A woman enters the Virunga Massif with her baby tied on her back. She’s looking for a few jerricans of water to do the washing, cooking, and provide drinking water for her family. With limited choices, she enters the park, in search of a forest stream. Thousands like her do the same, especially during the region’s dry season in June, July and August. (Photo by Charles Kayijamahe/IGCP)
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) has in recent years become increasingly active in providing water to communities living next to the protected areas where the critically-endangered mountain gorillas roam.
IGCP is involved primarily because of the risk posed to the mountain gorillas from habitat degradation and the potential for disease transmission to mountain gorillas. Entering the parks in search of water also happens to be a dangerous thing for the primarily women and children who do this, as they enter without protection from forest buffalo and elephants, or in some cases, other people wishing to cause them harm.
Here are four other things you should know about the work we are doing on water:
1) The need is larger than what IGCP can provide for.
It might seem odd for us to admit this so bluntly, but if we as an organization thought we could do this on our own, then we would be mistaken. The human population density around the protected areas where mountain gorillas live is some of the highest in all of rural Africa- up to 1,000 people per km2 in some areas, and growing.
This is the reason why our water project fits within IGCP’s Advocacy approach. We are advocating for more and better sources of water outside of the parks for people so that they do not have to enter the park to meet this basic need. We therefore hope to stimulate additional investment in water infrastructure by the governments, private sector, and NGOs and donors, as well as the community members themselves.
We are also targeting our actions, identifying areas where people are most dependent on water sources within the park. Recently, Charles Kayijamahe, working under Dr. Augustin Basabose in our Species Conservation approach scoured through ranger-based monitoring (RBM) data from 2006-2010 to target areas for our future interventions.
In fact, there is a team within IGCP from experts in law enforcement, species conservation, as well as community development which weighs in on all the decisions we take around our water project.
2) There is (and should be) more than one way to address the need.
IGCP has focused its interventions on rainwater harvesting systems. It is one of the options for supplying water to people and was selected because of the ease of construction even in remote areas and, for the smaller household tanks, community members are able to construct them with local labor and from materials that are largely locally available.
IGCP has supported the construction of five communal rainwater harvesting tanks and 52 household rainwater harvesting tanks. We are currently constructing an addition four communal rainwater harvesting tanks and 20 household rainwater harvesting tanks near the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park, DRC.
Based on IGCP’s experience from rainwater harvesting in Rwanda, the construction of satellite household rainwater harvesting systems can relieve the pressure on the communal rainwater tanks, allowing for greater storage of water leading into the dry season.
3) The social infrastructure is just as important than the physical infrastructure.
While every rainwater harvesting system is under construction, a community water use committee is also being ‘built’.
This water use committee is extremely important. It is this committee who ensures that the water is equitably available and distributed within the community. It also collects funds for water use and saves them in an account to be used to properly maintain the tank and infrastructure.
The water use committee is also responsible for monitoring water quality on a regular basis and for intervening when an issue does arise, such as immediate threat from debris from erupting volcanoes, which does happen in this region. This water use committee serves as the outreach component on both water managment and water quality as well as larger conservation-related issues; they receive a lot of support and follow-up from IGCP staff.
4) Create financial and technical feedback mechanisms to stimulate additional investment.
Part of stimulating further investment in water infrastructure involves enabling communities to construct the tanks themselves. The money collected by the water use committee is used to maintain the tanks, but also is used in a Village Savings and Loan model so that community members can access small loans related to construction of household rainwater harvesting systems.
Another key aspect of our interventions is the training of community associations in the construction of household rainwater harvesting tanks. While the communal rainwater harvesting tanks require expert engineering knowledge, the construction of household rainwater tanks does not.
IGCP has supported the training of the Rwandan (mostly women) association Imbere Heza, from community trainers from Uganda. And Imbere Heza, in turn, are currently training associations around the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park.
So, you may see us writing about water on this blog from time to time, but behind the scenes, this is an intervention that we are working on every day within IGCP, monitoring the work that we have done and using what we learn to plan for the future.