Friday, July 17, 2015

Awash with Imagination

How imagination, cooperation and grant-matching can deliver clean water to the poorest of India’s poor

By Peter McKenzie-Brown

Anil Jain calls it the “WASH” project, with the acronym standing for “water and sanitation hygiene.” Whatever you call it, this initiative illustrates the power Rotarians can harness when clubs work together.

Anil is president of The Rotary Club of Calgary Centennial, which provided leadership for WASH, which now has participation from three other Alberta clubs – Calgary, Calgary Heritage Park, and the Rotary Club of Olds – and also the Rotary Club of Phoenix, Arizona. Those clubs and Alberta’s Community Initiatives Program are donating about $47,500 to the WASH project, but that is just the beginning. Even though the Canadian dollar has recently declined in value, in the Rotary way of doing things donations on both sides of the border are deemed to be contributions in US funds.

Now comes the magic of matching grants. Beginning in the upcoming Rotary year, our District can provide enhanced District Development Grants. In this case, they will amount to $70,000. The Rotary Foundation will match those funds according to one formula, and then use another to provide further matching grant. The grand total? $177,500. Using his favourite word, Jain describes this outcome as “wonderful.”

Working with a host Rotary club in India, these sums will make clean drinking water and basic sanitation facilities available to villagers in Sarurpur, a poor village of 50,000+ near New Delhi. The community has about 8,000 households, more than 4,000 of which have no sanitation facilities. Open defecation is a serious issue both in terms of health and human dignity. There is no central facility to supply clean drinking water. Some households have hand pumps and use shallow, untreated groundwater. Other households use contaminated piped water.

The WASH project will establish two to three public sanitation facilities, each of which will have eight to 10 toilets. Facilities will be equipped with untreated water – obtained through submersible pumps – stored in tanks.

To provide drinking water, the project will train and employ local workers to build about 1,000 biosand filters. This proved technology originated with the Calgary-based Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST).

“To put this water and sanitation project in context, it is worth remembering some basic differences between developed and developing countries,” said Anil Jain. “In developed countries, clean drinking water arrives from large, complex centralized facilities through networks of underground pipelines to homes, businesses and public facilities. Sanitation facilities are much the same, taking sewage from place of origin to centralized treatment facilities.”

Because these facilities require substantial financial resources, he said, they have “high maintenance and operational costs, and require technical and management skills for proper operation and maintenance. This approach is not the solution for clean water issues in rural India.” By contrast, the WASH project aims to address basic water and sanitation issues around Sarurpur. “The proponents have done a great deal of research to determine the best technologies and approaches for this project,” he said. However, he did acknowledge that “plan changes may be necessary once implementation begins.”

Jain recently visited the community. Locals have given the project “enthusiastic support,” he said. “The headman is designating land sites to build public sanitation facilities on.” Once the project is completed, it will be managed by staff from the Maya Devi hospital in the village.

That hospital originated only three years ago, after it received preliminary funding from the Rotary clubs of Calgary Centennial and RC Calgary. Now operated by Calgary-based CHILD Foundation and MOTHER Foundation in India, the hospital has become a rural centre of excellence. It provides quality health care and health education to women and children in Sarurpur. “In many ways,” Jain said, “the hospital has already transformed the community.”

The largest single project ever undertaken by the Rotary Club of Calgary Centennial, Anil Jain’s WASH project is a great example of how “wonderful” things can happen when Rotary clubs collaborate.

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