Water Works: An Affordable, Lasting Solution

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You turn on the tap and your water spews sludgy brown. Or, you find that the pipes have run dry again. So, you walk for 30 minutes out and 30 minutes back to collect water from a muddy river to make your family's meals, wash the dishes and bathe.

Your daughters may miss school so they can fetch water while you work. And, even after all that, the water sometimes makes you and your family sick. Your business suffers when you're not well enough to run it. And medical costs eat into your savings.

Not long ago, this was the reality in Anivorano Est, a small town of 5,800 in Madagascar, where residents earn a living growing curry trees, panning for gold or running small businesses. Pipes frequently burst or ran empty on very hot days, which can last for months. People collected water from the river, competing for space along the riverbank with docked barges and others washing their clothes. During heavy rains, the water was brown. Diarrhea and other waterborne infections ran rampant.

A humanitarian aid agency could do the expected—dig a well or hand out water purification tablets. Catholic Relief Services and our partners, though, went one step further—an important step toward improving life in Anivorano Est for the long term. We worked alongside local government officials and a privately owned business that could consistently provide safe drinking water at an affordable rate.

Such public-private partnerships are part of a new wave in humanitarian development that goes beyond making quick fixes. Instead, it helps create an infrastructure that stays in place long after completion of the initial work. Funded generously by the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, the Anivorano Est waterworks was contracted to a private company, VELO, through a competitive process.

VELO provides three ways residents can access and pay for their water:

  1. A communal "monobloc" offers laundry, shower and bathroom facilities in addition to clean water;
  2. A shared connection that supports the close social ties of family members and neighbors enables up to five families to use a single water source; and
  3. privately owned connection can serve one home or business.

The new water system touches every aspect of life in town: People are healthier. Children are going to school. Businesses are thriving.