Photo credit: WVC GAMBIA TC_11_0216 copy.jpg — Arrival in Banjul harbour (The Gambia) of development aid goods, shipped by Hands Together Foundation (Belgium). Many of these goods could have been transported in barrels.

Development aid delivery in barrels

Some suggestions about providing water and fresh food

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem University of Ghent (Belgium)

Trying to help with some modest, constructive suggestions, I refer to one of my former postings:

Barrels for refugees and smallholder farmers in the drylands — Posted on April 28, 2011


In arid or semi-arid regions, water is usually collected by women and children, carrying heavy loads over considerable distances to their tents or houses. Providing availability of drinking water in the immediate neighbourhood of their homes has to be seen as an efficient relief of the burden of carrying water.

In order to offer internally displaced persons (IDPs) easier access to water, the joint United Nations-African peacekeeping force (UNAMID) intended to distribute thousands of 75 liters (4 jerry cans) water containers (barrels) across the Darfur area, where water is one of the major sources of conflict.

Mr. Ibrahim GAMBARI, Head of UNAMID, declared: “The project is to make life easier and safer for women, and also to underscore the fact that water hasn’t only been a source of conflict; it is also the solution. It is our hope that their use will not only support former displaced persons, but also help protect civilians as they return to resume their lives.

For sure, the distribution of water containers is a very recommendable initiative. Together with the installation of tents or other shelters, this should be a conditio sine qua non when installing a refugee camp. Access to water can contribute to solving the conflict.

However, we are convinced that offering a 75 liter-barrel to the refugee families is only a part of the solution to make life in the camps easier, safer and better. Indeed, besides the need for safe drinking water (4 jerry-cans may be sufficient), we consider it a human necessity to install close to every shelter (tent) a small family garden, e.g. 50 m2, to let the refugees grow their own fresh food. And therefore, some irrigation water should also be available close to the shelter.

For every family a barrel of 200 liter would solve all the irrigation problems for keeping a small family garden in good shape.


All over the world, the industry uses barrels or drums of diverse forms and dimensions to transport or ship materials and products. Those used for liquids are often coated to avoid negative effects of the liquid on the inner wall of the barrel. Even in agriculture, a number of reservoirs or tanks, mostly in UV-resistant materials, are used to ship products or food.

Eventually, many industrial divisions encounter problems to find a new destination for used barrels, drums and tanks. These have to be thoroughly cleaned (steamed), taken out of circulation, dumped, recycled or sold as second hand products. Generally, these actions are too expensive for the industry and thus the barrels are destroyed.

UV-resistant barrels, drums, reservoirs or tanks with a sufficient capacity, e.g. 200 liter, should never be destroyed, but sent to arid or semi-arid developing countries, where they can be used as a water tank, not only in refugee camps, but even by rural families.

Two questions remain :

(1) Will the “Western” and “Eastern” industry agree to make these “useless containers” available for development aid ?

(2) Which existing organization (international or non-governmental) considers this idea valuable enough to set up a structure for collecting and shipping the industrial containers from the developed to the developing world ?

It should be taken into account that these containers, instead of sending them empty, can also be filled with valuable goods for development actions. We are thinking here at a good example: WFP could ship its food aid in big barrels.

An organization in developed countries could collect the “useless” barrels in the industry and make them available for development organizations for shipping aid goods to their projects, particularly to those in drought affected regions.


It has been shown that family gardening is a very efficient tool in the combat of child malnutrition and hunger. We received many questions about the possible costs of such a garden. Here are some ideas to help people estimating those costs :

A. Composition of a garden kit

1 barrel of 200 liter for water storage (blue plastic, UV-resistant): see above

5 kg of water-absorbent soil conditioner

1 kg NPK fertilizer

Commercial seeds (10 small packages of different species)

1 spade

1 rake

1 small hand-rake

1 watering can (UV resistant)

B. Additional costs



Training fee for local agronomist (1/2 day + local travel)


Fencing of 30–50 m2 (poles, fence)

Labor (soil treatment, watering)


We are hoping that these ideas can motivate organizations to help hungry people and/or refugees to a better life by offering them access to water and food, at least starting with a barrel and some necessities for a small garden.

Once again, we don’t need billions of dollars to make poor people healthy and happy !

Transporting water by truck to drought-hit people is only one part of the solution, offering a barrel to stock a certain quantity of water in or close to the house is the other “necessary” one.

As “UN aid agencies, working with national authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), are also distributing food to households in need and providing health care, veterinary services and livestock feed”, I guess that it must be possible to ship these goods (food, livestock feed …) in bigger barrels (100 to 200 liters).

I suggested before that such barrels are available in the chemical industry, where they are used for transporting liquid or solid chemicals. Often these barrels are not recycled and thus, they should be available at the lowest cost.

My logic tells me that it should be possible for the UN-organizations concerned to set up a structure to use these “useless” barrels as con

tainers for shipping goods to drought-hit residents and leave them with the families to use them as water containers.

Taking into account that “High global food and fuel price rises have raised the cost of buying and importing essential commodities, including food” it seems again logic to me that it would be much cheaper to produce some food locally instead of “buying and importing” it.

Impossible because of the drought, you think? Let me suggest again reading some of my messages on container gardening, published recently on my desertification blog, e.g.:

Windowsill gardening for houses and schools in desertified regions (Willem Van Cotthem)

Posted on April 28, 2011 by Willem Van Cotthem

As one doesn’t need large quantities of water to grow vegetables and herbs in very cheap containers (pots, bottles, cans …), it is quite feasible for all the drought-hit people to grow fresh food at home. School children can do the same at school. And they love to do so!

It goes without saying that I believe strongly in the positive outcome of these two recommendations:


I cross my fingers.

Originally published at on December 29, 2014.(