Water scarcity in Uganda: UNSW students take the lead

Drought Resistance Uganda (DRU) is a student-led group working in partnership with the Love Mercy Foundation (LMF) to improve agricultural drought resistance in Uganda. Under the UNSW-GWI partnership with LMF, the group was founded in the second trimester of 2019 to continue working on a proposed solution from the 2019 ‘Humanitarian Engineering Project’ course, part of the Humanitarian Engineering Program at UNSW. Projects students are tasked with developing solutions to drought-related issues in various parts of Uganda.

DRU’s first goal was to support LMF and their in-country staff to collect weather data that would inform an irrigation design developed by students from the Humanitarian Engineering Project course in 2019. At the end of 2019, with support from LMF and travel grants supported by the Federal Government’s Endeavour Program the group travelled to Uganda where they successfully installed two weather stations and collected further information on the context and people for which they were designed.

This year, DRU has taken learnings from their trip to Uganda and applied them across three main projects. Firstly, they created a GIS map to consolidate the locational information they have collected, including the locations of the boreholes installed by LMF. Secondly, they continued to support local capacity to collect accurate weather data for the region, looking to install a new SIM card on weather stations under COVID-19 travel restrictions that would allow real time data collection and sharing. Thirdly, the group is investigating alternative locally grown crops that could be part of the LMF Cents for Seeds program and linking these agricultural changes to proposed irrigation requirements.  

DRU’s Alice Hood said that while the pandemic has put a halt to any projects which necessitate in-country presence, DRU has been able to continue to add value through research, design and development. 

“Recently, we worked with LMF to develop a problem statement for the 2020 ‘Humanitarian Engineering Project’ course, focusing on the issue of water access and SDG6. With LMF, we have acted as contact points through the course, lending insights into local context and learned experience of development work,” said Alice.

 Advice and guidance for fellow students

Both DRU and LMF were on hand to attend an October presentation by students on improving Water Access Water Access for Women in Northern Uganda. For their Humanitarian Engineering project Elena Lynch, Marlize Nel and Simone Tai have been working on developing sustainable solutions for clean drinking water in Barr village. Located in the district of Lira, the village experiences humid temperatures and low rainfall over the hottest months of the year and residents—usually women and children—are forced to regularly walk long distances to access drinking water, missing out on school and other opportunities in the process.

Over the past seven weeks, the students have developed three potential solutions to the problem statement based on information provided by LMF and DRU. One solution focuses on new and existing boreholes, another focuses on rainwater catchment and the third focuses on water purification.

There are some boreholes located within access of Barr village, but they are often difficult to access. To address this, the group is researching the possibility of implementing a bicycle loan program, enabling residents to hire purpose-built bicycles to enable them to collect and transport large volumes of water more efficiently.  The other option is to install new boreholes in areas determined to have the most significant need. The possibility of installing rainfall harvesting systems is also being explored, where rainwater is collected from the rooves of dwellings and filtered to a safe drinking standard.  A third alternative explored different water purification methods: one using a solar purification and the other using boiled water.

DRU members were very impressed by the thoroughness of the solutions presented as well as the attention given to what would be appropriate for the northern Ugandan context

Alice Hood, Drough Resistance Uganda (DRU)

Each of the potential solutions has its own advantages and disadvantages from cultural, economic and sustainability perspectives. To help determine the best approach, the students are developing a decision-making tool which considers factors such as costs, longevity, types of dwellings, residents per dwelling and rainfall volume.

During the presentation, DRU and LMF provided feedback and answered questions from the students involved. While there is further work to be done over the final three weeks of the course, Alice said that DRU were very excited by the students’ presentation.

“DRU members were very impressed by the thoroughness of the solutions presented as well as the attention given to what would be appropriate for the northern Ugandan context,” said Alice.

When the Humanitarian Engineering Project course winds up, DRU will explore how it can assist in implementing recommended solutions. A large focus for DRU this year included developing methods for effective information transfer between existing group members and new group members, and they look forward to welcoming new members in 2021.  

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