“Through this time, it is critical we work together with our partners in Uganda and directly with communities to continue developing innovative solutions that will help the community learn, grow, and thrive through these challenging times.”
We spoke with Simran about the different challenges that remote and refugee communities face without having proper access to readily usable water, why water catchment systems are needed, and how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting access to water in these contexts.
Simran Thind is a researcher on Simbi Foundation’s Think Tank Water Catchment project, which seeks to improve BrightBox water catchment systems to provide readily usable and more accessible water for students and the local community.
To set the scene, what are the different challenges that remote and refugee communities face without having proper access to readily usable water?
Simran: Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa — more than 1.45 million. The country has one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world. The Bidibidi refugee settlement itself hosts over 232,000 people. In 2018, The UN Refugee Agency released a report interviewing members of the Bidibidi community, revealing that over 44% of households in the community did not have enough water to cover the basic household needs for one week. Additionally, the environment is heavily impacted by the over-reliance on groundwater, without monitoring the behaviour of groundwater systems, sustainable systems, and rehabilitation initiatives.
The existing challenge of water availability bolstered by the increase in population means that designing innovative solutions to access clean water is even more critical for the success and health of these communities.
Can you explain how a water catchment system works? Why is it needed?
Simbi Foundation partnered with architects to design the BrightBox (a remote, free-standing, solar-powered classroom) that features an optimized tilt of the BrightBox’s roof to ease water flow, allowing rainwater to channel through the roof of the classroom into a water catchment system. Water is then filtered, stored, and accessed throughout the year from a catchment tank.
You’re in the Simbi Foundation Think Tank as a part of the Water Catchment research team. Can you share a little bit about your research and its current focus?
Simbi Foundation began developing water catchment systems in 2015 after learning from remote school communities across Uganda that access to clean water for drinking, crop-growing, or washing was a challenge. The key issue for water catchment systems is the poor ongoing maintenance, which results in water contamination and associated health issues when consumed. My research is focused on how sustainable building methods can be connected with technology so that we can monitor and test water quality throughout its lifecycle and ensure we reduce the overall environmental footprint.
Interesting! Can you tell us any more about how these methods can support clean water access?
Ongoing maintenance and utilizing consistent practices to clean and monitor water catchment tanks are critical to ensure that water is safe to use. Using innovative techniques such as rapid testing and using technologies like sensors and cameras will be important to do at scale to have a more transformative effect on communities’ access to safe water.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected access to water in these contexts?
Refugee communities disproportionately experience poverty, overcrowded living conditions, and poor sanitation that elevate food and water insecurity challenges. These challenges have only been heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. For Simbi Foundation, it has also limited our ability to directly provide support to the communities we work with. Through this time, it is critical to work together with our partners in Uganda and directly with the community to continue developing innovative solutions that will help the community learn, grow, and thrive through these challenging times.
Interested in learning more about Simbi Foundation’s solar-powered solutions, our Think Tank, or our ‘simbiotic’ approach? Head over to our website to learn more!