Led by Dr. Stephen Ngigi, an Associate Research Scientist with The Earth Institute, who is the MVP's Water Resources Specialist and Water Coordinator based at the MDG Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, the seminar provided a special opportunity for partners, supporters, students, and staff to learn more about how the MVP is bringing safer, cleaner water to residents of the Millennium Villages.
John McArthur, Executive Director and CEO of Millennium Promise, introduced Dr. Ngigi, and provided context for why water initiatives are particularly important to the Millennium Villages (MVs). Improved water sources reduce the incidence of water-borne illness, and irrigation systems lead to higher annual crop yields and opportunities for crop diversification which together contribute to economic growth.
Dr. Ngigi started by describing the various strategies currently being implemented to address different water and irrigation needs throughout the Millennium Villages. The goal, he said, is to meet or exceed the MDG target of reducing by half the proportion of people without access to improved water sources by 2011.
These water management strategies include protecting springs, drilling boreholes, installing water pumps and building tanks for water storage (especially for schools and health clinics which have greater water demands). Regular water quality testing is also a priority, along with providing purification treatments.
Dr. Ngigi also discussed the MVP's efforts to provide improved sanitation facilities at schools and clinics, because without proper hygiene, even clean drinking water can become contaminated after it leaves the water source. He explained costing models for different water treatment plans, pointing to the fact that the expense of purifying water is compensated by savings in health care for water-borne illnesses.
In terms of irrigation, Dr. Ngigi explained that the MVP focuses on several types of systems: furrow irrigation, hand watering and drip-irrigation systems, on both gravity flow and pumped groundwater schemes. These improved irrigation systems allow for dry season planting (which is proven to dramatically increase harvest yields), as well as crop diversification (which improves nutrition and provides business opportunities for market crops).
Following his presentation, Dr. Ngigi responded to several questions from both the live and the online audiences, with comments added by Millennium Promise CEO and Executive Director John McArthur and Operations Manager for West Africa Brett Gleitsmann, as well as Dr. Sonia Sachs, Health Sector Coordinator for the MVP. Issues raised included the need for energy sources to power pumps when groundwater is very deep, possible health implications of chemical water purification treatments, supply chain issues for hand pumps, capacity-building of local governments and specialized technicians in water management, and the long-term prospects for sustainability of water resources in the Millennium Villages.
New monitoring and evaluation data is already showing that the MVP's water initiatives are leading to impressive economic growth and extraordinary reductions in childhood disease caused by water-borne pathogens. From dams in Ethiopia to piped water systems in Senegal, the MVP is making dramatic progress in its water initiatives, a vital part of how we are working to build strong sustainable communities and achieve the MDGs.
Lauren Isenman is the Director of Major Gifts at Millennium Promise. She is based in New York.