Hesperian Health Guides

Improve Your Water Supply

A small group of men and women sit together, talk and write.

Before trying to develop a new water supply, it will probably be easier to make your current water sources produce more and cleaner water. When making a plan to improve the water supply, start by making a list of local resources. Resources include water sources, building materials, and most important, people. Include the people with skills to build wells or tanks or install pipes, people who can facilitate group activities and organize work parties, and older people who remember how water was collected years ago.

Identify solutions

What your community does to improve the water supply may depend on which problems are most urgent or which problems are easiest to solve first. It is important to make a plan that addresses the root causes of the problems and satisfies the needs of everyone in the community.

Decide what each water source should be used for, especially if there is little water or it is difficult to get to. Building rainwater catchment tanks, storage tanks, or a piped water system may help bring water closer to the community. If this is not possible, the community can still try to make sure there is enough safe water for everyone:

If there already is a water system, the community can:

  • improve the ways water is collected
  • fix broken pipes and pumps
  • protect water sources upstream
  • find new ways to protect and save water

If there is a possibility the water may be contaminated by toxic chemicals, use a different water source until a water quality test can be done. If a test shows the water is contaminated, keep using a different water source and work toward getting rid of what caused the contamination. Try to prevent the pollution of your water by demanding that industries dispose of their waste safely and use cleaner production methods, and by asking farmers to use fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

3 women post a sign on a wall reading "Community Water Meeting Today."
Health workers and water safety promoters can help the community improve water security.

Women are important in planning

Women may have different needs for water than men. It is usually women who collect and treat water for family use. But it is often men who are in charge of building and maintaining water systems. Because of these differences in men’s and women’s work, it is helpful to use planning activities that involve women.

2 circles

This activity helps women think about their water needs and the barriers they face in meeting these needs.

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Materials: Large drawing paper, drawing pens

  1. Divide into groups of no more than 10 women each. Give each group drawing pens and paper.
  2. Each group draws 2 circles on their paper, a large circle with a smaller circle inside.
  3. Inside the larger circle each person draws or lists the water, sanitation, and health-related problems that affect the whole community. Inside the smaller circle they draw or list the problems that affect women in particular.
  4. Bring the groups back together and discuss: How do the problems in the 2 circles differ? How are the problems similar? What solutions can be found for both? How can we make sure the women’s problems receive enough attention?
    A small group of women wearing saris sit on mats and talk.

    This activity can also be done with women and men together. If men participate, have one of the groups be only men, and have each group draw 2 small circles inside the large circle rather than only one. Let one of the smaller circles include problems that affect women and the other include problems that affect men.

    When the groups come back together, ask the men to think about how they can help improve conditions that affect women. This may include building toilets closer to homes, having men collect and carry water, spend more time with children, and so on. It may be more comfortable to have the women discuss their issues in private before the men discuss theirs, especially in communities where men and women may have strong differences of opinion.

Barriers to improving your water supply

There may be many reasons why a community does not have safe water. Problems might include lack of money, not knowing how to build water systems, no government support, or lack of participation by people in the community. To have a constant and safe water supply, the barriers must be identified and removed, one by one. People are more likely to improve and maintain their water system when it results in:

  • immediate improvements, such as more water, easier access, or less disease.
  • low cost.
  • only small changes in daily activities.
  • improvements in the local environment, such as less mud, fewer mosquitoes, or more water for home gardens.
A line of women and children with water containers, one in a wheelchair, wait for a turn at a village pump.
A sustainable water project should remove physical and social barriers, and help everyone in the community equally.

Look for solutions within the community

Throughout history, every community has developed ways to find, transport, and protect water. People have used sticks (called divining rods) to find water, invented devices for lifting and moving water, built many kinds of structures to capture the rain, and planted trees to protect water sources and watersheds. They have also made agreements to help neighboring communities share water. Protecting water and preventing conflicts over water can help to preserve water resources for future generations, even as we learn new ways to collect and treat water to make sure it is safe and abundant.

Villagers teach development workers

A group of development workers came to a mountain village in Colombia to help the villagers fight diarrhea by protecting their water sources. When they visited the village spring, they saw that cattle and soil erosion were damaging the spring. The development workers suggested 2 simple solutions: Put up a barbed wire fence to protect the spring, or graze the cattle elsewhere.

flowering cactus plants.

The villagers did not like these ideas. They predicted that the barbed wire would be stolen before long, and they did not have enough land and money to make proper cattle pastures. But seeing the problem, they came up with a solution that would work. They organized a work day when everyone from the village came out to plant prickly plants upstream from the spring. This forced the cattle to drink water at lower places along the river, and solved the problem for the village.

This page was updated:16 Jun 2020