The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences student chapter and the Boston Professional chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB) have been collaborating over the past year to conceive, design, procure and construct rainwater catchment systems on three school buildings in the 3,000-person village of Mkutani, Tanzania.
The village has had long-term difficulty accessing clean water for drinking and bathing. The residents’ reliance on the heavily polluted local stream has resulted in a prevalence of water borne illnesses over the years. Consequently, their economy suffers and children regularly miss schooldays.
In 2016, EWB installed a deep bedrock well outfitted with a hand pump to supply clean water. This was the first such well for the community. A hand pump was installed as an interim solution with the long-term plan of installing a solar powered pump. The design and implementation of the solar pump system is underway. Meanwhile, the hand pump system is not meeting all of the village needs. It is difficult to operate for the amount of water needed and it is very difficult to transport water over the two miles necessary to reach peoples’ homes. This problem is underscored by a cholera outbreak last October that was the result of ingesting unclean water.
While the village center is over two miles from the water supply well, the school complex is even further away, and thus is less likely to be supplied with clean water on a regular basis. The need for a more reliable supply of clean water for the students and teachers was recognized during a trip to the village in 2017. The planning and design for the rainwater catchment system started soon thereafter.
The designed system consists of plastic tanks installed on concrete pads, connected with piping to downspouts and roof gutters. The tanks were locked in place with concrete blocks on four corners each and further secured with chains and locks. Two tanks were installed at the Headmaster’s House, three at the new schoolhouse and two at the new teachers’ house. A first flush system was included at each location to remove contaminants from the rainwater and jerry can pits were constructed to allow for easy access to the water.
In addition to building the rainwater catchment system, an emphasis was placed on working with the community to develop a 5-year maintenance and improvement plan. Meetings were held with the school committee and village leadership to solidify a formal plan in writing. A women’s meeting, a dispensary employee meeting and on-on-one surveys were conducted to ensure that all members of the community were represented. The final 5-year plan was then read to everyone at a general community meeting to help ensure accountability.
Seven 8,000 liter HDPE tanks, five jerry can pits, five first flush systems and over 250 feet of gutter had been installed in just three weeks. Continuous community involvement and the largest general meeting in project history had helped create the village’s first long-term plan for development. As we approach the second half of the summer, the MIT student chapter and Boston Professional chapter are preparing for their August implementation trip to convert the water supply well from a hand pump to a solar pump installation.