The Value of Clean Water
Waterborne diseases like hepatitis and typhoid fever cause sickness and sometimes death on the island of Anjouan in the Comoros, but a strategic intervention that is tackling the problems of pollution and erosion has the potential to fundamentally change the management of water resources in the Mutsamudu River Basin and improve the health of the people living there.
Mutsamudu is the second largest city in Comoros and home to approximately 30 000 people, all of whom depend on the water resources of the Mutsamudu River, a catchment that is under extreme pressure from increased abstraction, pollution from solid waste and degradation owing to deforestation and poor agricultural practices. Moreover, the city’s water infrastructure is inadequate, poorly maintained and unable to meet the needs of a growing population.
Bacterial analysis of water samples taken from Anjouan revealed that 60% of samples were severely contaminated. There are also fears that climate change could severely constrain the future availability of water resources on Anjouan.
The provision of water to Mutsamudu is the responsibility of the municipality and the L’Union des comités d’eau d’Anjouan (UCEA) – a federation of community water users. Tariffs are charged for the piping of water from the river to consumers, but many people are reluctant to pay the tariff because they are dissatisfied with the quality and supply of water. However, the failure by residents to pay for piped water limits the ability of the service provider to invest in infrastructure and improve the quality and quantity of water it delivers, a situation that leaves the population frustrated and vulnerable to disease. Water quality is badly affected by high sediment loading and pollution caused by solid waste.
It is against this backdrop that an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) demonstration project has been established by the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development Programme, working in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment and the Municipality of Mutsamudu. The overall objective of the demonstration project is to develop and implement an IWRM plan for the Mutsamudu River basin and significantly improve the management of the river catchment. One of the ideas behind the project is that improved water quality would result in increased consumer satisfaction and this would, in turn, lead to increased water revenues for the municipality. If these revenues could be channeled into systematic water resources management practices, improved water quality could be sustained, with tangible benefits for people and the environment.
The first activity conducted by the IWRM demonstration project was to carry out a water resources assessment of the Mutsamudu River Basin. A number of monitoring sites were identified and technical training was provided so that a systematic monitoring programme could be instituted. Collaboration between the demonstration project, the University of Comoros and the Ministry of Water has led to the refurbishment and equipping of a previously defunct Water Analysis and Quality Control Laboratory.The laboratory, which is situated at the Matsumudu campus of the University of Comoros, now has the capacity to conduct bacterial, chemical and physical analyses of water samples collected from the Matsumudu and other rivers on Andjouan. This will not only allow the demonstration project team to monitor the impact that the IWRM plan has on water quality in the Matsumudu basin, it will also provide early warning to residents in the event that water becomes dangerously contaminated.the quality of the water in the Mutsamudu River is now being routinely tested.
The hard work of removing and managing the solid waste that is polluting the Mutsamudu River, particularly in the area upstream of the municipal water supply intake, is a key corner stone of the project. A pilot solid waste management collection service has been established with the support of the UCEA and local NGOs, and the process of educating and informing the people who live on or close to the river about the importance of responsible solid waste management has begun.
The demonstration project is also providing technical assistance to protect the reservoir on the Mutsamudu River.
The reservoir area is surrounded by small-scale farmers whose traditional farming methods have resulted in a high degree of soil erosion from wind and rain, causing siltation and blocking of the municipality’s water infrastructure and degradation of the Mutsamudu River. In response to this problem, the project is working with the farmers, demonstrating the impact of their practices on the environment and water quality, and introducing techniques that make cultivation easier, increase yields and also protect natural resources, particularly soil and water. Storage and use of fertilizers is also receiving attention, with secure, waterproof sheds with concrete bases being constructed as stores for fertilizers kept on farms in the area around the reservoir. A fence has been constructed to keep cattle and animals away from the reservoir.
Watch the videos produced about the demo project:
Community support for the protection and management of the Mutsamudu River Basin is absolutely critical for the success of the demonstration project and a key component of the project is the establishment of a catchment management committee, comprising stakeholders with key water responsibilities and interests.A water management plan has been developed following comprehensive consultations with stakeholders and the catchement committee is in place.
Bolstering these interventions is an inclusive public awareness campaign that is engaging the people of Mutsamudu in an effort to keep the river clean. This campaign has quickly gained momentum, with students from the university joining local residents and the army soldiers in river clean-ups, tree planting excursions, workshops and seminars.
Excitingly, the project’s strong outreach component has attracted the attention of the Comorian diaspora – Comorans living in France, Mayotte and the USA who are now contributing their energy and enthusiasm to the community’s efforts to better manage the Mutsamudu catchment, improve water quality and combat disease.
Critically for the people of Comoros, if the principles of IWRM can be demonstrated in the Mutsamudu catchment, with tangible benefits for the health and well-being of the people of Mutsamudu and surrounds, it is highly likely that similar interventions can be made in other catchments elsewhere in Comoros, where dependence on surface water resources is also high.