Water project improves quality of life, halts school abstention rate in Rwanda

Kirsten Oliver copyright

Beatrice Icyimanaizanye considers it a miracle that she no longer has to walk more than 6 km in search of water. She can now fetch it almost at her doorstep.

She is overjoyed as she narrates how a project funded by the African Development Bank has enabled her community in Tumba village in Rwanda’s Rulindo district to access safe and clean water. “Before the water supply system was completed in this village, life was very difficult, especially for mothers like me with six children to take care of. The nearest water collection point was down this hill, some 6km away,” the 40-year-old said.

“We would wake up early in the morning and endure the long queue at the water point in order to get water for drinking and cooking,” she stated, adding that sometimes they would buy the commodity at 300 Rwandan francs (about 31 US cents) per 20-liter container.

The long walk in search of potable water had a grave impact on households. Children’s education was disrupted as they needed to help their parents fetch water and firewood, Icyimanaizanye said. The situation also affected hygiene. “We would bathe once a week, and because we depended on dirty water, we contracted water-borne diseases which led to rampant cases of diarrhea,” she added.

The Rulindo district was previously part of the 5.1 million people who lacked decent access to clean water in Rwanda, according to WaterAid.

The situation has since improved. In 2015, the African Development Bank completed the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Sub-Program II, which spanned 15 rural districts across three provinces in Rwanda’s north, west and south.

The project, which involved building piped water systems and rain harvesting tanks, mainly at health centers and schools, started in 2009. It also produced two compact water treatment plants and latrines, and provided hundreds of public water kiosks and 145 water taps in homes.

More than 700,000 residents in the Rulindo district now enjoy access to water from improved wells, and 155,000 others benefit from enhanced sanitation. A 20-liter can of water now costs 280 Rwandan francs less.

“Our children are now attending school since they do not have to walk long distances to collect water. Our sanitation has tremendously improved because we now have enough water to observe hygiene practices. Water-related diseases have also significantly declined,” said Icyimanaizanye, who now has a full-time job maintaining one of the wells.

The Bank’s intervention has led to several other positive results: Across the country, access to water increased from 78% in 2013 to 84.5% by 2019 and the coverage of sanitation services rose from 74.5% to 83.4% over the same period.

Fauzia Haji, the Bank’s Acting Country Manager for Rwanda, said: “Investing in water infrastructure and resources management enables individuals, communities and nations to harness the productive potential of water and makes it more readily available for drinking, sanitation, cooking, irrigating crops, industrial processes, transport, and producing energy.”

Currently, the Bank’s support for the water and sanitation sector in Rwanda totals around €410 million. The program has covered urban and rural areas, including rehabilitation and expansion of water and sanitation infrastructure, training workers in the executing agencies, technicians and community water management teams. This support is geared towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6, which calls for clean water and sanitation for all.

African Development Bank photo copyright KIRSTEN OLIVER