Power to the People: How Students Brought Clean Water to their Community

Over a year after renovations of the Marda Spring water supply in Palestine, local residents were still struggling to access safe drinking water. A group of passionate students decided to take the matter into their own hands. Their monitoring resulted in critical actions being taken by both government authorities and private contractors. Their community finally has access to a clean, affordable water supply.

In the West Bank, Palestine, water shortages are common. Most residents only have access to 65 litres of water per day, 35% less than the amount recommended by the World Health Organisation. Moreover, 5-10% of households remain unconnected to the water network, relying on less sanitary and expensive water from tanker trucks.

In October 2013, students from Marda High School were supported by the Teacher Creativity Centre (TCC) to monitor the Marda Spring renovations, a project under the Salfit regional council’s remit.

They utilised the Community Integrity Building approach, developed by Integrity Action. Azza, a student from Tammoun Girls’ School who received this training highlighted its value, “We know now that we have a right to enter any government institution and demand information. We can point out any violation and have a hand in fixing it.”

Their constructive engagement with authorities helped them access the project budget, contract and materials schedules from the village council. They were also granted permission to enter project sites so that they could conduct audits on public infrastructure projects.

Their auditing identified a number of problems. Firstly, the spring wasn’t properly connected to the West Bank Water Network due to insufficient budget being allocated to the project. The contract also revealed that there was insufficient budget to replace the spring’s pump. The site also posed several security threats. Because the construction company had used materials that were cheaper and of poorer quality than those stipulated in the contract, one of the security walls was at risk of collapsing and another hadn’t been painted. The contract also provided insufficient funding for a filtration system. This was needed to filter and clean water from the nearby Israeli settlement of Ariel, which was sometimes contaminated due to poorly maintained sewage networks.

The monitors presented a detailed report of their findings to the Salfit regional council and arranged a public hearing. This helped raise awareness of the problems and allowed the students to address the relevant authorities. The students were also encouraged to continually engage with the Ministry of Local Government, the Palestinian Water Authority and the Ministry of External Affairs throughout their intervention. This helped to encourage them to work alongside the village council to resolve the issues they’d highlighted.

The students were delighted with the response. The project’s supervising engineer, the local council, the contractor and the donor agency all came to an agreement that resulted in the contractor addressing the problems raised. He cleaned up the dirty water, rebuilt the wall using the correct materials and painted the walls surrounding the spring.

The Palestinian Authority also provided some additional funding for a proper filtration system and a new pump and to enable the spring to be properly connected to the water network. TCC continued to monitor the situation, ensuring that the project was completed at the right standards.

The students also gained knowledge which will allow them to monitor government projects in the future. As Samah from Aroura and Mazarea al Noubani School explained,

“This project encouraged us to think in a critical way, which enables us to access better knowledge and better services from local authorities and formal institutions in general.”

Because of their amazing work, 2,000 community members are now able to access clean, affordable drinking water.

Key Lessons:

  • Even a small group of students (aged 13-16) are able to affect change locally if they can access the relevant government data and have sufficient training and support.
  • If all five steps of the Community Integrity Building approach are adopted, a project is more likely to result in on-the-ground change. This includes analysing context, ensuring joint learning, gathering an evidence base, constructive engagement and closing the loop.
  • It is crucial to constructively engage with relevant stakeholders right from the start of an intervention.

Website: http://www.teachercc.org