Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

A Rwandan perspective: my messages for the post MDG development agenda

Christian, Executive Director of COFORWA

by Christian Muhawenimana, Executive Director of COFORWA, a leading Rwandan NGO working on WASH and ANEW member

There are so many important issues and priorities to include in the future post Millennium Development Goal agenda. From my perspective of working on WASH in Rwanda, I believe that an emphasis on local and context-specific projects that prioritise water resource management and sustainability is essential as well acknowledging the role the private sector can play in meeting water and sanitation needs.

Focus on small community-based initiatives
It is not very complex plans like constructions of very big water systems that will reduce  water crisis in the world, but rather very little, community-based, community-led and context-based initiatives that will make sure ordinary women, men and children in a remote communiies have access to potable water near their homes. The problem with policy makers is that they tend to think that they can think on behalf of communities which leads to a lack of ownership and compromises sustainability.

The importance of water resource management, sustainability and a role for the private sector
In Rwanda, water solutions are three fold. Tapping a source and give water to the people is rather simpler than making sure that the tapped source will continue to yield the same amount of water, or more, as when it is first tapped. In Rwanda, we have been experiencing sources drying up so we need water solutions to focus on an integrated approach to water resource management.

Another issue is sustainability. To give you an example, ten years ago a well was constructed in the community where I was born. If you go there today, you will not see a single sign of where the well used to be. Unfortunately, this challenge is not simple. I don't have a solution to this and I don’t think anyone else has.

The third component for water solutions is the involvement of the private sector. I have not heard of any country that was developed solely by government subsidy or foreign aid. It is through businessmen and women that current developed countries have come to emerge as economic superpowers. There should be mechanisms that make it easy for private business people to invest in water. Water as a business!

Balancing nature’s need for water with food production and industry

Balancing human and environmental use of water has always been a big challenge. We grew up in a me-first world and that led human beings to think that we deserve more attention than any other creature when it comes to water. When a community needs water, everyone thinks of tapping a source nearby. People hardly think that there is fish pond downstream that is fed by that source. No one thinks of the banana plantations down there. The only solution to this issue is to take measures that will allow us to increase the level of our ground water so that we can have enough water for both humans and nature.

Working together in the UN year of water cooperation
In this UN year focusing on water cooperation, countries need to have a common understanding of the kind of interventions that are needed. This will not be achieved if donors can't align themselves to country specific policies. International development fora are needed to integrate interventions towards a common goal: ending the water crisis.

Ensuring access to clean, sanitary water for all is country specific
What needs to be done to provide everyone with access to safe drinking water will always remain country specific. The interventions we make are always as varied as the cultures, contexts, believes and values within which they take place. In Rwanda, innovative ideas led by communities and supported by the government and donors would give tremendous results.

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