Fly into Kigali, Rwanda on a clear day and you’ll see that the lower the altitude, the lower the income. The hilltops are the places for the newest, most expensive homes; while the valleys hold the slums. It’s like this because here there are no sewers, and there’s a lot of rain. City runoff and drainage flows down from the hills to form valley streams—streams from which the poor collect their water.
In an age when water catchment and filtration technology exists in abundance, much of the drinking water in Rwanda is unsanitary. We see its effects in the health of the most vulnerable. The childhood mortality rate there is about 1 in 10, due to the prevalence of water-born disease.
Yet, this sad reality does not have to be. In 2008, 20 Liters in partnership with World Relief Rwanda began working in the Rwandan sector of Masaka to bring filtration solutions to those most vulnerable there.
Masaka is located about 30 minutes outside of Kigali ,Rwanda and was selected as the initial place to begin our work after a cholera outbreak killed nearly 500 people there in 2006. An underdeveloped rural area also hit hard by the 1994 genocide, over half of Masaka’s 35,000 residents are 18 and under—with 6% of children having no surviving parent and 22% having one deceased parent. To date, we have installed 1,180 slow-sand filters and 15 Rainwater Harvest Systems.
A small sector to the west of Masaka, Gahanga is inhabited by 19,632 people across 41 villages. Located near to the Nyabarongo River, some within this region only walk a 1/3 of a mile, while others in the Gahangan villages must walk up to 1.2 miles to the closest swamp or river to collect water—water that will make them sick without a filter. With no hospital in their district and only 1 health center, that can create a lethal situation. As of June 2014, we have installed 2403 SAM 3 filters (one per household), and 11 Rainwater Harvest Systems.
In early 2014, we entered our third district—Ntarama (pronounced Na-ra’-ma), an area inhabited by 11,581 people. Ntarama isn’t just hard to pronounce. It also epitomizes an extremely hard life on all fronts. The genocide of 20 years ago was horrendous in and of itself. Yet this small district was especially impacted by a disproportionate death toll – around 5,000 people. Add to the mental trauma are not one, but two dirty rivers serving the primary water source by a highly vulnerable community that can’t afford to boil water, or isn’t educated about water safety precautions. In Ntarama, we’re taking extra vigilance. Not only is there a need for clean water, but there is a need for education on why clean water and good hygiene is needed. Our efforts will be focused on the distribution of SAM 3 filters, but also the importance of why clean water is vital to the lives of these people.