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Friday, 21 October 2011

Model Macha (Guest Blog)

By Liam Yakima

Macha is a town in central Zambia. I won't bother to describe the basic community layout as the citizens have already done that :

The Macha community is doing an exemplary job of describing what is desirable about life in the area, so much so that many people migrate to Macha from all over to work, study and live their lives in the quiet rural atmosphere:

Macha is clearly doing a lot of things right, or else people would not be flocking to their resources in such numbers or speak so highly of life in their community. Variations on the themes embraced by these citizen activists present an excellent template for many other such communities around the country. However, in spite of all that they have done with the resources at their disposal, Macha is still a small rural farming community without major sources of industrial employment. Do not read this article and decide to move to Macha! Instead learn how Macha has made things better for its residents through careful planning and collective implementation of projects towards common goals. Overwhelming this one town with migrants faster than they can absorb them will only stunt their growth before it can fully blossom. The goal should be to reproduce their success in other rural communities -- they are already facing growing pains in crucial life supporting services. Here again we don't have to guess at which aspects of growth that the community needs help with because they are already telling us exactly what the biggest problems are:

So for Christabel, Lulu C., Danny and the rest of you Macha residents, here are some information resources that might help you and others facing similar problems:

Firstly, the videos really, really help, I cannot emphasize this enough! Please keep making videos so that we can see the specifics of what you deal with every day, and may by now take for granted as being present, even if it is known not to be ideal. Show us as many angles on structures or geographical features as possible, and people or standardised objects in the picture can help to establish scale, but giving actual measured dimensions or splicing in diagrams will do the trick even better (just a few seconds is fine, we can pause the video and capture still images therefrom). Keep narrating the videos too, because what faraway people like me might see could be relevant, but what bothers you every day is definitely relevant! Please don't be embarrassed to say that there are problems, it comes as no surprise to any audience that cares enough to listen in the first place. I think I can speak for the entire ZE community when I say that you have an incredible amount of hard work to be proud of, and even though you are doing these things for yourselves, you are also setting a high bar for other Zambian communities to model their own efforts against. I cannot think of words to convey the respect and admiration that I feel when I think of all that you have accomplished so far, and all that you will achieve in days to come, inevitably, just perhaps somewhat faster with a bit of help. On this end of the wire, all too often we must be general for lack of specifics, and only people like yourselves can cure our ignorance. I don't know if I am the best person to help you, but I will sure try!

Request #1: Better toilets in more places. For relatively low density rural and peri-urban communities like Macha throughout Zambia, I would highly recommend downloading the free book "Toilets That Make Compost: Low-cost, sanitary toilets that produce valuable compost for crops in an African context" from EcoSanRes. Detailed instructions with diagrams and pictures all tailored to your regional crops and weather patterns, multiple designs and material requirements to serve specific needs, hopefully more than you need to know about building and maintaining sustainable rural latrines that won't put added pressure on already strained water supplies.

Request #2: More boreholes and pumps to handle the growing population and take some load off of the local open reservoirs, and to make access to water more convenient and less time consuming. Siting boreholes in places where they will not run dry will benefit from careful planning and study, this paper helps to outline the types of data that can prove valuable: The benefits of a scientific approach to sustainable development of groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa [PDF 356KB]. This is a situation where traditional knowledge about where the underground geology brings water naturally closer to the surface at various points during the season can be especially valuable, so interview your local seniors to point the scientists to the most likely borehole sites and save time and money. Efforts upstream towards Mukosivumba and Naliluba along the lines described in the ZE Boreholes and Groundwater Recharging blog will help to raise the water table around Macha and provide more water from any given borehole. Likewise communities downstream will benefit from your efforts along similar lines.

Request #3: Safe drinking water for both the town and surrounding farm families. Treating water to be safe for human consumption without the cost and effort of boiling is tougher, and usually involves some sort of ongoing expense. Given the scale of the settlement and generally dispersed surrounding farm populations, modular water purification is likely to be more effective than a centralised system. This may change if/when Macha determines that water resources are sufficient to enable piping into individual homes, however at this time it sounds to me like the priority is clean, not necessarily convenient. Recent advances in bromine (one step larger in the same column on the periodic table with chlorine), chemistry may provide a reasonably low cost (US$0.003-4 per liter) household level purification with user friendly, relatively error-proof systems such as those offered by DelAgua (a company that is eager to expand its business in the region), can already be purchased. However, recognizing Macha's pioneering spirit, here is some of the science underlying the consumer product, so that different scales and methods of modern bromine chemical water treatment can be compared to whatever else you might be considering going forward.

Request #4: Improving water sourced from the local reservoir. From my understanding, the problem with the reservoir behind the check dam is primarily about depletion (addressed in part at both supply and demand ends of the equation by the borehole and groundwater discussion above), and water quality (assumed to be unsafe at the tap shown, addressed in part above for drinking, but a cleaner reservoir can only help matters). Testing the water upstream, in, and below the reservoir to determine what compounds and chemicals besides pure H2O are present will help to mitigate the latter problem at the source. I should note that totally pure water is not good for you, water seems to enjoy the company of a certain amount of minerals like calcium, and if they are not present in the water that you drink, then that water will seek to drain your bones of their calcium supplies to satisfy its own inherent chemical desires (this is a major hurdle for desalination plants and other distilling methods, and usually involves relatively expensive replenishment of mineral contents after purification). The goal is water that contains just enough minerals, without excesses or pollutants that can build up to harmful levels in the body over time. Depending on what is present and undesirable, a wide variety of mitigation methods can likely be attempted, and we will try to help you to narrow down what will be most cost effective and culturally acceptable to your community.

Some of the plants that will grow in and around fresh water reservoirs are actually beneficial for the water quality, depending on the specific life cycle of that species. Runoff of excess chemical fertilisers may also be exacerbating the situation, however probably better that these nutrients are being taken in by plant life than by the humans drawing that water for their own consumption. Farm plots close to the reservoir or along the upstream line of surface water runoff should be relocated or at least buffered from direct inflow to the reservoir supply. Manure can have similar effects on abnormal algal blooms or crowding vegetation. When possible, cattle should be watered immediately below the level of the dam, not directly from the reservoir. Given the relatively porous nature of the check dam and surrounding terrain, there should be reasonable quantities of water actually cleaner than in the reservoir available for cattle at or close to the surface just a few meters downstream (avoid eroding the base of the actual structure, make a pool a fair way down, prepare the banks and access pathways to handle repeated passage, and try to make sure that some form of natural filtration of that water occurs before it gets to another reservoir or cattle watering point so as to help quarantine any disease pathogens, gravel or sand and aquatic plants that draw substance out of the water rather than soil).

I am sure that others in the ZE readership will be able to contribute additional useful information and ideas to your efforts to make your corner of Zambia a better place to live, the more so with each effort that you make to inform the world about the specifics of your situation and problems. I look forward to spreading the fruits of your success to communities in need of answers to problems that Macha has been successfully grappling with for years. With the new government policy of decentralisation of funds and decision making powers, local communities will have many choices to make and priorities to set for themselves. I encourage them to use innovative model towns like Macha and the available expertise of the global diaspora to help to identify best practices, solve local problems and plan for the future.

[For more on Community Organising in Macha, visit]

1 comment:

  1. This is very good...Please we need more information from the country side....Extend the feedback by covering Mapanza as well Thank you


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