Africa is currently bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change, particularly with regards to extreme weather.
Water access has been a legacy issue for the development of African nations, with demand continuing to rise (for example, a rapidly growing population means an ever-expanding agricultural network). Factor in the worsening effects of climate change on water supplies, and Africa’s future looks increasingly uncertain.
Drought and water-shortages are already commonplace around the Horn of Africa, with Kenya facing its worst drought in 40 years. No rainfall for three years has devastated infrastructure and agricultural production, leaving 18 million people on the brink of starvation.
Africa’s water crisis disproportionately affects women. UNICEF estimates that across the world, women and girls spend 200 million hours (22,800 years) a day travelling long distances from their house to collect water.
While African and international leaders scramble for solutions, a few African women are taking matters into their own hands, with impressive results.
‘Dar Si Hmad’ is a sustainable Moroccan non-profit initiative, co-founded in 2010 by Jamila Bargach. During that time, Morocco was experiencing severe water shortages, an issue which has now worsened into the worst drought in almost three decades.
Bargach’s solution was simple. Although riverbeds and reservoirs had dried up in her local area, she noticed that overnight, fog was still developing. Bargach and a small team of scientists and developers from the German Water Foundation set about designing a way to harness every last drop of water from this unlikely source.
What they came up with was a specialised net engineered to ‘catch’ the maximum amount of water possible from the humidity of the fog.
‘If you think about a volleyball net - in the morning, you find it wet because of the humidity collected. It's the same principle,'’ Bargach explains.
Once captured, the moisture is collected and passed through a specialised system, then split into containers and distributed into local communities.
The latest incarnation of their fog-harnessing tech, the CloudFisher system, is the largest of its kind in the world, able to provide villagers with up to 1,600 gallons of water a day.
This is not only vital for life in the community, but it particularly alleviates the burden that falls on the women in these communities.
As well as its unique conceptualisation, the fog project was also funded by maverick means.
Instead of the traditional route of pursuing government funding (which may have been especially unlikely in the aftermath of a financial crisis) Bargach and her team mobilised community volunteers and sought out donations. Funding came in from all over the world, supporting 16 net installations since 2010 in villages across the Aït Baamrane region. For Bargach and Dar Si Hmad, this is just the beginning.
‘We’re in the process of expanding the projects and hopefully we will connect at least eight more villages, if not 12, depending on the funding that we have.’ she said.
On the other side of the continent, in Rwanda, another female-led water initiative is driving huge change in local Rwandan communities.
In 2014, Christelle Kwizera founded Water Access Rwanda. The aim was to tackle reducing water collection times for women in her local community by developing an infrastructure that would allow for private installation of water pipes in homes, as well as public collection points, at a very low cost.
Water Access Rwanda’s most successful and effective service has been what Kwizera terms ‘Inuma’; a system of ‘mini-grids’ each taking 6-18 days to build. The construction project creates employment opportunities for local labourers and irrigation workers, who have to drill the borehole.
Once completed, a kiosk - the point at which the water is brought up from the ground and sold in exchange for tokens – is set up for communities to purchase water. Over 1000L of water can be bought for around $1, revolutionising and democratising water access.
Any private houses that fall within the catchment of a mini-grid can negotiate their own arrangement.
Kwizera’s success in fighting for change with her community in Rwanda was only the beginning, and she now employs large teams as far afield as DRC, Burundi and Uganda.
Innovative women-led ventures like Dar Si Hmad and Water Access Rwanda offer up a bright and sustainable future for Africa’s response to climate change.
What makes these projects special is their community-based philosophies; complex local problems are solved best by informed local knowledge, which offers hope that African ingenuity can lead to community-led solutions across the African continent.