Nestled beneath lush, coastal mountains in the commune of Mahatalaky, southeast Madagascar, lies Belavonky; a cluster of wooden houses lying in the dappled shade of lychee and mango trees either side of the RN12 dirt road. In many ways, Belavonky is the image of a typical, rural Malagasy village. However, in an area where over 50% of Mahatalaky citizens rely on unprotected water sources, Belavonky residents have taken ownership of their clean water sources, investing in simple yet life-changing rainwater harvesting systems. Bright, almost incongruous, blue tanks accompany many of the traditional houses in Belavonky. The palm-thatched (ravinala) roofs are draped in a series of slanted, tarpaulin sheets to catch the rainwater. In Madagascar, diarrhoeal diseases linked to dirty water and poor hygiene is the number one killer of children under five. These systems not only drastically improve the health and wellbeing of the household that own them, but it also eases the daily hardships of water collection.
The idea was conceived over two years ago, and since then, Project Tatirano (meaning rainwater in Malagasy) has gone from strength to strength, driven by its eight committed staff members. Project specialists help install the systems, run rainwater harvesting and sanitation education classes, and provide on-going maintenance support. In return, the household is asked for a monetary contribution towards the system and offers a 0% interest, no-collateral loan for up to six months. Asking for a contribution not only motivates involvement, but it can also instil a sense of responsibility within the beneficiary and their community.
Since joining SEED Madagascar, the organisation that runs Project Tatirano, I’ve had the pleasure of watching these systems in action and meeting the families that own them. On a recent trip to the Mahatalaky commune, Marsela, a proud Tatirano system owner, excitedly tells the Tatirano team how after a recent downpour the system not only provided clean drinking, cleaning and cooking water for her household but for her extended family living nearby. Females often carry the burden of water collection and are the primary water collectors for households in the region Project Tatirano works. Just up the road from Marsela, another system owner Prosperine commented on how she productively harnesses the time that would otherwise be spent collecting water. ‘Before the Tatirano system was installed, I barely had enough time to finish my work in the kitchen and the main house. But during this past week of rain, I’ve been able to spend more time weaving mahampy mats (sold for little over £1 each) and I have managed to weave three in the past week instead of two.’
However, the question that remains at the heart of the project is whether some of the poorest people in the world are willing to prioritise their wages for clean water? An understandable concern for many Malagasy families whose income is a seasonal, and sometimes unreliable, harvest. Initially, residents were hesitant about signing up, but with the help of a donor subsidy in early 2018, Project Tatirano was able to reduce the price of the rainwater harvesting systems and within nine days of the change, the remaining systems sold out.
Signups for a Tatirano rainwater harvesting system have since gone through the roof, looking to install over 140 systems by mid-2019. On top of that, the project has seen a 100% loan payback rate. By June, the 140 systems will have the capacity to hold over 2 million litres of clean rainwater to provide more families like Marsela’s with safe drinking water. In unlocking the potential of living in a tropical climate, these modest systems have provided time, resilience and improved health to some of Madagascar’s most vulnerable.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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