In the Armenian village of Aragatsavan, residents had struggled for more than two decades to secure clean drinking water.
The community’s Soviet-era reservoir was contaminated, and leaked more than 70 tons of water a day. It was limiting access to water for 5,600 residents; 120 families had no water at all.
During a town hall meeting facilitated by Counterpart International, the community agreed it had to take action.
Residents came together and raised half the money. A grant from Counterpart’s Civil Society and Local Government Support Program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, covered the rest.
“After the town hall meeting, our water problem was transformed into a challenge for the entire community to prioritize and conquer,” said Aragatsavan’s accountant Manuk Khoyetyan. “Our municipal representatives, our community working group and active citizens young and old worked hard to ensure clean drinking water. Today, Aragatsavan is one step closer to becoming a truly wonderful place to live.”
A problem that had lasted 22 years was solved in two and a half months. Today, all of Aragatsavan’s residents have access to clean drinking water.
But the story didn’t end there.
Motivated by their community’s commitment to clean water, young leaders from the Counterpart-supported Youth and Community Action Center joined a global environmental movement to learn how to protect their water resources and monitor the local water supply.
They engaged with World Water Monitoring Challenge and got tool kits that allowed them to monitor the quality of their waterways and share their findings.
They were ultimately joined by 400 youth from 21 other communities across Armenia in learning about the importance of clean water and their role as its protectors. And they are building the confidence to stand up for the environment when they find support lacking.
Projects like these demonstrate the importance of water to communities—not just as a basic need but as a symbol of collective action and government support.
On World Water Day, Counterpart is reflecting on how this vital resource can be a symbol of sustainable development and community empowerment.
Advocating for clean water
Around the world, Counterpart works with communities to identify their most pressing needs and help them advocate for getting them. Access to clean, safe water routinely tops the list of things people need the most.
As in Armenia, the village of Labaabe Baala in Afghanistan’s Samangan province had struggled to secure a clean and safe water source, ever since its well had fallen into disrepair.
The residents of Labaabe Baala brought up their water issues in regional policy dialogues sponsored by Counterpart’s Initiative to Promote Afghan Civil Society, an innovative program supported by USAID.
A community dialogue officer traveled to Labaabe Baal to investigate. In addition to getting the well fixed, he helped the villagers create a cost-sharing maintenance plan to deal with future problems.
“We are now trying our best to take care of the water,” says community member Raees Khaliq. “We have a specific time for people in the community to come and take the water and we even lock the manual pump when it is not being supervised.”
Protecting the waterways, and profiting
Beyond making sure people have access to water, Counterpart’s programs also make sure water resources are not being harmed in pursuit of development gains. Key to Counterpart’s approach is the knowledge that communities cannot be expected to protect the environment if it comes at an economic cost they cannot bear.
In the Dominican Republic, rice farmers were poisoning the waterways that led into a protected national park. Counterpart worked with rice farmers to decrease their pesticide, fertilizer and water use while actually increasing the profitability of their crop.
The delicate mangroves and lakes downstream are profiting too. In just a few years, communities near Montecristi national park have seen fish return to once-toxic ponds.
Managing water responsibly
Efforts like these to improve both farming and water are just as important in Ethiopia, where farmers and herders were seeing their land destroyed by flooding due to deforestation.
Things started to turn around in Arsi Negele after Counterpart implemented its Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance program, which included a large-scale watershed management project.
Planting seedlings and constructing low-budget rock structures called check-dams created a manageable water flow to corn and teff fields while preventing flooding and erosion.
The landscape is transforming now as plants return, allowing crops to thrive and animals to graze again.
Responsible water management is just as critical for Counterpart’s Multi-Year Assistance Program in Niger, where families must constantly guard against food insecurity and drought.
As the wetlands became overexploited in a community called Issoufouri, more and more men were forced to emigrate in search of employment.
Counterpart worked with Issoufouri and other Nigerien communities to plant native grasses and shrubs that stop erosion, and taught farmers to make better use of wetlands with new crop varieties, planting and harvesting methods and proper post-harvest handling and storage.
Counterpart also provided irrigation equipment and technology, and organized community groups to manage it.
Twenty-two years after he left Issoufouri, Fadjimi Boula returned this year to find a wetland transformed.
“To my surprise, I found wells constructed in our wetland, with many women busy cultivating vegetables,” he says.
By the end of the farming season, Boula had enough money to replace his roof and send his first child to school.
More than 50 families are now cultivating the wetlands in Issoufouri. The water management and improved livelihoods have left them better nourished and more resilient to the droughts and shortages of their harsh environment.
Bringing water into the future
Counterpart’s work helping communities get clean, safe water and manage it well continues to be a key factor in new programs.
In Guatemala, Counterpart’s Food for Progress program will work with farmers to instill water management practices as part of efforts to increase agricultural productivity and tackle entrenched rural malnutrition.
In Bangladesh, the Leadership Development Program will bring youth and community leaders the skills they need to advocate for their communities’ most pressing needs. In a county so vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change, water accessibility and management will surely be a critical issue for the next generation.
Counterpart will continue to work with communities every day to use water responsibly in a way that benefits both people and the planet.