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Neglected springs go from trickle to lifeline

Indonesia, March 21, 2012

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  • drri-water_airmanis1.jpg
    Air Manis' village Water Committee maps out how to get the community involved in rehabilitating their water supply and distribution system. Photo: Mercy Corps staff Photo: drri-water_airmanis1.jpg
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    Hoses connect natural hillside springs to provide water to village houses below. The rudimentary system is vulnerable to disruption from earthquakes and flooding. Photo: Mercy Corps staff Photo: drri-water_airmanis2.jpg
  • drri-water_airmanis3.jpg
    The Water Committee has surveyed and identified at least ten springs that are in need of protection from disaster. Photo: Mercy Corps staff Photo: drri-water_airmanis3.jpg

Padang is one of the world’s most vulnerable cities to earthquakes. Indonesia’s capital city is situated on a highly active fault line — the same one that triggered the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. And it is inevitable that another quake will hit in the future.

But residents here are not waiting around for disaster to strike.

With help from Mercy Corps and funding from Xylem Watermark’s Disaster Risk Reduction Water initiative, communities in the West Sumatra province are working to evaluate their risks and strengthen their villages to protect more than 900,000 residents from potential earthquake and flood damage. The program is one of six projects being implemented by Mercy Corps and the water technology provider around the world, helping people in Ethiopia, Tajikistan, China, Nepal and Colombia as well.

“Sweet Water”

It’s hard to miss the blue, yellow and white plastic hoses that snake across the paths in Air Manis, a village on the western coast of Padang. In fact, the village name means “sweet water,” which is carried from natural springs on a nearby hill to houses below through this rudimentary system. Residents are lucky to have access to this plentiful clean water source — and until now, have taken it a bit for granted.

“For drinking, bathing and washing, we have more than enough water right now,” says Nanda, the Secretary of Air Mani’s newly established Water Committee. “Forty to 50 percent of households have open wells with good enough drinking water quality, but most people prefer the spring water because it tastes better.”

After the Water Committee completed a Hazard, Vulnerablity and Capacity Assessment (HVCA) late last year, however, it became obvious that at least ten springs need protection — and the village needs a better system for collecting and distributing the water.

“If a tsunami sweeps through [and floods] all the wells in the village, it would force us to rely on the springs as our [only] water source. We need to do something with these springs as a contingency plan in case of a disaster,” says Pak Doni, the Vice-Coordinator of the Water Committee.

The local government tried to do that very thing in the 1980s. They built a concrete basin to collect the spring water and installed pipelines to channel the water to homes from that point. But the basin began weaken and crumble under increased water pressure during the rainy season, and it has never been rehabilitated.

So the Water Committee is launching a plan to rebuild and improve the basin to store the spring water and also filter out mud and sediment, especially during heaving rains. Their efforts will make the springs a safer and more reliable water source, not only in case of a disaster, but on a daily basis.

They’ll start with a “gotong royong,” or community work group, bringing residents together to clean the spring points and distribution lines. Once the basin is back up and running, the new distribution system will be community-run, with a small subscription fee to cover water quality monitoring, infrastructure maintenance and the Water Committee’s operating costs.

While they wait for approval from the local government, Pak Doni is hopeful that this work could eventually become an income-generating activity for the Water Committee, improving the overall standard of living in Air Manis: “Though this [system], the Water Committee could be sustainable and functional while the community members have easy access to sweet water with overall less effort and cost.”

Knowing the risks they face living in this earthquake-prone region, it’s obvious that the residents of Air Manis are committed to taking positive steps to ensure their sweet water is protected for generations to come.