SaWa by 4Life as a defence against deforestation

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2nd December 2020

We were awoken at dawn by loud voices. As we emerged from our cottage, the excited chatter of children met us. The sun had not yet risen, but the Kyangwali Refugee settlement was wide awake.

Kyangwali - Domino Effect

We were in the settlement to talk to residents who used SaWa by 4Life. Over the past year, we have distributed 25,000 SaWas in the refugee settlement. We are still collecting data on our impact, you can follow our progress so far here. It had been a challenge, and when COVID-19 hit, it became more difficult. Still, it also made access to safe water more critical than ever.

 

Mary, our guide, beckoned us forward. ‘We’re going into the jungle to fetch wood for cooking and purification of water’. From where we were standing the Ugandan jungle stretched out as far as I could see.

 

Uganda is struggling with deforestation. According to the Ugandan Government, the influx of refugees to the Kyangwali Refugee settlement is one of the causes of deforestation in western Uganda.

 

An important, and often overlooked, part of this problem is the lack of access to safe drinking water. Most of the residents I have met in the refugee settlement are aware of the dangers of the local water, with headaches, diarrhoea and even death being common, they feel the need for purification of water acutely. In an attempt to clean their water and protect themselves and their families they use the only means that is available, they boil their water using wood fuel. This practice harms the environment and personal health. Using SaWa by 4Life instead of boiling saves approximately 500 kg/CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere in its lifetime. 

Many hands make light work

When you think of deforestation on the scale that is happening in Uganda with 3.6% disappearing each year, you imagine a line-up of harvesters, not women and children holding machetes. I knew each family required several trees a month but, I was interested to see how much impact this excursion of twelve women and twenty children could have on deforestation.

 

Mary led our succession along at a steady pace into the jungle. Every Wednesday this happens, the local inhabitants from the settlement venture deep into the jungle with their machetes. It used to happen far more frequently, but as a part of the plan of stopping deforestation in Uganda, the government has limited the trips into the jungle. It is also illegal to cut down whole trees, only foraging for branches on the ground is allowed. This, however, doesn’t seem to stop anyone; my companions have wrapped their machetes in blankets to hide them from the camp guards. When the jungle has completely swallowed us, they unwrap and reveal the tools. 

We're going into the jungle

Mary - A Project Guide

'The real work'

The walk took 1.5 hours and included climbing a mountain. As I was panting trying to keep up, several of the women in front of me were talking unencumbered with children strapped to their backs. When we arrived at our destination, the real work began. Older children swung machetes at solid tree trunks freeing large pieces. At the same time, their mothers tied branches together and placed entire trees to be carried on their heads, and then we continued down the mountain the way we came. 

 

On the way back, I talked to the women about the purification of water and stopping deforestation. I knew that Mary had a SaWa by 4Life as I had seen her carrying it outside every day since I arrived. She happily explained that her SaWa meant using less wood, as she no longer needed it for purification of water. While she still needed to fetch wood for cooking, she made fewer trips and no longer needed to cut down several trees a month. She was happy; her SaWa by 4Life saved her time.

Settlement wide Adoption of SaWa by 4Life

 

Mary’s words were consistent with what I had observed while staying in the settlement. I had seen how families had begun using their SaWa by 4Life. In fact, our first round monitoring showed a 99% adoption rate. From day one, we saw SaWas being used in multiple households, some hanging and ready for the family to drink, some placed in the sun. 

Further endorsement has come from the management of the camp. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Aid Agency OXFAM, and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in Uganda have all formally requested more SaWas to be distributed in the settlement. 

This trip illustrated why I developed SaWa by 4Life. I want to improve the lives of vulnerable people and help take the first step towards reforestation. One of the simplest and most effective ways of doing that is by providing safe drinking water.

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