Sustainable Solutions in African Communities

My professor told an amazing story today, demonstrating just how effective simple solutions can be in solving sustainability issues.

Sub-Saharan Africa is currently facing a global crisis: water scarcity. One report stated that in 2008 about 5 million people lacked access to water and 15 million lacked access to basic sanitation. Particularly in rural communities, lack of access to sanitation supplies and clean water education has begun taking its toll. A non-profit organization, PITCHAfrica, decided to intervene, designing school buildings that collect and store rainwater. The first school, named the WATERBANK™ school, was constructed in Kenya, and earned the “Greenest School on Earth” award in 2013, among other awards.



The school has a 600 m2 roof catchment area that can harvest more than 350,000 liters of water annually, storing it in a cistern with integrated water filtration underneath the building. This means that 200 or more students studying in the building will have 5 liters a day to take home to their families. And not only does this address the water crisis, but it is also lowering gender inequality because the girls in the community who typically spend hours collecting water now get to go to school and earn an education. In addition to a more developed and educated youth, access to this clean water will also reduce illness and malnutrition.

What’s really cool about this building is that it is so self-sufficient. First off, the building was built with natural and local materials, reducing the environmental impact for its production. The design also facilitates a microclimate with its open indoor classrooms, surrounding vegetable gardens, and storage of water underneath, all to cool and circulate the air; an oasis for the students in the otherwise arid environment. One article calls the building “a breakthrough in school and institutional design…a community-integrated, peace cultivating approach to rainwater harvesting [in stressed regions].”




The lack of water in sub-Saharan Africa simply made education less of a priority. With the instatement of the WATERBANKS project, the cycle between water scarcity, lack of education, and inequality has been broken. The project was also a huge proponent of community engagement, unifying and empowering members through work on the school. Overall, this is an extraordinary example of how innovation in a frugal and low tech way can often be the most implementable and sustainable solution.



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