Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valuable play equipment

This is not a new story, but it is an excellent example of an elegant and relatively simple design that effectively addresses a very serious problem. (GW)

Congress Examines Drinking Water Crisis

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
18 May 2007

Millions of people in Africa are stricken with preventable diseases every year because they lack what the developed world takes for granted -- clean drinking water.

The why, how and where of providing what many in the West see as the bedrock of sustainable development were examined at a May 16 hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa.

"Africa is one of the most water-impoverished regions ... and the lack of clean water claims the lives of 4,900 children every day," Subcommittee Chairman Donald Payne said.

Lack of clean water worldwide, but especially in Africa, is "a global crisis," Payne said.

Walter North, senior deputy assistant administrator for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) agreed, adding, that the United States is working with African partners to meet U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets set to reduce by half by 2015 the number of people without access to clean water.

"More than one child in sub-Saharan Africa dies every minute from diarrheal disease -- a direct result of inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene," North said.

To provide clean water, North said, USAID was funding water-supply activities and hygiene programs worth $91.6 million for the 2006-2007 fiscal year in more than 30 African countries.

For 2007-2008, he said USAID plans to spend $8 million more on clean water efforts in Africa focusing on three main program areas:

• Improving governance and regulation of water utilities at local, national and regional levels;

• Changing hygiene behavior with an emphasis on hand washing, filtration and purification of water and maintenance of personal sanitation facilities such as latrines; and

• Mobilizing local private-sector financing to build and support projects such as capped wells and piped water systems to supply clean water.

A particular strength of USAID water programs in Africa, North said, is the "leveraging of significant" funding from the private sector. Domestic capital is available in Africa, he said, but the problem is finding good "bankable" projects and getting business partners interested in helping fund them.

In that regard, USAID has had a number of successes, the official said, including a funding partnership scheme for water improvement in West Africa with the Hilton (hotel) Foundation (the West African Water Initiative), the Coca Cola Company (Community Watershed Partnerships Program) and the Case Foundation (the PlayPumps Alliance).

North singled out the PlayPumps project as an especially productive combination of appropriate technology with community ownership -- critical ingredients to the sustainability of clean water projects like community wells.

The PlayPumps Global Development Alliance, he explained, is a $60 million public-private partnership among USAID, foundations and the South African company PlayPumps International. The device is a merry-go-round that pumps water to the surface from a capped well as children play on it.

North said the goal of the USAID partnership with PlayPumps was to place 4,000 of the innovative water pumps in schools and villages by the year 2010. Part of the costs of the pumps and wells are recouped through advertising displayed on the water towers built to store the water.

In addition to providing clean water and "valuable play equipment," North told lawmakers the PlayPumps have proved effective in promoting "improved sanitation and hygiene behaviors and a reduction in the spread of HIV/AIDS through public awareness campaigns."

The PlayPumps innovative but simple technology also "spurs economic progress through the development of manufacturing, distribution, parts supply and maintenance services associated with the pump technology," North told the House panel.

Related: Anheuser-Busch Assists Water Crisis

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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