that connects the world-class problem-solving skills of its most seasoned volunteers to organizations in the international development sector. EWB-USA helped initiate the household connection program with an engineering and feasibility study.
In 2017, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation funded EWB-USA to help implement the project. EWB-USA trained the Safe Water Network staff in both design and theory. They worked together to retrofit an area that already had water stands and, once construction finished, EWB-USA reviewed its effectiveness.
The partners are now completing the project. EWB-USA will work with Safe Water Network to design and survey a new site and train its staff on the maintenance of the solar-driven pumps that bring water from the source.
The partnership expects the number of household connections to double during the next five years. Linda Avadza hopes hers will be one of those homes.