Photo Essay: Celebrating Water Heroes

The theme of the 2016 World Water Day celebration — “Water and Jobs” — spoke to the central but often overlooked role water plays in the workforce and in communities around the world. In recognition of the many ways safe and adequate water supply and improved sanitation unleash the economic potential of individuals and entire communities, USAID’s Water Team invites you to take a look at how some of the world’s many unsung water heroes play important roles in bringing clean water to their communities to enhance health and livelihoods, increase food security, and ensure a more water-secure future for all.

Pipe construction worker. Photo credit: USAID

Joseph Apam Tetteh, neighborhood water distributor. Photo credit: Global Communities

GHANA — Realizing new potential through water entrepreneurship. Despite significant improvements to Ghana’s urban water supply coverage in recent years, significant numbers of city residents across the country remain in need of a safe, reliable water supply. To help close that gap, USAID’s Water Access Sanitation and Hygiene for the Urban Poor (WASH-UP) program has joined forces with local partners to extend urban water distribution networks and improve service. For Joseph Apam Tetteh, a 46-year-old born with disabilities, the program has offered a new lease on life by helping him become a water supplier for his neighborhood, the Abafum-Kowe-Abese section of Ghana’s La Township. “Countless times, I used to sit deep in thought, day dreaming, until a hand tapped me, reminding me of the harsh reality of being physically challenged, dejected, unemployed, and almost hopeless,” says Tetteh. He later received basic business training through WASH-UP and purchased an 850-gallon water tank with a micro-loan, which he has since paid off. “Now I have a job. My water business is doing very well because patronage is very good and I have a constant source of supply.”

Annabell Waititu (seated at center), gender and water specialist. Photo credit: USAID/Kenya

KENYA — Creating new jobs for women in water service provision. “Water is really a women’s issue,” says gender and water specialist Annabell Waititu, pictured here meeting with employees of Kenya’s Embu Water and Sanitation Company (EWASCO). Waititu often discusses with men the strategic importance of integrating women into the water utility’s workforce. This gender mainstreaming effort, undertaken as part of USAID’s Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa (SUWASA) program, has resulted in EWASCO’s hiring of women at all levels of the company in recent years. “Since women have a different understanding than men about how households access water, female perspectives add value in terms of their approaches to dealing with water service provision,” says Waititu. “Bringing women into leadership positions at water utilities allows them to inform policymaking in terms of how utilities respond to the needs of their customers, allowing utilities to offer more effective and efficient service.”

William Dorbor, WASH entrepreneur trainer. Photo credit: Global Communities

LIBERIA — Finding opportunity amidst crisis. Veteran water repairman William Dorbor provided assistance to his fellow countrymen and women when it mattered most. As part of the USAID-funded Improved Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (IWASH) program, Dorbor visited many communities as they struggled to cope with Liberia’s recent Ebola outbreak. He fixed hand-powered pumps at great personal risk, to ensure villagers’ access to a reliable water supply. Dorbor has since shared his know-how about pump repair and healthy handwashing habits through the USAID-funded Partnership for Advancing Community-based Services (PACS) program, helping improve water security and public health in rural communities as they recover from the crisis. “We have trained more than 150 WASH entrepreneurs in technical repairs and are working with communities to develop savings plans to pay for sanitation services,” says Dorbor. “WASH entrepreneurs are now making money that they never would have made without the trainings; they are selling services that communities need and creating businesses for themselves.” Dorbor is especially proud of Liberia’s women. “We have really seen female WASH entrepreneurs benefit,” he says. “They are making money from the soap sales and they tell us that it makes them feel independent. They tell me often that they feel more confident to go into communities and talk to them about the importance of soap and handwashing. It gives me a lot of pride that the knowledge we developed through these trainings is spreading throughout the communities.”

Gerald Razafinjato, water services manager. Photo credit: Luke John Paul Barrett/Ranontsika

MADAGASCAR — Inventing a water-secure future. Gerald Razafinjato is a Malagasy engineer whose passion for water has resulted in its safe delivery to more than 200,000 urban, peri-urban, and now, rural residents across the country. Only 35 percent of Madagascar’s rural population of approximately 18 million has access to water. Through his company — Sandandrano (which means ‘the value of water’) — Razafinjato now manages water services in eight municipalities, for people who can now afford a water hook-up thanks in part to Razafinjato’s concept of “Social Connections” (15 to 20 people — often friends and neighbors — sharing one water connection). But Rajafinjato’s first love is invention. Wanting to reinforce the importance of conservation by placing a value on water, he created a clothes washing basin that measures water consumption. Women (who often take in laundry to earn a living) can now tell when they are using too much water and are no longer making a profit. And then there is the engineer’s “Monobloc”: a hexagonal structure (shown above) with male and female showers, toilets, clothes washing stations (the water from washing gets recycled into the toilets), and several public water distribution points. The Monobloc was a finalist for the 2010 “Water for All” global innovation competition. From 2009–2013 Sandandrano was a partner in two USAID-funded projects and continues to work with the ongoing USAID-funded Fararano project. Razafinjato is proud to have made a life’s work of water. “Because,” he says, “Water is life.”

Rijan Kayastha (lower right), glacial research scientist. Photo credit: Hafizullah Rasouli/Kabul University

NEPAL — Training the next generation of Himalayan glaciologists. The Himalaya and its subsidiary ranges serve as “water towers” for much of Asia, storing vast reservoirs of fresh water in the form of seasonal snow and glacial ice. Yet little is known about how much of this water feeds the great Asian rivers originating in this remote area. To close this knowledge gap, the USAID-funded Contribution to High Asia Runoff from Ice and Snow (CHARIS) project has fostered collaboration among research institutions from eight countries across the region. At the forefront of this research is Dr. Rijan Kayastha, one of Nepal’s top glaciologists. Kayastha founded the Master’s in glaciology program at Kathmandu University, which is equipping students from Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan with the interdisciplinary skills in glaciological, hydrological, and climatological sciences needed to help advance sustainable regional water resource management. Each summer, Kayastha accompanies his students on field research programs in the mountains, allowing them to gain hands-on experience with water-measurement equipment and field data collection. Their work is contributing to a growing body of region-wide hydrological information that helps water managers plan for downstream irrigation, hydropower generation, and other water uses. His students’ research “will be useful for better management of water in many mountain areas where locals are already facing water scarcity,” says Kayastha.

Rachel Beja (with shovel, left, and wearing badge, right), civil engineer. Photo credit: USAID/Philippines

PHILIPPINES — Engineering solutions to improve water-use efficiency. The Cagayan De Oro Water District (COWD), a local water utility on northern Mindanao Island, loses a lot of water — about 80,000 cubic meters a day. The water wasted is ready for consumption, but never makes it to the consumer. It is lost to leaks, overflows, broken or inaccurate meters, unbilled water services or other systemic problems. It translates to monetary losses for the district — money that could have gone to rehabilitate water systems, and water that could have gone to customers. This situation has been especially frustrating for Dr. Rachel Beja, a civil engineer and COWD General Manager. COWD currently provides service to 85 percent of Cagayan De Oro City, but due to increasing demand for water, service for the city’s roughly 600,000 residents is limited to just a few hours a day. On any given day, Beja can be found determinedly assessing underground pipes for cracks, meters for errors and water points for leakage. She has sworn to reduce COWD’s wastage from 52 to 30 percent by 2035. To help realize this goal, COWD, under Beja’s leadership, has partnered with USAID’s Water Security for Resilient Economic Growth and Stability (Be Secure) project and the Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines. “The Non-Revenue Water Reduction Program will address our system inefficiency issues so we can provide better service to the public,” says Beja.

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