IRHA – Helping to catch every drop

“Our vision is a large use of rainwater in every field of life.”

This was the basis of the formation of the International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance (IRHA) in Geneva in November 2002, following recommendations formulated during the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg two months earlier.

In the ten years of its existence, IRHA has been providing lobbying support and a platform to promote rainwater harvesting to address water supply problems.

In ancient India, human cave settlements, villages and kingdoms were built on the foundations of efficient water management.  Those that were not near rivers were designed to catch and hold rainwater in lakes, ponds and wells, to meet their water needs. In fact, this was the case not only in India, but all over the world. Over the years, many of these ancient pieces of “water infrastructure” have been lost to development and many parts of the world are now on the brink of a water crisis.

“Catch them young” is an often heard phrase and IRHA too realized that it is the children of this generation who can bring about the necessary changes in attitudes to water conservation and rain water harvesting. However, many of the children were (and are) themselves facing water deprived situations at home and in school. Lack of safe drinking water, absence of sanitation facilities result in poor levels of hygiene leading to other problems like poor health, poor education and a poor next generation.

In 2005, the IRHA started the Blue Schools programme
– to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Goals formulated by the United Nations
– to reduce the number of schools in the world (currently Africa, Asia and Latin America) without access to drinking water or basic sanitation facilities.

The aim of the Blue Schools programme is to ensure wholesome conditions within schools to improve the health and dignity of children, and also to create a setting to bring up a new generation, sensitive to environmental issues.

While the children, teachers and school staff members are the direct beneficiaries of the programme, the parents also benefit from the knowledge passed on by their children. Villagers, communities and local authorities all benefit from the positive environmental impact and the improvements brought by rainwater management in schools, and are encouraged to collect rainwater for their own use. Most of the technologies applied and the new skills are easily transferable and the example of a Blue School could also be replicated in other regions.

The Blue Schools programme projects are based on simple and cost effective technologies. Therefore, financial backing required is modest, though benefits are considerable. The projects involve a huge number of people and pass new skills from one child to the other, from children to families, from one school to another. Its economic effect is unquestionable: reduction in healthcare costs, lower absence rates from school and higher number of girls attending school. Moreover, it offers the tools to fight climate change and helps to raise awareness about environmental issues.

The IRHA Secretariat, based in Geneva, handles the project formulation, fundraising, project implementation and evaluation including financial reports for donors. A national or regional NGO formulates a request for collaboration after studying the local needs and presenting information on the economic and social conditions.

The following are the components of the Blue Schools programme:

Rainwater Management
A Rainwater Harvesting system, based on an appropriate technology, gives schools sustainable access to water. When requested, the collected rainwater can be treated in order to be used as clean drinking water.

Adequate sanitation is introduced in the schools, giving children hygienic toilets and preventing groundwater pollution. Depending on the situation, double VIP latrines, dry EcoSan type toilets or an alternative treatment of waste water are used; enabling treatment of human waste.

Hygiene and Environmental Education
Children are trained to use the new facilities and given health and hygiene education. They also learn about the water cycle, water conservation, wastewater treatment and environmental protection. Equipped with this new knowledge, they become active participants in the fight against climate change.

Initiation to Correct Waste Management
Children take their first steps in effective waste management. They sort out recyclable waste, use organic waste for composting and keep the school campus clean.

“A child, a tree” action
Children take part in reforestation campaigns; learning about local tree species, planting a tree or helping to take care of trees in a park around the school campus. Every child is responsible for looking after their own tree. Reforestation also improves the environment of the school and reduces harmful erosion.

“A school, a garden” action
Children are introduced to gardening. They start working in the Blue Schools vegetable garden and learn to share the fruits and vegetables they produce. These fruits and vegetables also help supplement the children’s lunches, improving their nutrition.

Promotion of Tolerance and Peace
The Blue Schools programme includes lessons for children to learn to respect each other’s differences and practise the art of discussion to overcome disagreements.

Creation of Volleyball Courts
Volleyball courts are built in the school grounds to encourage the creation of a harmonious social climate and to teach the children important life skills. Volleyball is chosen because it can be played by boys, girls and mixed teams.

The programme also has optional components which are implemented if necessary:

Solar Energy
For schools which are not connected to the national electricity grid, environmentally friendly solar energy equipment can be installed. A solar oven may be built in the school canteen, encouraging local communities to start using solar ovens too.

Introduction to the Use of Computers
The initiation to computer literacy with the consequential supply of computers to schools forms another optional element of the programme. It will offer easy communication amongst Blue Schools in the whole world. It will enable the children to have access to the knowledge of other cultures, to form a friendly network and to develop brotherly affection with distant boys and girls. It will eventually open the possibility to improved job prospects.

In India, IRHA has completed a Blue Schools project, in Himachal Pradesh schools. Another project on rain water harvesting has been done in Lucknow, in the Ramakrishna Hospital.

For more information on IRHA’s Blue Schools programme and how you can be a part of it, please visit the IRHA website or contact Hannah Price at IRHA


Blue Schools project in Himachal Pradesh

The schools of nine villages in Himachal Pradesh: Burma-Papari, Kollar, Galanaghat, Basahn, Dadahu, Jamta, Panjahal, Phagu and Sangrah.

In Himachal Pradesh, many schools were built without access to water and sanitation. This is true for the schools targeted in this project, where the existing sanitation facilities were in a poor state and inadequate for the number of children and staff.
As well as the poor sanitation conditions, these schools suffered from water shortages during the dry season. As with many regions in India, water scarcity is becoming a more critical problem everyday in the Himachal Pradesh, along with deforestation and waste proliferation.

The project started in July 2008 and was completed in November 2009.

– 3,418 children from the nine schools
– 160 school staff members
– More than 17,000 family members
– The whole population of the nine villages

General objective
To improve the living conditions of the children and inhabitants of nine villages in Himachal Pradesh, India.

– Improve access to water and sanitation in nine schools;
– Improve the environmental conditions and the nutrition in the nine schools;
– Strengthen the local population’s capacity to cope with water shortages and manage the new facilities responsibly.

New water tank at Burma-Papri School
Toilets at Sangrah with overhead tank
Planting saplings at Panjahal School
Reforestation team in Sangrah
Students at Jamta School learning how to treat collected water

– Created a PACT Committee (Parents – Authorities – Children – Teachers) in each school to maintain the new facilities and plantations;
– Built a rainwater harvesting system in each school (with ten 30m3 tanks);
– Built improved latrines and urinals in the schools with no toilets (10 new toilets and 20 urinals);
– Renovated 27 existing toilets and urinals;
– Education in health and hygiene, environmental protection, gender equality, and peace and tolerance for the students;
– Reforested the schools and surrounding areas (“A child, a tree” initiative)- 6,544 trees were planted;
– Introduced solid waste management.

International Partner
International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance (IRHA), Switzerland

Local Partner
Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation (Grassroots), India

Fondation Ensemble
Ville de Geneve

This Blue Schools project was IRHA’s second Blue Schools project, and at that time the programme was still in the development stage. Now with the experience of eleven Blue Schools projects completed, or as they say, “in the bucket”, the projects in the pipeline are more refined and better defined. To quote Hannah Price, Communications Officer at IRHA, “With each new project we learn what we can do better!”


Photos and information courtesy IRHA

Published on The Alternative here

2 thoughts on “IRHA – Helping to catch every drop

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