Women, Water and the Economy

5 02 2011

Looking at the series of challenges affecting the people in Africa, one would say that the issue of women empowerment and women’s rights is not very important. If you asked me, I would say, “Women’s empowerment” should be the core of each and every development oriented project. Why? When women are empowered, the economy does not remain the same. They better the livelihood in their homes and as well as their personal lives. Improved income for women means better nutrition/ feeding in homes, improved access to education for the children and general livelihood. In other wards women invest more in education, nutrition, health and general livelihood.

The role of fetching water in the African Traditional Society was assigned to the women and children. Up to the present day, women and children still carry this burden along while the men continue to generate income from water sources. In cities and on the country side of many developing countries you will see women and children in small and big groups carrying jerrycans of water on their heads. Access to water in many developing countries remains a very big challenge – dirty water sources, long distances to and from water sources (usually up to 4 kilometers).

What does this mean for these women and children?

The burden of having to fetch water means that the women and children often have to fore-go other activities – for the women, they end up having limited time to grow food and limited participation in entrepreneurship. The children on the other hand, end up missing out on education and playing. This has further widened the income disparities between men and women. No wonder the economies in developing countries have not registered much development.

The African Traditional Society also regarded women as the food growers. The women and their children were given the task of ensuring food security in their homes. However, the ownership of family plots was always solely reserved by the men. This means that the men had more influence over what is grown on these plots of land. In the same way, the men would take ownership of the agricultural produce. This is still the case in many developing countries.

So, what can be done?

Women should be empowered! But how can the women be empowered in the “modern times”. Many women missed out on the opportunity to go to school. However, this is not a time to regret on the mistakes that we cant take back. This is a time to effect change, a time for a new beginning of a era where Women and Men are equal.

Every tool can help, every project can cause impact. Technology, Football, Music, Art, Education,  Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, to mention but a few have been very key tools in women empowerment.

Whats your contribution towards women empowerment?

The struggle continues…

Made in the Village: Rural Innovations

8 01 2011

When people can barely afford the minimum standards of living, they often forget about the “basic” needs and all they work for is survival. This is one of the famous stories that people always tell about developing countries and “villages” particularly. And indeed this is true, imagine a village where the nearest health centre is more than 3 kilometer away from the people, with only one primary school and limited access to clean/ safe water!

A few weeks ago I was one of the panelists at the “Villages in Action” conference in Kikuube village located in Masindi, Uganda. This “first” ever village conference, was organized by Teddy Ruge of Project Diaspora.

Almost 50% of all the conferences organized world-wide have the agenda of rural development. However, most of these conferences are hosted in big cities, 5-Star hotels and most of the participants (including panelists) are people who have very limited insight of rural livelihood. This means that the rural people are always under represented.

It is against the above (specific) reasons that I think the “Villages in Action” conference was a very relevant conference to the people of Kikuube village and Uganda at large. This conference took the microphones closer to the rural people (for their voices to be heard) and the cameras closer to their faces (for them to show the world the part of the villages like they have never seen). Orange Uganda (one of the Telecoms) generously sponsored the conference with a dedicated 17Mbs fast internet connection to enable a live video stream of the conference (first of the kind in Uganda).

The young people of Kikuube village show-cased some of their technological innovations: * Radio made out of scrap radio part, * a woofer made out of a calabash and speakers cased in old jerry cans/ boxes and * a motorcycle made out of old plastic parts (and wood) tied together with banana fibers.

At this conference I learnt very many things, but most importantly, I learnt the reasons why many villages have remained backward even though they have a lot of potential to develop. Reasons include:

  • the rural people don’t have access to media,
  • they don’t have access to resources (information and capital) and
  • no mentors

So, without the above (among others) all their potential, good ideas and innovations always go unnoticed.

This festive season I spent 7 days in my home village visiting family and monitor the work done by rural farmers under the Rural Farming for Development project. During my stay in the village, I got a chance to see some of the innovations in my villages. And this time, I took each one of them very seriously.

Mr. Bugembe John is a local folk who has always blown people’s minds since I was a little boy because he is always trying to make something cool out of his ideas and scrap. When I visited my village a few years ago he was developing a Wind turbine which he used to generate some power to light his house for a while. This time I took the liberty to visit him and we had a very short but very momentous chat about locally-made technology and rural development.

“The challenge here (in the village) is, I develop gadgets but I don’t have capital! So, usually it’s a very huge sacrifice for me to keep investing my small finances into all these ideas that I have to implement them”, Mr. Bugembe said with an unhappy face.

“Recently I made a low-cost water pump; over here, let me show you”, he said with a happy face while walking me towards his little pig-sty where he keeps the water pump.

He showed me a demo of how the water pump works – see you Tube Video. When I talked to one of the local farmers about the water pump, he said “yes, Bugembe made a water pump – and its indeed powerful.”

Mr. Bugembe is just one of the many African-Innovators who have the ability to develop technologies that are localized for the African communities, at cheap costs. But these innovators have a challenge of limited access to resources – both in terms of funds and information.

I don’t know about everybody else, but I think Africa is at the point where we can make our own stuff, use it and share it with the world. The major advantage in this is people will get more localized technologies, easy to maintain and at cheap prices because things are made locally. The first step towards achieving this is to promote the rural innovations (and ideas) through the available media, provide mentorship to local innovators and make capital available to those who need it.

Water Access in Rural Uganda: VIDEO

31 12 2010

On October 15 th, I wrote the blog post – Water and People in rural Uganda. In this blog post I investigated some of the challenges facing rural communities in terms of access to water for domestic use.

During my stay in my home village this festive season, I learned yet another lesson about the hardships in water access in rural Uganda. This time I managed to capture a very short video (2:40) for you to watch.

Even though I remain very puzzled (because the situation has been like this for the past 15 years or so), I continue to ask myself whether people in this village should remain hopeful that one day safe water will come closer to them.

And this is where I want to ask our leaders – Members of Parliament (etc): “what have they done to improve on safe and clean water access which seems to be getting worse?”

Water and People in rural Uganda

15 10 2010

“Safe and clean drinking water is a human right”, declares the United Nations. However, its such a shame that to many rural communities around the world, this “human right” is still a “myth”. Many communities don’t have access to safe and clean drinking water.

Personally, I have a very special interest in observing the way people access water in rural Uganda. Often I carry a digital camera, to take photos on water access.

From my observation, I have noticed that many rural areas have hardships in accessing water sources – they often have to walk more than one kilometer to find the nearest water source. Often these are swamps, lakes, rivers, streams, or even mere trickles of water. A few rural communities have access to boreholes while others have managed to dig up water wells to enable free access to water.

During my travels to several parts of Uganda, I have noticed that women and children are the ones in charge of fetching water in their homes. Often, I would see women, girls and boys in both small and big groups carrying jerrycans of water on their heads and sometimes on a bicycle.

Even though many of these communities will not complain openly, they often face hardships. Hardships range from the long-inconveniencing distances that people have to walk to access water to threats of infections from water born diseases like typhoid, dysentery and bilharzia that people are prone to due to dirty and unsafe water. Rural people live with and suffer from, but know little about these threats because they are not informed but cases of typhoid, dysentery and bilharzia are very common in rural areas and the biggest cause is drinking dirty water.

I believe our communities need more information on improved water access, their rights and health information.


Communal Water Access - Apac District, Nothern Uganda

In the cities like Kampala, the story of water access is really saddening. People have to depend on broken water pipes to access free water. Others will look for streams on the suburbs of the cities where they live because many people still live in poverty and them, clean water (which they have to pay for) would not be very helpful when they don’t even have food. Often people choose to spend more on food and improvise with water by looking for free water sources in the neighborhoods. Even though the many urban poor don’t have to walk kilometers to access free water, they are at the same risk of catching diseases from this free-unsafe water.

Now the question remains, what can the United Nations do to ensure that even the rural-poor communities of the world get improved access to clean and safe drinking water?

At the same risk of catching diseases from this openly available water– so easy to reach in the short term, yet so costly in terms of health after all.