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Thirst for life: Access to clean water for all in Sri Lanka

Access to safe water sources is of utmost importance in preventing chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka's Dry Zone. Credit: UNDP Sri Lanka
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5 December 2022 
Amarasena lives with his wife Somawathie in Madukandai, an isolated village more than 8km away from Vavuniya city. Madukandai, located in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, is also part of the Dry Zone.
One of the major problems facing communities in this area is a lack of access to clean drinking water. Severe drought, inaccessible roads, and limited access to public transport mean that families have to walk miles and miles to find drinking water. Adding to this, the water quality in primary water sources including rivers, groundwater aquifers and natural lakes are sometimes vulnerable to contamination due to human waste and increased use of chemicals in agriculture. 
As a farmer, Amarasena says he often consumes groundwater as drinking water because they have no other choice. “For the longest time we were unaware that the water could be contaminated with pollutants”, he says.
Amarasena has been suffering from chronic kidney disease for over 6 years. Chronic kidney disease is a global public health issue prevalent in many parts of Sri Lanka. Studies reveal that chronic kidney disease appears to disproportionally affect rural male farmers who suffer from severe dehydration working under extremely hot and humid conditions. Owing to lack of resources and access to healthcare, the condition goes undiagnosed by many sufferers. In advanced stages, the cost of treatment for chronic kidney disease is far too high for smallholder farmers to bear, which has resulted in many deaths in the area. 
Access to safe water sources is of utmost importance in preventing chronic kidney disease. Sri Lanka, being a middle-income country has made significant progress in reducing extreme poverty and in providing access to clean water supply. Yet, many communities in rural villages across the country remain left behind. It cannot be ignored that there is a significant number of families that are still living in extreme poverty with no access to basic needs. Clean water is essential to maintain good health. Lack of clean water affects household consumption as well as local schools where children have to consume unfiltered water. To solve this problem, the biggest issue faced by communities is that some villages are so secluded that there are no sources of water to set-up new water schemes and purification systems.  
For Amarasena and many others, the only alternative is to collect rainwater.  
Through the ‘Climate Resilient Integrated Water Management Project’, Amarasena’s family was one of the first households in Vavuniya to be introduced to rainwater harvesting. The 7-year project improves access to clean water by enhancing community-managed drinking water infrastructure, and targets individual houses in isolated areas where people have little to no clean water. Through the project, over 450 households in Vavuniya have already been introduced to use rainwater harvesting as a reliable source of clean water.  
Filling up a pot of water from the tank, Amarasena says,
“We have access to clean drinking water now. Even when I go to work, I take this water with me. Ever since, our lives have improved so much. My illness has gotten better and I know that the quality of water has had a big role to play in this. The number of chronic kidney disease incidents in our area has also reduced because of the quality of the water." 
Amarasena and Smowathie won’t have to worry about consuming unsafe water anymore. 
Somawathie adds, “We use this water to cook and we happily share with those in need. These tanks are so important and valuable for everyone in the community.”
Access to clean water is a human right and a key foundation for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Clean water helps communities thrive. It creates a safer environment for younger generations and ensures good health and well-being. Sustainable management of water resources unlocks economic growth and productivity. Access to water improves irrigation systems and makes the agriculture and food sector more resilient in the face of climate change. Clean water also contributes to achieving gender equality. With access to water, women are more likely to engage in income earning labour and are less likely to miss out on these opportunities as a result of travelling long distances to fetch water.  
The successful work done through the project is implemented by the Government of Sri Lanka with technical support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by the Green Climate Fund. The next phase of the project aims to develop an integrated water management plan for cascade systems in the area.  
For more information about the project 'Strengthening the Resilience of Smallholder Farmers in the Dry Zone to Climate Variability and Extreme Events', please click here.
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  • SDG 13