WASH and Watershed Restoration: They Must Go Together

by | Dec 1, 2018 | Blogs

There are countless WASH organisations doing good across the world, working to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But there’s a problem; the watersheds that water projects draw from are degrading. And Goal 6 of the SDGs calls for protecting aquifers by 2020, which is only three years away.

Watershed Restoration: A Priority to Add

While numerous water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) organisations across the work are focusing their efforts on the delivery of SDG 6, watersheds are degrading. In Nicaragua, where El Porvenir works, we are seeing this happen first-hand. The focus on Goal 6 of the SDGs has been on the following target:

  • By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.

However, it also needs to focus on:

  • Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes by 2020.

Everyone deserves access to clean water and sanitation. El Porvenir has been focused on clean water projects since in 1989, partnering with rural Nicaraguans on wells, spring capture systems, gravity flow water systems, electric pump systems, and more. We added sanitation to our portfolio in the early 1990s because our Nicaraguan partners requested it. But we soon realised that we needed to do more than provide water and sanitation services and infrastructure. This led to the provision of hygiene education training.

EL Porvenir 3
Credit: @El Porvenir

In the developing world, the focus has been on water infrastructure and to a lesser degree, sanitation infrastructure. To ensure the continued flow of water, we must include watershed protection and restoration as a priority: reforesting, terracing, improving farming techniques, training residents on the economic benefits of watershed restoration, and more.

Wells and springs dry up, especially in places where deforestation is heavy. Nicaragua, for example, has lost over 50% of its forest cover in the last 50 years, and it is predicted that 75% will be lost by 2030. El Porvenir works in over 600 acres of watersheds, looking at the full scope of water and sanitation delivery and sustainability.

Micro-Watershed Restoration Success

José lives in a humble wood house in Nicaragua. He loves nature. When Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998, he was sad when a mudslide destroyed his property and took down the trees, leaving it bare and exposed. The natural spring that was there gave them drinking and irrigation water, but little by little, it had less and less water before drying up completely.

José is an optimist. He didn’t sit there looking at the destruction. He started over. He wanted the cool shade and running water at his property again.

In 2000, El Porvenir staff asked residents in the area to get involved in reforestation. José was the first to join in, seeing hope as the first trees began to sprout.

EL Porvenir
Credit: @El Porvenir

He started planting trees along his fence line, making it a living fence. But he didn’t see a change in his property. He kept reforesting his property, especially where the spring had been. He planted approximately 1,000 trees on his land.

Now, the countryside around his home is beautiful again: full of hardwood and fruit trees that provide such shade that it feels cool even on a day that’s over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

José now knows how to care for the environment: “I’m happy to have recovered my spring. For a while, I thought it wasn’t possible and that I wouldn’t get my beautiful countryside back with the coolness that nature kindly gives us. I spent a lot of time working on my farm, reforesting the high area, building terraces, planting living fences, and putting in dikes until I gave life back to my farm.”

We can reverse the effects of deforestation. And, we must—or else our boreholes and water systems will dry up.

Watershed restoration re-introduces biodiversity to stripped watersheds, restores year-round water flow to streams, preserves topsoil which is crucial to agricultural production, and reforests areas with native species that have been heavily deforested in order to restore ecosystems. It also supports food security and economic vitality, and promotes aquifer recharge. Restoring these watersheds not only improves water access for residents of the watershed, but also for all who live further downstream.

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