GWP Pakistan observed the suffering of the local communities owing lack of safe water in the household for drinking, cooking and hygiene during their field visits and was well informed through its network of Area Water Partnerships (AWPs). “There is an urgency to fix the problem of not having access to safe water in the greater Tharparkar Desert. In addition to the striking poverty levels, the communities suffer from ill health due to lack of access to water sources for household consumption” said Mr Mohamed Awais, Country Coordinator of GWP Pakistan. Securing water for a household has become a “women’s job” in rural Pakistan. The local women or young girls travel up to four hours per trip daily to fetch water. They are able of carrying only 8-10 litres per day due to the heaviness of the clay pots and the challenges they face when walking on rough terrain with a heavy load of water on their head or shoulders for a long distance. Most women suffer from muscular and spinal disorders and there were instances where some ran into health risks during their pregnancy. Men and boys are mostly reluctant to engage in fetching water as it is perceived as women’s job to ensure water availability for the household. Nevertheless, they are hesitant to carry water using pots and plastic cans like the way the women do. Moreover, it is a threat to her life as women spend much of their time on water collecting points and carrying them back home these females can become prey to misbehaved men also to animals. Girls tend to drop school as they become capable of carrying a pot of water and helping their mothers to fetch water to fulfil the household need.
The need assessment in two villages:
GWP Pakistan could not resist these disturbing messages anymore and decided to undertake a comprehensive need assessment just in two targeted villages in Cholistan and Tharparkar Deserts in collaboration with one of the AWPs, Cholistan Area Water Partnership. The aim of the survey is to assist the rural communities in desert areas to get access to safe water. The selected areas for the project were Punjab in Choilistan Dessert and Sindh in the Tharparkar Dessert.
A Team headed by Mr Muhammad Awais with the collaboration of Cholistan AWP launched the survey in May 2022. In addition to the need assessment, they ensured to gather data related to water scarcity, water quality and water management at the local level. Primary data gathering was conducted using focused and general group discussions and separate interviews were arranged for women considering their cultural norms and the necessity of reflecting women’s views in decision making. The comprehensive survey assisted the Team to design a viable mechanism for distributing the H2O wheels to the most needed communities in the selected villages.
“From the beginning, I was aware that GWP Pakistan alone is unable to find solutions to the crisis. Therefore, I started looking for potential partners who can support us on this worthy course”, said Mr Awais. Meanwhile, Tayaba Welfare International Association (TWIA)was identified by the Team as the best fit to collaborate and GWP Pakistan put forth their request to assist the needy communities which was fully accepted by the NGO. The partnership was further confirmed by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two organisations in April 2022. Through the MoU, GWP Pakistan is given the responsibility to provide access to safe drinking water to the communities in Punjab and Sindh villages after a careful needs assessment. Based on the needs assessments survey report, the Tayaba Welfare International Association will be approving the provision of H2O Wheels to GWP Pakistan to be distributed among the households. The beneficiary selection criteria, H2O Wheels distribution plan, organising awareness raising and branding will be decided mutually by the two partners. In addition, GWP Pakistan will also receive grants from TWIA to install two submersible solar water pumps with water tanks in Tharparkar.
The H2O wheels:
H2O Wheel stands for “Help 2 Others” Wheel which is a specially designed plastic water can that is tailored as an effective device to transport clean water safely. The 40-litre plastic container is produced from UV stabilised polyethene which creates the rolling surface of the H2O Wheel. The thick wall prevents sharp stones, glass and barbed wires from damaging the Wheel. However, it is advised not to allow the drum, while filled with water, to fall or roll downhill into rocks and trees as this may cause a crack and render the wheel unusable.
There are three openings in the container, two for water filling and cleaning and the third mini opening to facilitate hygienic openings for water without contaminating the contents of the wheel. These openings come with rubber seals to prevent leakages. The large opening even allows the users to put their arms inside to clean the drum. It is advisable to avoid using this large opening for using frequent water filling and to be used only if the wheel should be cleaned so that the rubber seal remains intact. The H2O Wheel should be washed externally and internally at least once a week. Any minor leaks will reduce the more the H2O Wheel is used. Therefore, the users should ensure to fix the seal properly whenever they use the openings. In case, one mini cap is lost or damaged, there is a stepony/utility cap on the front for replacement.
The H2O Wheel has a firm handle to control the container over tough and rocky rural terrain and allows the wheel to be pushed or pulled over any terrain rather than carried above one’s head. The handle is inserted and locked into the affixed white knobs for a tight grip. The heavy weight of the 40-litre wheel is borne on the ground, whereas a sealed cap ensures that the water is stored without any leakage.
Benefits of H2O Wheel
The 40-litre H2O Wheels carry five times more water than the traditional pots and plastic cans. When a household gets more water, it ensures cleanliness within the household ensuring hygiene among the members. In addition, access to clean water improves the health conditions of the family members. The zero-maintenance drum makes the H2O Wheel simple to use and the durable design that can withstand the harsh conditions in the tough rural terranes reduces the cost of buying new containers regularly to carry water. The extra water can be used to irrigate the home gardens that add additional nutrients to their meals and there is a potential for adding extra income to the household.
In May, GWP Pakistan distributed 150 H2O Wheels to water-scarce communities in Tharparkar. In addition, based on the needs assessment conducted in Qamar Haar Bheel Village in Tharparkar, GWP Pakistan decided to donate the two solar water pump systems to the said communities. Each system is composed of a solar cell array, solar water pump inverter, AC water pump, water storage device and an AC power pack. It uses solar energy as the power source to draw water from deep wells or other water sources through water pumps. The pumping system can switch the power source if the intensity of sunlight becomes weak from solar to another electricity supply source. Likewise, the second set of H2O wheels was donated in July which was 240 H2O Wheels to water-scarce communities in Cholistan.
The intervention intends to remove the burden off the shoulders of those, for whom obtaining water is a struggle. The head loading of mud pitchers carried by women every day coursed adverse effects on women’s health. Travelling for long distances to fetch water and wait in queues for hours reduced the family time for women and to get involved in other activities which they like. The H2O wheels would save time and allow these women to use the extra time on other household work and market-oriented activities to get an extra income. Especially for girls who drop school to help their mothers in domestic work would get time to continue with their studies. Some women who used to carry heavy loads of water during their pregnancy ended up with miscarriages, which will be prevented with the usage of containers that can be rolled on the terrain easily.
Girls during their periods should practice good hygiene practices and that can be improved by having enough water at home. This would ensure a healthy future generation. The safe water carrying and storing technique provides safe water for drinking after adequate treatment reduces illnesses and diseases of the family members and reduces the expenses over medicine.
The gender-neutral water-carrying method encourages the engagement of men and boys in fetching water that would help to redefine gender roles by reframing the enduring perception of water fetching as being “women’s work”. Engaging men on carry water will improve the safety of women and girls who regularly being exposed to numerous threats by travelling alone to carry water at any hour of the day.
GWP Pakistan’s plans
“The communities of Cholistan and Tharparkar were extremely happy to receive the H2O Wheels and were very grateful for us. The users have keenly listened to the instructions on how to use the wheel carefully. Moreover, the needs assessment conducted in the rural villages ensured that we should replicate similar donations in most of the areas in the two harsh desserts if we need to see a visible change among the population. Therefore, GWP Pakistan looks forward to mobilising more funds towards this worthy course and to ensure safe water to the communities” said Mr Awais.
Cholistan and Thar are two prominent deserts in Pakistan
The Cholistan Desert is located in the southern part of Punjab, Pakistan which forms part of the Greater Thar Desert which extends to Sindh Province and the Indian state of Rajasthan. Cholistan covers an area of 25,800 km2 and the entire region is subject to desertification due to poor vegetation cover. It is an arid and semi-arid Tropical desert, with very low annual humidity and a mean temperature of 28.33° C. The summer temperatures can surpass 46 °C and sometimes rise over 50 °C during drought periods. The average rainfall in Cholistan is 180mm which falls in July and August and the rest of the year remains dry. Water is collected seasonally in a system of natural or manmade pools. Mostly the water collected in the ponds becomes brackish and unsuitable for human consumption and plant growth.
The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent covers an area of 200,000 km2 and forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan. It is the world's 20th largest desert and 85 percent of the area belongs to India while the rest is in Pakistan. Much of the desert area is covered by huge, shifting sand dunes that receive sediments from the alluvial plains and the coast. The sand is highly mobile due to the strong winds that rise each year before the onset of the monsoon. The Desert consisted of a few saltwater lakes that receive rainwater during the monsoon and water get evaporates during the dry season.
GWP Pakistan is being a close ally of these desert communities since the inception of the Country Water Partnership (CWP). The CWP introduced a locally made bio-sand water filter to a selected set of households, worked with the communities to develop rainwater harvesting ponds, trained communities on soap making and introduced hygiene measures in the household, cleaned community wells and introduced home gardening to women etc. over the years. The assistance was further facilitated by the network of Area Water Partnerships (AWPs) that helped GWP Pakistan in community mobilisation in the mission of fighting desertification. GWP Pakistan is willingly continuing with their efforts to support these deprived communities and looking forward to building partnerships with stakeholders to ensure safe water and sanitation in their households.