Rainwater Harvest

  • Water & Sanitation
  • Women & Gender
  • Nepal
This project is led by Olivia Richter, a Volunteer from Minnesota

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In the hills of far west Nepal, an ethnically diverse community of farmers unfortunately suffers from severe water insecurity as they are above access to rivers and natural spring water. Lasting from September to May each year, devastating drought hits this region causing primarily women and girls to heave jugs of water from unreliable community taps several times a day to meet basic household needs. The inaccessibility to water is detrimental to sustenance and commercial farming alike, resulting in village-wide malnutrition and financial instability for much of the year. Moreover, water fetching is a time-consuming and laborious chore disproportionately affecting young women, causing them to forfeit education and career opportunities and relying on marriage as their sole pathway to adulthood. From June to September, monsoon rains collected by rooftop catchment can supply sufficient volume in potable quality for a household’s daily use lasting the entire year. Within 2 years, the village Farmer’s Group aims to use rainwater harvest to meet the annual water needs of its 35 active members’ households. Yet, to villagers without disposable income, the price for adequate storage capacity is inconceivable. A Peace Corps grant is required in seeking to provide the water drums for each farmer. Alleviating water insecurity for this community goes beyond any one humanitarian issue. Without outside funding, this village will continue to suffer from food insecurity, poverty, and underdevelopment in women’s empowerment, education and equality.

From barrier identification to solution suggestion, community members themselves have been the driving force behind this project. Bandana took inspiration from USAID projects of the past in recommending using rainwater harvest to address water insecurity. Upon cost analysis conduction and initial project plan discussions with the PCV, Bandana delegated a group of 3 local laborers to implement rainwater harvesting gutter systems of local materials on tank-receiving homes.

Within a week, the delegated group had outfitted 5 homes with a combination of recycled 2L bottle funnels, plastic or bamboo gutters and pipes leading to small barrel drums. This first step of the rainwater harvest project was completed with no direction from the PCV, demonstrating the independent commitment to project design and implementation within their local capacity. It has proven the community members’ innovation, ingenuity and drive to contribute their time, labor and money towards the project in any way possible.

Once project funding is made available and storage tanks are distributed, community members will be responsible for their own installation of filters and maintenance for the rainwater harvest systems. Proper cleaning and maintenance of the tanks, roof and gutter systems are imperative for ensuring drinking water quality and longevity of systems. The PCV has suggested and will oversee formation of a community group in charge of monitoring yearly cleaning checks, repairs and assessing benefits of improved water security. Bandana Sijapati’s leadership will be a valuable asset to delegate or nominate interested Farmer’s Group members to serve on this rainwater sanitation cooperative. Because of the unjust labor division in water fetching, women community members are particularly driven by this project goal, and club membership should be reflective of that. At least 50% of women serving in the cooperative will be encouraged by the PCV to launch women into roles of leadership.

The success of secondary activities within community will ensure water security contributes to developments in gender equality and food security, dependent upon community participation and involvement. Food security improvements will be supported by the initiation of off-season vegetable production trainings from the PCV and farmer counterpart and the village Farmer’s Group seed trade program. The seed trade will be headed by an elected group member to store and distribute donated seeds from farmer to farmer across the growing seasons. Besides water insecurity, the isolation of this village creates a physical barrier of inaccessibility to nutrient-dense vegetable seeds. The PCV will provide start-up donations of monsoon seeds and cuttings, and winter crop seeds. From these distributions and their own supplies, farmers will be responsible for saving a couple vegetables from successful harvests for seed, both for themselves and donating to the seed bank for other farmers to use the following season. Farmers will be incentivized to participate by being required to donate seeds to receive seeds, thus offering the greatest diversity and supply of seed to the entire community.

The sustainability of this project depends on the sustainability of the rainwater harvest systems and participation of community members in associated secondary activities. The materials and installations of the gutter systems have been contributed by the village members themselves, so they will be able to maintain, repair and replace these if any issues arise in the following years with or without Peace Corps Nepal presence. The storage tanks are quality insurance guaranteed for 20 years, and typically last much longer with proper care. All the program then requires is yearly cleanings and proper repairs as needed, both to be monitored by the trained members of the rainwater sanitation cooperative. Within the decade, the ward office hopes to have a larger scale water security project in place. The village is currently under the very beginning stages of review and fundraising currently for a water system, but offices don’t foresee implementation for years to come. Thus, the sustainability of the rainwater harvest systems are completely manageable by village members themselves until the larger scale water security system is available. Afterwards, hoses can be attached to these systems to act as irrigation for the terraces below each home; providing farmers incentive to take good care of them to ensure their longevity.

The secondary programs in coordination with rainwater harvest tank supply provide lasting lessons-learned through hands-on trainings in, experimenting with and improving upon off-season production and season-extensions methodologies using seeds distributed first by the PCV. Upon PCV departure and for subsequent seasons, farmers will be required to “buy in” for a portion of the seed bank seeds by donating some seeds of their successfully harvested crops from the past season. This local supply of nutrient-dense vegetable and fruit seed is not only convenient for this hilltop isolated village, but over time, each season of seed will have developed to be better adapted to the local microclimate. Through trainings and the starter seeds, it is the Farmer’s Group objective to produce enough winter vegetables to sell surplus to market within 5 years of gaining water security. This extra supply of income can thus be used on increasing seed varieties or materials needed for off-season production. Supplied with the knowledge to cultivate successful winter gardens, a local seed supply, and nutrition-focused vegetable preparation, Finikada is ensured a self-sustaining equitable system in growing and consuming nutritious produce year-round.

Finally, the committees and leadership roles introduced by this project not only provide a system for accountability for the longevity of the project plan and rainwater harvest systems, but it also creates responsibility within the community. The committee for monitoring rainwater sanitation will conduct home visits to assess the proper annual maintenance and cleaning of tanks, gutters and roofs, ensuring sustained water quality standards. Chairman of seed trade will provide a head figure to organize donations and distributions of locally-successful nutrient-dense crops to grow with newly secured water. The accomplishments that result from this project will be highlighted in a "Success Story Sharing" program held in community once all activities have been conducted, so those indirectly benefiting from water security can honor, thank and be inspired by the hard work of the villagers directly involved. Positions of management and participation within the village are available to every gender, providing once-marginalized women with hands-on experience in building leadership skills. Putting work, especially in management positions, on the local level creates a positive feedback loop for inspired and motivated villagers to earn a sense of pride and accomplishment in their tasks, and continuing village-driven work in the development sector in the future.

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