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Multiple-use water services could advance all Millennium Development Goals

Water (Flickr: Snap) : Click to enlarge

Water is a highly valuable resource and the way it's managed can have a dramatic effect on people's livelihoods. We all need clean drinking water, but many other water uses do not need to be so clean, for example water for livestock, irrigation, and some small-scale production.

This fact is behind growing research on the potential of multiple-use water services (MUS) by the DFID-funded RiPPLE research project. MUS aim to supply water that is appropriate for all different demands. This alleviates community concerns over the amount of water available for production rather than consumption, and has the potential to improve the quality of domestic supplies.

This aim can be achieved by ensuring that water supplies are being used in the appropriate way. Systems may have been developed to provide water for livestock, for example, but have since become invaluable as domestic sources. MUS adapts such systems to provide suitable water for different uses, in the quantities that are required.

RiPPLE say that by installing or upgrading systems to make them suitable for multiple use around 220 million people in sub-Saharan Africa could benefit. They also say that MUS could address all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); a bold statement, but when you look at their argument its hard to disagree.

For instance, if you take the first MDG to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, it is clear that access to water can improve food security and generate income. Likewise, the fifth MDG aims to improve maternal health, and safer access to water for a range of uses reduces the workloads and stress on expectant mothers.

Similar arguments could be made for all six remaining MDGs. Some of the benefits are clearer than others, but the potential is there. RiPPLE has demonstrated these benefits through case studies from Asia and Africa that include income generation, nutrition, health, crop production, improved livestock health, time savings, and improved water management practices. Research in Ethiopia has also shown that these benefits by far outweigh the costs.

However, despite the great potential of MUS, its success depends on a number of challenges. Successful community-level MUS depend on participation, knowledge-sharing, and negotiation from the outset, making the design and management of an MUS project crucial. Local knowledge and context must be taken into account. Water is such a valuable resource to communities that they are not surprisingly - very protective over its distribution. This means that any tensions and concerns need to be handled with great care.

Learn more about MUS and the RiPPLE project on R4D 'MUS and the RiPPLE project on R4D'

 18 September 2009
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