Too Much, Too Little: Water As a Seasonal Problem

Managing seasonal extremes: community-based solutions for water security
Seeking clean water in Malawi. Photo courtesy: J. Lapegue.

Many water and sanitation problems are cyclical, occurring with seasonal regularity. Unmitigated, problems ranging from flooding in South Asia to drought in Northeast Africa threaten poor communities with a perpetual state of vulnerability.

Whether there’s too much water or too little, a community’s well-being is tied to its relationship with water. Luckily, simple steps can be taken to help populations manage year to year.

While contexts differ widely, ACF’s water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs address a core set of factors in any intervention: the hydrologic context (where and how water is available); a population’s access to water and sanitation; local knowledge, attitudes and practices; the prevalence of water-borne diseases; opportunities for community participation and education; local culture and beliefs; and the types of technical solutions appropriate for the context.

Seasonal Flooding: Disaster Risk Reduction in Myanmar

In flood-prone countries such as Myanmar, fertile deltas and broad floodplains are often highly populated, exposing hundreds of thousands to the threat of cyclical disasters. And while monsoon seasons are essential to agriculture, extreme weather (e.g., cyclones) destroys vital infrastructure and threatens human lives.

ACF develops local solutions to mitigate seasonal extremes. Working with government agencies in Myanmar, for example, ACF helps set up early warning systems to track flood conditions (communication channels, weather forecast, emergency broadcast systems); carries out vulnerability mapping; provides technical training on water and sanitation facilities; and helps with regional capacity assessments.

Disaster risk reduction measures are also directed at the community level. Risk awareness campaigns aimed at community and school groups integrate sessions on water use, sanitation and hygiene. ACF also builds and rehabilitates disaster-ready water points, disaster-resistant latrines, rain water collection tanks for schools, and safe areas with water points and latrines.

At the village and household levels, ACF organizes committees for managing water points, disseminating hygiene information, implementing risk reduction measures, and developing evacuation and disaster preparedness plans. In addition, we deploy home water treatment solutions (e.g., ceramic and sand filters) and ensure the availability of emergency water, sanitation, and hygiene materials.

Seasonal Drought: Water Infrastructure for Pastoralist Kenya

When there is too little water, as there often is in northeast Africa, ACF undertakes a number of activities to help people cope and thrive amidst scarcity. In Kenya’s dry northeast, pastoralist cultures are routinely exposed to seasonal drought. The threat of water scarcity—for both people and their livestock—surfaces regularly, causing human misery and childhood malnutrition, and depleting the community’s wealth and capital by reducing the size of their herds.

Pastoralist societies present special challenges. These communities are migratory, shepherding large numbers of livestock across vast regions of a water-poor part of the world—a very different context from those interventions where wells can be dug, latrines set up, and more permanent water points situated between fixed communities and health centers. Nevertheless, ACF has developed strategies to help these nomadic communities survive drought conditions.

Beyond trucking water to remote locations during acute water emergencies—an unsustainably expensive intervention—what can be done to enhance pastoralists’ ability to withstand droughts? ACF works with these communities to identify their migratory routes and map traditional watering holes along the way. We then identify ways to improve and protect these watering holes. For example, we enhance hygiene and reduce evaporation losses with lids or concrete caps; we minimize contamination and health risks by building separate access points for people and cattle; we capture and store precipitation by creating run-off ponds and other rain-water collection systems.

Ensuring Water Security in Any Context

Action Against Hunger’s integrated approach to hunger and malnutrition involves extending water and sanitation services to communities faced with water scarcity, unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene. For communities threatened by cyclical crises—whether too much or too little water—ACF facilitates the provision of, and access to, safe drinking water through technical, infrastructural, and social improvements (training, mentoring, educating, organizing).

Regardless of the context, ACF is committed to helping communities in crisis. We truck water during emergencies, clean contaminated water sources, install water storage tanks and above-ground reservoirs, drill wells (that require buckets) and boreholes (that require pumps), tap and preserve springs, improve and install local sanitation systems and latrines, design and build irrigation systems, create hygienic bathing facilities, and repair water infrastructure damaged by natural disaster or warfare.

Without this vital work in the areas of water, sanitation, and hygiene, we would make little progress in our fight against global hunger and acute malnutrition.