New resource available to Rotarians working on water and sanitation projects

Top: A woman in the Thane district of northwest India carries water back to her village. Bottom: The evaluation team meets with villagers. Photos courtesy of Arvind Phukan

A Rotarian-led team of hydrologists, engineers, geologists, and other experts traveled to the Thane district of northwest India in October to help local Rotarians and their international partners design a global grant project to bring clean water and sanitation to more than 1,800 villagers.

The team, funded by The Rotary Foundation and a grant from the Annenberg Foundation, is one of the first of its kind. It’s the product of the Project Enhancement Process (PEP) pilot, which is designed to enlist the help of Rotarians with expertise in the water and sanitation area of focus so that clubs and districts can put together larger-scale, sustainable projects.

The PEP pilot runs through July and involves nine districts testing The Rotary Foundation’s new grant model. The Foundation also collaborated with the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group (WASRAG) to produce technical guides that walk Rotarians through planning an effective water and sanitation project.

“This process is an excellent approach,” says Arvind Phukan, a civil engineer and member of the Rotary Club of Tacoma, Washington, USA, who served as team leader. “Sometimes districts don’t have the technical expertise or the experience to do a larger project. This approach helps them think bigger and promotes better projects that will have a more significant impact.”

After deciding to pursue a water, sanitation, and hygiene project in the Akre Gram Panchayat region of India, the Rotary Club of Thane North and its international partner, the Tacoma club,  requested an evaluation team through the PEP Pilot to help them assess and plan their project. The project would benefit about 350 households in nine villages in the Supi River watershed, where villagers are trying to eke out a living growing rice.

Needs assessment

The team met with villagers to assess their needs and  determined that many of the local wells ran dry during nonrainy seasons because the area’s shallow, impervious rock prevents water from seeping into the ground and replenishing the wells. In addition, some of the wells were poorly designed or damaged, and systems intended to funnel groundwater were inadequate.

As a result, many of the women are forced to haul water from the Supi River or one of its tributaries. The villagers use the same water for cleaning and bathing, and also share it with their livestock, all of which introduces contaminants into the drinking water. And since there is no running water, the toilets that do exist go unused. The villagers’ lack of good hygiene contributes to the spread of disease.

The team’s findings were the basis for recommendations that the Thane North and Tacoma clubs will turn into a global grant application with a budget of about US$333,000. The recommendations constitute a holistic approach to the area’s needs that includes installing bore wells with submersible pumps near several of the existing wells to pump water to storage tanks, with the water flowing by gravity to the villages, where it would be treated and purified. A variety of rainwater-harvesting structures such as check dams and surface ponds would be built to replenish the groundwater.


A cluster of latrines would also be built in each village, along with washing basins and cattle troughs. Trenching and diesel pumps would be used for irrigation so the villagers can grow vegetables along with the rice. Adults and schoolchildren would receive instruction in hygiene and its impact on disease and health.

Phukin notes that the process began by talking to villagers, a key step in making a project sustainable. “It all starts with the community. You must involve the community at every step of the process. You can’t just hand them things.”

Sustainable, large-scale projects also require a broad base of support. Phukan and team members have been helping to recruit other clubs and districts to join the Thane North and Tacoma clubs in supporting this project.

“When this is done, and it can be done in phases, it will bring lasting change to the community,” Phukin notes. “The villagers’ lifestyle will change for the better.”