Working together for a healthy catchment

A comprehensive integrated management plan of the Provaz River basin on the island of São Tomé, provided an opportunity for the 8 500 people who depend on the river’s resources for everything from drinking to washing, to address the problems affecting the quantity and quality of water in the river.

The Rio Provaz basin, is the main source of water for domestic and industrial use in the town of Neves, the capital of Lembá district. An analysis carried out in 2009 and 2010 identified the basin as one of the most sensitive and vulnerable area of all water catchments on São Tomé. Over the past few years, it has been affected by several natural disasters, probably caused by changes in land use and climate change. For example, there has been an increase in land conversion from tropical rain forest to agriculture and charcoal production; practices that pose a major threat to the water resources of the Provaz and which may compromise water supply in the future.

These issues were brought to the fore in October 2009, when floods swept through part of Neves, causing major damage to the residential area and to the water supply infrastructure.

Concern for the future, and a recognition of the importance of the river’s resources to the people of Neves, has resulted in the establishment of an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) demonstration project that is working to improve the management of the Provaz River catchment. The pilot project is financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The government of São Tomé and Príncipe is co-financing the demonstration project and has appointed the Ministry of Public Works, Natural Resources and Environment as the lead agency responsible for implementation at the national level.

One of the most important components of the demonstration project was to comprehensively map the Provaz River catchment. This activity significantly enhanced the understanding of the river’s resources as well as their distribution and utilisation. The mapping allowed the establishment of a baseline for the long-term monitoring of the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the river and the management of the catchment. An assessment of groundwater resources − including an assessment of springs and wells and the targeted drilling of boreholes to test the quality of groundwater − has also been undertaken. Thanks to these activity a monitoring system was put in place and is sending real time information about the basin to the Ministry.

Community participation is another key component and to this end a comprehensive analysis of the needs, concerns and priorities of river basin stakeholders was carried. Participatory meetings and workshops have been held with community leaders, business owners and local authorities to create awareness of, and generate support for the demonstration project. One of the key output of meeting was the elaboration of an integrated watershed management plan for the Provaz River basin.

An inter-sectoral, multi-stakeholder local water committee has been established to facilitate liaison with river basin residents and to implement the integrated watershed management plan. Brand new office have been built to host this committee. However, consultation with residents is complicated by the fact the people living in the catchment area are mainly fishers and small-scale farmers whose daily work leaves them with little time to attend workshops, meetings and other activities of the project. Participation has been improved by working through non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in improving small-scale supply networks and sanitation in suburban and rural areas. NGOs are also working to create awareness of responsible water usage among the residents of the area. The project also provided equipments to a community radio to support the production of educational radio documentaries on sustainable water management.

Importantly, a number of workshops have been conducted with local women so as to ensure that the people who use the river most (primarily for washing, laundry and cooking) are intricately involved in the roll out of the demonstration project. The activity was so successful that women groups decided to volunteer to conduct weekly river clean-ups. Over 500 hundred women of Neves have been working together on a regular basis to remove large quantities of solid waste from the Provaz River catchment.

Women’ efforts mirror those of the local municipal authority which has been removing solid waste from the catchment on a daily basis since the IWRM demonstration project sponsored the purchase of a dedicated vehicle and equipment for this purpose. A number of refuse bins have been constructed to centralise the disposal of solid waste and the awareness campaigns that highlight the importance of disposing of solid waste in a responsible way, continue to be rolled out to all residents of the catchment.

With a view to addressing the pollution of the Provaz River catchment, the project has established 5 pilot sites for the testing of ecological sanitation (ecosan) systems that safely recycle human waste for the beneficial use of agriculture. When properly designed, ecosan systems are safe, hygienic and economical and allow the use of nutrients in human waste to be returned to the soil, and water to be returned to the land. In a plea to reduce the influx of heavy metals from engine oil in the water, a moto wash has been built away from the river bank. Resident of the city will pay a small fee to use the facility and wash their vehicles. The income generated will be used to finance the work of the river basin committee.

Finally, the project is also working with local communities and a local non-governmental organisation, Friends of Rio Provaz, to fight erosion by promoting the afforestation of the river basin. This activity was complemented by the dredging of the river banks to prevent floods by increasing the depth of the river channel and removing silt that build up over the years. Drains have also been built to evacuate the excess water from heavy rains into the sea.

Watch the videos produced about the demo project:

Better knowledge and understanding of the basin has led to active stakeholder involvement in the management of the catchment and, in time, will provide improvements in water availability and quality, for the benefit of the people who live in basin and depend on its resources for their health and well-being.

“Based on the experience from the pilot project, the Ministry of Public Works, Natural Resources and Environment is now looking into replicating the pilot project to the two other river basins of the island of São Tomé in an effort to promote a coordinated and collaborative approach to water management. The project team is already supporting exchange programmes between the residents of Neves and the two newly formed river basin committees” said Chicher Pires Diogo, the Director of Water Resources at the General Directorate of Natural Resources and Energy of São Tomé and Principe.

This pilot project is part of a broader regional United Nations Environment Programme and UNDP project financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) aiming at promoting IWRM in six small island states from the Indian and Atlantic Ocean: Comoros, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sao Tome and Principe and Cabo Verde.

The initiative is addressing the paragraph 64 of the SAMOA Pathway on water and sanitation and directly feeds into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Global Goals. In particular, it will help ensuring gender equality (Goal 5) and availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all (Goal 6). It also responds to the need protect life on land (Goal 15) and coastal ecosystems (Goal 14) and will help combat climate change and its impact particularly in Small Island Developing States (Goal 13). Finally the project should build on existing initiatives to develop measurements of progress on sustainable development that complement gross domestic product, and support statistical capacity-building in developing countries (Goal 17).