Raincatcher Imperial is an annual student-led project that aims to improve the standards of living in Tanzania through the provision of clean drinking water. According to Tanzania’s Ministry of Water, it is estimated that 70% of the rural population have no access to safe water, causing the deaths of 31,000 children due to diarrhoea each year in Tanzania alone. In the remote regions, even unclean water is in short supply as the dry season lasts for up to eight months of the year. This forces locals to buy water in jerry cans from wells but as 58% of people live below the poverty line, this cost is unbearable for the majority. Raincatcher Imperial attempts to alleviate this problem by constructing Rainwater Harvesting Systems (RHSs) for such communities.
Raincatcher Imperial first began as the Tanzania Rainwater Harvesting Project and was started in the academic year of 2008-2009 when the Development Officer of the Anglican Church of Tabora sent a proposal for the construction of three rainwater harvesting systems to the Engineers Without Borders Imperial society.
Rainwater harvesting had been chosen as the means to provide clean drinking water to the local population as it is a simple yet effective method of solving the lack of water during the dry season in countries with seasonal rainfall patterns. In Tanzania, there is a dry season of up to 8 months, during which time there is little to no rainfall. In contrast, during the wet season, rainfall is heavy and flooding occurs. The total rainfall over the year is sufficient but is just unevenly distributed. Hence, through the adoption of rainwater harvesting, excess rainfall can be stored in tanks during the wet season, which will be rationed during the dry season. This would allow the local population to have a constant supply of water all year round, and minimise the population’s reliability on well water during the dry season, which is not only dirtier than harvested rainwater but expensive as well.
Since its inaugural project, Raincatcher Imperial has been working closely with Caritas Tanzania, a Tanzania-based NGO. Each year, a number of sites in need of a RHS will be identified by Caritas and presented to the team. Judging by the amount of funds that can be raised, the team will then decide on how many rainwater harvesting systems to build and the sites that they are to be built on. The choice of sites boils mainly down to which sites the team perceive to be most needy of a rainwater harvesting system, taking into account the advice and recommendation of Caritas at the same time. On top of that, other logistical factors such as accessibility to construction materials, the safety of the team as well as ease of travel are taken into account.
Upon arrival in Tanzania, members of Raincatcher Imperial also face many other challenges. One main challenge faced by different teams through the years would be the language barrier. In Tanzania, most of the locals speak sporadic English and many team members have difficulty in trying to communicate, with many having to resort to using hand gestures or drawings in the ground to bring across their point. Although most team members attempt to overcome this barrier by learning basic Swahili before going to Tanzania, their extremely fundamental grasp of the language is usually still inadequate in trying to communicate effectively. Another significant challenge lies in securing materials in Tanzania. In 2010, the team faced delays in their construction when no cement was being supplied to the town they were in despite it being a fairly large town.
The designs of the rainwater harvesting systems that are constructed by Raincatcher Imperial are done by a Tanzanian engineer specialising in rainwater harvesting systems hired by Caritas. At the same time, they are also checked by professors at Imperial College London. Key features of these rainwater harvesting systems include a dome-shaped storage tank, which take advantage of the compressive strength of concrete. At the same time, the dome shape minimises stress concentrations and reduces the chances of fracture in the tank. A ring beam has also been designed into the tanks to make them earthquake-resistant. They will also be built underground so as to save space on the ground. The design is also specifically more labour intensive to keep its construction costs low.
When the first rains fall after the dry season, the rainwater is allowed to first run off the roof but not into the tank. This first flush system allows the initial rainfall to be used to clean the roof of dirt and debris. Once the roofs have been cleaned, the storage tank inlet pipe is then connected to the gutters of the roofs, allowing water to be collected off the roofs of surrounding buildings and stored in the storage tank. The storage levels of the tanks should be managed such that at the end of the wet season, the tank is full. The water in the storage tank is then further pumped up into a water tower which is connected to a tap stand. In the 2010 project, the tap stand was located in a shed and can only be accessed by the matron and head girl of the school which the RHS was built for. This ensured that during the dry season, the water in the tank can be properly calculated and rationed to ensure that water is being consumed from the storage tank at a rate which will just empty the tank at the end of the dry season. At the end of the dry season, the tank is cleaned, inspected and the cycle repeats with the new wet season. During the team’s time there, Caritas and the team will also train locals on cleaning and inspecting the tank.
Through these projects, Raincatcher Imperial has managed improve the quality of life of the local communities. In 2010, by having clean water available at the school through the RHS, parents are more likely to send their children to school in order that they can get clean water and reduce the chances of their children falling ill. Both these factors mean that the children spend more time at school and receive a better education instead of spending their time walking to wells to fetch water, which may be contaminated. It has also allowed the school to accommodate more students in their dormitories, thereby allowing more children to be educated in hopes that through a better education, many will be able to eventually break free from the poverty cycle.
Through these projects, Raincatcher Imperial has also boosted the local economy as all resources and materials for the construction of these tanks were purchased locally, at a cost of approximately 12,000 GBP per RHS. Labour was also hired during the construction phase and this generated jobs for members of the local community as well.
In conclusion, Raincatcher Imperial strives to make a positive impact on the provision of clean water to the rural villages of Tanzania, and hopes to improve the quality of life for the people through the provision of environmentally sustainable and ethically sound RHSs. With the loyal support of its many partners and sponsors, together with the undying support from friends and family, the student members of the Raincatcher Imperial team look forward to the 2011 Project, as well as to the many more that are bound to follow.
If you would like to know more about Raincather Imperial or would like to support our efforts in any way, visit their website at www.rwh-tanzania.co.uk.