Voices from the Field: Rwanda—Increasing Access To Clean Water, Improving Health

“I was born in this village of Kabatasi. We were using the swamp water for all our home needs, resulting into different illnesses,” explains Alphonse Rusumbabahizi, a resident of Rwamagana District in Rwanda’s Eastern Province. “Now that we have cleaner water, we are no longer having cases of illnesses like diarrhea at home.”

Rusumbabahizi, 48, is one of the beneficiaries of clean water from storm water drainage canals that have been renovated through support from the IntraHealth-led Twubakane Decentralization and Health Program.

Rwamagana is one of 12 districts supported by the Twubakane Program. Access to clean water has been one of the main problems faced by the district’s population. Three years ago, 48% of all households had to travel more than 500 meters to access clean water. With different interventions, including renovation of the storm-water drainage canals through District Incentive Funds (DIFs) awarded by Twubakane, that percentage has been reduced to 35%, and the district target is to reduce it to 0% within the next three years.

“With this project, we have reduced problems related to the lack of clean water. People are no longer using stagnant water to drink, cook or wash dishes and clothes. The renovation of the storm water drainage canals . . . has a direct impact on the life of our population,” notes Valens Ntezirembo, Rwamagana District mayor.

With the DIF, Twubakane supported the renovation of 32 storm water drainage canals in Rwamagana District. The project cost the equivalent of $23,000, and more than 2,000 households now benefit from the new water drainage system.

An integral component of the Twubakane Program, DIF grants support capacity building of local government authorities—providing the opportunity to strengthen their budget and planning capabilities and demonstrate their management skills—while providing additional resources to meet district’s priority needs in health and good governance.

“We very much appreciate the approach of the DIF grants,” says Ntezirembo. “It gives us ability to define and fund our priority needs. We would recommend this approach to other partners.”

Rusumbabahizi comes at least twice a day to fetch water. “I have two children: one is five, and the second-born is three. Before, it was very difficult for us to get clean water to drink and to use for different purposes at home. My children were always sick, either from diarrhea, cough, or other sicknesses,” he says, noting that now his children are growing up in good health. “I no longer spend much time and money bringing them to the health center. I sincerely thank every person who participated in giving us clean water.”

“The project is very cost-effective; we don’t spend much on the maintenance, and people fetch water free of charge,” adds Ntezirembo. “Since this water comes from its source, it doesn’t dry up during the dry season; it’s very sustainable.”

The five-year Twubakane Program, which began in January 2005, is scheduled to award a total of $6 million to 12 of Rwanda’s 30 districts through the DIF grants.

Twubakane is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and collaborates with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, Ministry of Local Administration, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion. The Program’s goal is to increase access to and the quality and use of family health services by strengthening the capacity of local governments and communities to improve health service delivery. Led by IntraHealth International, Twubakane’s partners include RTI International, Tulane University, EngenderHealth and VNG (Netherlands International Cooperation Agency). Local partners include RALGA (Rwanda Association of Local Government Authorities) and Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe.