The Water and Sanitation Mystery (Part One)

IMG_0607A trip report from one of my colleagues at Episcopal Relief & Development recently crossed my desk.  I find these reports extremely helpful in understanding the challenges my co-workers are facing as they visit our programs around the world.  Each of these reports is fascinating.  

However, this one was exceptional: it contained a mystery.  

The report in question recounts a visit to one of the countries in Africa where we are working with the local partner on water and sanitation programs.  My colleague faithfully tells of his visits to numerous communities—the numbers of latrines built, cisterns installed, and workshops conducted.  

He interrogates partners and participants about how the program is going.  He takes note of changes in behavior with respect to latrine usage and hand washing.  There are detailed reflections on what he is seeing and learning.  

Part of the way through his trip, he arrives in one community and observes, “even though the community of about 60+ households looked clean, there were conspicuously few household latrines.”  

He immediately comes to the conclusion that not even one household latrine has been built.  

What has gone wrong?

He is relieved to see that the public latrine with a hand washing station had been completed.  Oddly, however, it is not in use.

He inspects it carefully.  It is well constructed, with private stalls for men and women.  The roof is in place.  There is a handwashing station adjacent to it.  The concrete slab on top of the cistern is properly fitted to protect the water from contamination.   

He comments tartly that all the other public latrines in other communities are in use and that “it serves no purpose standing idle.”  

Why is it not in use?

Next he walks to the water source for the community, which is in a valley below the community.  Getting to the spring is not easy.  One needs to walk about 500 meters down a very steep slope.

At the bottom of the slope, he observes a gushing stream that appears very clear and clean.  He quickly comes to the conclusion that the water capture from the spring has not been successful.  Water should not be gushing out of the ground like this.  It should be flowing into a cistern.  

As he arrives at the spring, it appears as if everything is in order.  The cistern is in place to collect the water from the spring.  It is properly fitted with pipes and taps. However, the cistern is mysteriously empty.  

What has happened?

By now I can sense my colleague’s alarm. The household latrines have not been built.  The public latrine is not in use.  The clean water supply system isn’t functioning properly.  

He decides to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Author’s Note:  Check back next week to see how “The Water and Sanitation Mystery” is solved.  If you want to be sure to receive the next installment, please subscribe to this blog below and it will be emailed to you. Thank you!

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Published by Rob Radtke

President & CEO, Episcopal Relief & Development, husband, father, friend, traveler, reader, New Yorker.

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