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Getting potable water for Fiadanana

The villagers had been asking the government for water and a school since the First Republic, the period right after independence from the French colonial power, 45 years ago. Having tried for so long without any luck, the villagers hope is running thin that the authorities might provide help.

Working with the villagers on getting clean water into the village is paramount. In a large initial community gathering with all villagers, organized by Zahana, this was made clear by the community. In follow-up visits, including the last two in October and November 2005 the villagers again expressed the need for clean water as the most important step to improve their quality of life. The engineering and resource challenges to make this happen become clear as this project takes shape and the concrete steps are taken for its realization.

A shorter version of how the communal water system was sucessfully built (with pictures)

The situation

Currently water has to be fetched from two designated (ground water fed) waterholes or directly from the river one km away.  Waterholes are communal and can be used by all.  Villagers maintain the holes periodically by cleaning out the mud with shovels to prevent it from silting in. Water is carried in buckets back to the village.

The water available for the villagers is neither very clean not of good or safe drinking quality. According to the villagers the water currently available for drinking, cooking and other needs is used as it comes out of the ground. The water hole in the pictures is located in a valley, accessible via a downhill dirt path, some 5-10 minutes from the edge of the village.

water hole Fiadanana

water hole Fiadananawater hole Fiadanana
Location of communal water hole                                 One of the two communal water holes

Fetching waterfetching water

Woman fetching water carrying water back

Drinking the waterGirl drinkiong the water

Girl drinking the water from the water hole

Getting water falls mostly to the women and childeren of the village. Even children as young as 4 years old can join the older ones, by carrying an 1 or 1.5 liter plastic water bottle to share the burden.

Yellow bucket with water Yellow bucket with water
 Yellow bucket of water
Boy getting water in bucketGetting water with buckets
Fetching water with buckets

The plan

Based on the community feedback getting water into the community of Fiadanana has a to be a two level strategy.

Installing a hand pump in the village as soon as possible to ensure access to clean drinking water.  This pump will be located on the grounds of the future school, so children will have access to it during their school day. A variety of hand pumps are available in Madagascar, most of them providing between 1000 to 2000 liters of water per hour, depending on the depth of the water table. They cost between US$500-2000 depending on the model, country of origin and warranty. .

To ensure a reliable permanent water supply a pipe system from a water source in the mountain into the village to be built has been requested by the villagers. This work will require the help of experienced water engineers and takes 4-6 weeks for the community to complete. This undertaking is only advised after the rainy season has ended and the rice is harvested, in the months June or July. (The Malagasy wintertime).

Hiking up Bevato mountainHiking to the source
Leaving for a hike to the springs on the mountain

The permanent water system

There are two springs with clean water on the mountain next to the village that never dry out.  The first one is a good 45-minute hike, but does not provide enough water for the villages needs.

The first spring

First source on the hike

A second source higher up on the mountain, some two and a half kilometers from the villages provides clear clean water all year long. According to the traditional practioner this source has never dried out in his lifetime. The area shown in the picture is rather leveled naturally and has been chosen by the villagers as the best site for a dam to collect and provide water for the village. Shaded by some trees is has become a well-known resting place for thirsty hikers up the mountain. The villagers drink the water straight from this source.

Site of the future dam

The location of the future dam

Future water damwater to be dammed

Water table at the driest month of the year

The spring of the water originates a few hundred meters higher up in the mountain and feeds a rather lush biodiversity of riparian vegetation along the little streambed, (as can be seen by the tress growing along the streambed in this picture below.)

riperian zone of water source

Riparian zone along the creek

Getting the water from the spring into the village

This water at the chosen site has to be dammed and channeled into a PVC pipe system to be carried directly into the village. On the village level the water will be collected in a central storage tank and distributed to all from there.

Fiadanana from the air

Fiadanana surrounded by rice fields as seen from the mountain

How this can be done

An initial survey team has in collaboration with the villagers walked all the distance from the source to the village and determined that 2500 meters of pipe (1.5 miles) will be needed to cover the distance from the source in the mountain to the center of the village.

An experienced specialist in dam building and water systems will be hired by Zahana to assist the villagers in their task. Zahana will provide the plastic pipes, the cement and the water storage tank for the village.  Many of these goods have to be bought in the capital of Antananarivo and trucked into Fiadanana. This can be done e.g. by a truck that drives into the area to pick up rice for the market in the capital and may drive towards Fiadanana empty.

The villagers will contribute their labor to the project. They will dam the water source. They will dig the trench for the pipes, as well as provide the sand and pebbles needed for its construction. Zahana only provides the funding for the pipe system and the water -storage unit. The financial responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the entire water system falls solely into the responsibility of the villagers. Exclusively the villagers will manage the distribution and allotment of the water in their village. A fee for water model will be developed and implemented with the community, that enables them to accumulate a savings fund to finance repairs or the possible replacement of the pipe system in the future with their own means.

Safe drinking water

Providing safe drinking water is one of the single most important public health measures in any village in Madagascar. While the water from the spring looks clear and clean it might still be contaminated with pathogens, although is it already far superior to the river consumed in the village at present. To achieve this goal Zahana plans to provide the community with a solar water pasteurizer, the SunRay-1500. Using a unique patented system this system harvests the energy of the sun (or and additional optional burner for cloudy or rainy days) to pasteurize 1500 liters of water and make it 99.99% pathogen fee. The technology for this solar system has been developed in Hawaii. Only when the water has been heated to the appropriate temperature will it be released form the SunRay unit and is safe for human consumption.

Depending on the hours of sunshine one unit produces at least 1,000 liters of safe drinking water per day. Virtually indestructible, this unit has no moving parts and has been used for over 15 years successfully in many countries around the world.

This unit will be placed next to the water storage tank and is being fed directly for the water supply of the tank. With very little instruction the villagers can be thought to use this water only for drinking purposes. For all other purposes like bathing, washing cloths or watering, the water from the faucets attached to the storage unit can be used directly.


Having access to clean water will have the single biggest direct impact on peoples lives. Reducing waterborne diseases, like diarrhea currently affecting the villages children frequently, will have a positive impact on the overall health of the village. Bilharziosis (Schistosoma haematobium), caused by another water borne parasite, is the second most frequent disease (and the reason for Diarrhea). Water has a direct financial impact on the community, because it reduces the need to for medication and hospital visits. Paying for treatment currently often forces villagers to sell their rice, chicken or cattle to pay for transportation, treatment and lodging far away from home.

Improving the overall health and hygiene in the village will be a proof that Zahana is serious about its development goals. Having the villagers contribute their labor and many materials as an in kind contribution gives them ownership of their water supply, because it is them who built it, not some outside contractor, as well intended as their effort might be. This will foster the willingness of the community to take charge of the upkeep of their truly own water supply.

Water sources, fetching water or washing cloths, traditionally become gathering places for the community, where one can meet and exchange news with others.  Locating such an important communication point within the village, most likely will make this and important social center that can positively impact the community life. The role of water guardian can be rotated among the villagers.

Educational goal

Simple hygiene education, like e.g. washing hands before eating is not realistically feasible if water is a scare commodity and has to be carried in manually. Washing cloths and bathing also become a luxury if every drop of water has to be carried into the village first. Educational programs that center around water, hygiene, farming practices (like gardens close to the house) will become possible with the availability of water. Safe drinking water and its importance for health is another avenue for developing educational health programs. Water will also be the central focal point for the environmental education program of Zahana (see chapter about the community school and rural university), since it is truly the source of life for plants, animals and humans alike.

Kids Fiadanana Kids Fiadanana  2

Kids Fiadanana  3Kids Fiadanana 4

Role model for other communities

Many plans for providing access to water for rural communities have been developed over the years. Many of these plans are costly and have stayed in drawers for years after an expensive and elaborate planning process.  Some of them get water from the mountains and deliver them to one village after another, others plan on digging ground well using energy consuming or hand pumps. Ground wells often bear the problem that the soil is too unstable to support such a heavy structure and pumps or cemented structures have caved in and became unusable if the work was not done properly. 

By taking matters in their own hands with the support of Zahana the villagers in Fiadanana can demonstrate to others that taking action instead of waiting for water from some other entity is the best way to assure their access to this much needed natural resource. In the long run it will also prove to be cheaper and more reliable, because they are not depended on some company outside the village for their water.  In this way they avoid unexpected price hikes or water shortages, because their water allotment may be diverted somewhere else when development priorities change.