In earthquake-affected areas of northern Pakistan, conflicts over water resources can sometimes become quite contentious – and simple projects to improve water and sanitation can turn into more complex peace building initiatives.
In the village of Rawah-na-Gala, situated in the union council of Jandali near Rawalakot, the initial provision of local government water supply systems did not prove to be entirely beneficial to the community. And eventually, the frustration between villagers increased and resulted in the dismantling of water distribution lines throughout the entire village.
“In fact, because of these conflicts, the village would not even let our team enter the community to begin their surveys,” said Imran Munir, the CWS-P/A project coordinator for this UNICEF-funded water and sanitation project. “We were faced with the challenge of not carrying out this assistance, which we knew would help alleviate some of the resource conflicts. We had to find a creative solution.”
As CWS-P/A looked for a solution, the team identified a social activist living in the village, Mr. Yasir, who had the trust of the community. Through this relationship, Mr. Yasir made it possible for CWS-P/A to begin some small initial efforts to conduct surveys and establish water management committees within the community in order to rebuild what was lost in the 2005 South Asia earthquake.
With time, the village of 376 people increased their commitment to actively participate in trainings including rainwater harvesting, water supply system operation and maintenance, and hygiene practices. Their commitment remained essential throughout the project in order for the whole community to realize better access to water and improved hygiene practices.
“Before the training of our water management committee, we were not organized for the collective benefit of the village,” said Mr. Yasir. “But through the trainings and interaction with the project team, we are now able to manage our water supply schemes and are very thankful for such fruitful trainings.”
“Despite our knowledge that these trainings would help alleviate the tensions over resources, our project staff did not force our assistance on the village,” Munir noted. “Instead, we continually strived to raise awareness and to work under a community-based approach through and with the village members in order for the project to be successful.”
CWS-P/A was able to provide this water and sanitation training assistance because of its commitment to work that is sustainably grounded within the community, especially in sensitive situations, added Munir. And while other target villages had fewer conflict issues, the community-based training efforts were carried out in a total of 204 villages between August 2009 and February 2010.
Munir stressed that not only was CWS-P/A able to resolve a great source of conflict between villagers in Rawah-na-Gala, but the adoption of improved hygiene practices will continue to reduce the future burden of diseases and the environmental degradation within the community.