Water Compass constructs, operates, and maintains clean water systems in rural Uganda that are economically, ecologically, and socially sustainable, helping to prevent disease through a globally-recognized water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) framework. Water Compass was founded in 2016 in response to unsustainable approaches to safe water supply in rural Uganda that left communities without reliable access to clean water. Our focus on community needs and the construction of sustainable water sources, coupled with community-led behavior changes in sanitation and hygiene, is a forward-thinking, community-centered approach to safe water supply and community health. While Water Compass is in... read more Water Compass constructs, operates, and maintains clean water systems in rural Uganda that are economically, ecologically, and socially sustainable, helping to prevent disease through a globally-recognized water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) framework. Water Compass was founded in 2016 in response to unsustainable approaches to safe water supply in rural Uganda that left communities without reliable access to clean water. Our focus on community needs and the construction of sustainable water sources, coupled with community-led behavior changes in sanitation and hygiene, is a forward-thinking, community-centered approach to safe water supply and community health. While Water Compass is incorporated in the United States, our team is largely made up of residents of the regions where we work: we are not a dispassionate third party doing work in another country. For almost all of our team members and partners, Central Uganda is home. We know that reliable access to clean water and basic sanitation are fundamental to protecting public health, well-being, and economic prosperity. Yet, the water supply and sanitary conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa are often inadequate to meet the needs of villages and smaller communities. In Uganda, roughly one in five people (more in some districts) do not have access to safe drinking water sources. With a rapid population growth of 3.24% - one of the highest rates in the world - Uganda is predicted to experience significant water stress within the next five years. Furthermore, the ongoing degradation of wetlands that are vital in regulating groundwater systems is anticipated to exacerbate this need, along with the impact of climate change on the traditionally predictable dry and rainy seasons. Uganda's water crisis is exacerbated by a lack of adequate water infrastructure. Many safe water supplies that were established by "well-meaning" NGOs in the past are no longer functional, making an already bad situation worse. It is estimated that one-third of handpumps, the main technology used for rural water supply in Sub-Saharan Africa, are not functioning at any given time, leaving millions of people without access to clean water. Research shows that one of the central reasons for this failure is the popular model of management, so-called "Community-Based Management (CBM)," that places the onus of maintenance, repair, management and funding onto rural communities after a water source has been constructed. While CBM is convenient and cost-effective for those who are constructing the water sources, the model neglects to consider whether communities have the adequate skills, desire, or infrastructure to manage the water sources they use. On top of the challenges with access to clean water, it is estimated that less than 20% of Uganda's rural population has access to improved sanitation (including toilets, latrines, and handwashing facilities). Diseases related to a lack of adequate hygiene and sanitation currently contribute to around 70% of the country's disease burden, and are an especial problem in rural communities. National laws and public health guidelines have done little to impact these areas, as the locus of change sits primarily at the village and regional levels. Long-term investment in infrastructure, resources, as well as sustained behavior change promoted in partnership with communities themselves are essential to making a meaningful impact in this space. At Water Compass, we work hand in hand with community members and local authorities to help to create lasting change for members of Uganda's most impoverished regions. We achieve this by building and maintaining solar-powered water supply stations, and supporting communities to improve sanitation and hygiene standards and practices. Through our innovative Solar-Powered Water Supply Stations, Water Compass permanently upgrades water supply stations for individual communities in rural Uganda with quality construction, innovative technology, and equitable local management. Our approach rests on three pillars: (1) Solar-powered technology: Water Compass replaces broken and deficient handpumps at existing boreholes with solar-powered submersible pumps, which feed a raised storage tank and supply multiple taps via gravity. Water Compass also drills new, high-yielding boreholes at existing sites (when hydrogeology supports a higher output) and installs our solar pumping system, substantially increasing the capacity of the source. The use of solar-powered technology also keeps operating costs low, and ensures that systems can function anywhere. (2) Digital mobile payment modality: To improve the collection of funds for the operation and maintenance of the water supply station and to prevent corruption, each station also utilizes its solar power to operate the digital payment system. In the same fashion that community members purchase mobile telecom service, users purchase water credit from a local vendor, who loads the credit onto a user's token. Users then touch the token to a sensor above the tap at the water station, which releases water and debits their account. All transactions can be followed via an online dashboard, and funds collected by the vendor are transferred to a bank account managed by Water Compass. Funds from community's water purchases are reinvested toward the ongoing maintenance and sustainment of their water station. (3) Professional management model: For ongoing maintenance, Water Compass assumes the professional management of each water supply station through a "hub and spoke" model, utilizing a centrally located, professionally trained and employed technician responsible for maintaining multiple water sources. Through the use of solar-powered technology, integrated digital payment systems, and remote monitoring, unnecessary visits to check on stations and perform maintenance are minimized, and total operating costs are kept low to ensure the price of water (0.5 per gallon) remains affordable to users even in the most remote and economically challenged communities. Behind these three pillars is a process of community engagement that begins long before the construction of Solar-Powered Water Supply Stations. We work in partnership with local government water departments to identify communities for potential water station construction, and we directly involve community members in every aspect of our process through community meetings, direct household-to-household contact, and regular surveys. Most importantly, once our Solar-Powered Water Supply Stations are operational, we remain committed in full to the communities we are serving, tracking the use and functionality of each station and addressing any maintenance or repair issues right away. Water Compass is also a key partner in regional Sanitation & Hygiene work. While reliable access to clean water is the foundation of community health, it must be coupled with enhancements to (1) sanitation infrastructure, and (2) ongoing sanitation and hygiene practices across the community for significant impact to be realized. In order to do this, Water Compass currently partners with USAID to implement a Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) initiative in select sub-counties in Bukomansimbi and Sembabule Districts. This unified approach of education and behavior change was developed in Bangladesh in 2000, and in the years since then, CLTS practices have been evaluated and supported by a wide range of governments, communities, and NGOs, and are in operation in more than 60 countries around the world. With its roots in rural communities, it has been readily adapted and scaled to urban and peri-urban environments, schools, and as a component of emergency response strategies. Consisting of a coordinated series of "triggerings" (intensive education and awareness activities), community meetings, comprehensive assessments, household-level outreach and data driven-prioritization, marketing and promotion of sanitary products, Water Compass' successful CLTS work is in its second year of partnership with USAID. In 2019, we reached 65,656 people through our combined solar water supply, sanitation, and hygiene initiatives. 1,500 residents of Kiziiko village, Gomba District benefited from our first Solar Water Supply Station, a number that varies depending on season and increases when neighboring water sources are in poor condition. 52,973 people were reached through project interventions, including assessments, Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) triggerings, household visits, radio messaging, drama shows, educational signposts, and other interventions in communities. 6,226 people who had previously practiced open defecation gained access to sanitation, and 4,957 students were educated about improved sanitation and hygiene practices in schools.
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