Gravity Village Water Supply in Sierra Leone


By John La Roche, a New Zealand engineer and author

The 370 people in Gbewobu Village in the Kenema District of Sierra Leone have built their own gravity water supply.

Gbewobu is one of 15 gravity water systems receiving support from the British charity WaterAid, with funding from New Zealanders, to provide desperately needed water supplies to 16,500 people. WaterAid has been working in the area since the late 1980s, having completed 21 gravity systems for a population of 45,000 people prior to the new program.

Sierra Leone in West Africa is a one of the world's poorest countries. It has an annual Gross National Product of only $200 USD per capita, and an under-5 child mortality rate of 249 per 1,000 children. Meanwhile, only 37% of the population has access to safe water.

In Gbewobu, a water committee was established to oversee the construction and long-term management of the new gravity water system. The community was/is responsible for:

The Sierra Leone Ministry of Energy and Power (MEP) Water Supply Division, in partnership with WaterAid, is responsible for program implementation. The involvement of the community is considered to be a crucial feature in the success of the project, building on the strong traditional structure of Mende society.

Untreated gravity supply water systems are the preferred option in the area because they are simple, easy to maintain, and lend themselves to a high degree of community participation.

A small dam collects water from the stream at a 70-metre elevation above the village. Water is piped through 770 metres of galvanized and MDPE pipe to a ferro-cement storage tank. Galvanized pipe is used in rocky areas, and where a trench can be dug, MDPE pipe is used. Distribution in the village is by a branch system with one tap for every 150 people which is about one for every 10 houses. The tap is usually less than 150 metres from the consumer.

The sanitation program involves the provision of ventilated improved pit latrines. As part of the community commitment, WaterAid requires a minimum of 30% of households to have duo latrine pits before construction of the dam begins.

That happened quickly in Gbewobu. WaterAid resident engineer Geoff Marks said the community members worked so quickly that his installation team had difficulty keeping up! 

Health education is of prime importance to the success of water projects. The MEP/WaterAid's traveling education and motivation campaign team visit all communities several times during the construction period. Two five-day workshops are conducted. They consist of a series of activities  to encourage full community participation in construction and to improve water management and personal hygiene practices. Presentation techniques include stories, drama, songs, puppet plays, visual aid boards, and drawing on the local culture.

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