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In many areas, readily available water is in short supply. Although the total annual rainfall in an area may be enough to sustain needs such as farming, it is often distributed very unevenly so that long dry periods are interspersed with periods of intense rainfall.

Water harvesting techniques gather water from an area termed the ‘catchment area’ and channel it to wherever it is required, for instance, a cropping area. Water harvesting also involves the collection of rainfall-runoff for subsequent beneficial use

Water harvesting, storage and processing technologies are key water-related interventions with the potential to contribute to rapid improvements in the provision of water for domestic use, livestock, manufacturing and agriculture among other uses. Secure access to water with reliable storage has boosted economic growth in many countries worldwide. In many cases, water storage simultaneously serves multiple purposes, such as irrigation, energy generation and flood control.

Dams, both small and large, and associated reservoirs and tanks, can store water for later use, provide hydropower, and offer a certain level of protection against extreme precipitation events. Well-designed dams make water available at times when, in their absence, it would be lacking.

By integrating water harvesting, storage and processing structures in water landscape in a planned and systematic manner, it is possible to create a “water buffer” that helps reduce vulnerability to outages, drought and seasonal variations in rainfall and in effect achieve a water-secure society. It is imperative to harvest and store water when it is plentiful and make it available when it is scarce. 

According to the United Nations, 3.6 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services, compounding the effects on people’s health. The impact on child mortality rates is devastating with more than 297,000 children under five who die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation.

Without improved sanitation – a facility that safely separates human waste from human contact – people have no choice but to use inadequate communal latrines or to practise open defecation. For women and girls, finding a place to go to the toilet outside, often having to wait until the cover of darkness, can leave them vulnerable to abuse and assault. In the immediate environment, exposed faecal matter will be transferred back into people’s food and water resources, helping to spread serious diseases such as cholera. Beyond the community, the lack of effective waste disposal or sewerage systems can contaminate ecosystems and contribute to disease pandemics.

The situation of the urban poor poses a growing challenge as they live increasingly in cities and towns where sewerage is precarious or non-existent and space for toilets and removal of waste is at a premium. Inequalities in access are compounded when sewage removed from wealthier households is discharged into storm drains, waterways, or landfills, polluting poor residential areas. A large proportion of wastewater in Eastern Africa countries is discharged partially treated or untreated directly into rivers, lakes, or the ocean. 

Achieving universal access to a basic drinking water source appears within reach, but universal access to basic sanitation will require additional efforts and contribution by all players in the sanitation sector.

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