Posted by: Jason Gilpin, United States Agency for International Development
For those of us who have always had it, access to clean water is something that is all too easy to take for granted. We turn on the tap, cook and bathe, and hose our lawn and shrubs, without ever thinking of the complexities that bring us our clean water. There are certainly others on the planet who must constantly think about clean water because they have never had access to clean water, therefore they have always made due by carrying water from the local well.
There are also communities, like in the former Soviet Union, that once had access to clean water, but are now suffering the effects of crumbling infrastructure and increasing water demands. Nowhere is this more true than in the small communities scattered across Ukraine’s peninsula, Crimea.
Crimea is an attractive region, with a wide variety of ecosystems, rainfall, sunshine, land use and people. For two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, I lived in Sevastopol, a city located on the peninsula’s south-western tip, and often traveled throughout small villages and towns in Crimea where Ukrainian NGO colleagues and other volunteers were based. I saw firsthand how many people in rural Crimea go days or even weeks without water, particularly in summer. In many villages, water is scheduled to operate for one or two hours a day for a few days a week. Even quick showers are a luxury and residents spend the brief time water is functioning to quickly fill up as many empty plastic containers as possible in order to pass the drought interval. Bottled water is expensive for the average Crimean villager, whose monthly income rarely exceeds $200. Crimea is also growing as a tourism destination, this is bringing further burdens on the overwhelmed water supply during the summer season.
The problem with poor water availability isn’t the lack of water in the region. While Crimea is a fairly dry place, averaging just over 15 inches of precipitation annually, there are ample sources of water underground and channeled from the Dnipro river tributary from the north. The challenge is transporting enough water from aquifers and aqueducts to households in order satisfy seasonal demand during the periods of increased use. This is particularly true in spring and summer when people are using water resources to irrigate backyard cash crops, which are critical to supplementing rural residents’ annual income.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Project “Partnership for Sustainable Water Supply for Agriculture Development in Crimea (SWaSAD)” launched in July 2012 by our Ukrainian partner, Agrarian Markets Development Institute, is successfully demonstrating that with transparent planning, modest investment and strong community support, infrastructure improvements can be mad that will bring reliable water service to residents in small communities in Crimea. The Project envisions demonstration projects in three districts in Crimea: Saki, Pervimaysky and Razdolnensky.
I joined my colleagues from USAID in late February in visiting the communities selected for partnership on this project. In Saki, we heard from major stakeholders of the project. A local farmer remarked that this project was “very important” in improving crop yields and local income, and that locals were “enthusiastic” at the prospect of reliable water in their communities.
In many ways, the objectives are simple: most of the project sites envision simply connecting the existing water sources, such as the water in this canal with a network of streets in the village territories, using simple irrigation pipes and pumps, so that people can irrigate their backyard cash crops with non-potable canal water without burdening the community’s drinking water system.
One of the project sites seeks a broader-based agricultural application on large, communally-owned plots of land. The site we visited in Pervimaysky would restore the function of Soviet-era infrastructure to irrigate fields farmed by 30 families. This, in turn, would support 300 beneficiaries in the nearby village, providing much-needed employment opportunities and increased economic activity for local businesses. The difference between an irrigated field and a non-irrigated field was fairly obvious and pretty stark – one field a bright green, the other a dull brown.
As tourism continues to develop in Crimea, water demands will continue to grow. It is economically critical that the region maintains a plan to supply reliable potable water to the tourism centers, while also allowing farmers to irrigate their crops in fulfilling Ukraine’s promise as the breadbasket of Europe.
What makes this project particularly unique is that USAID/Ukraine is implementing it with the support of the Development Grants Program, a granting mechanism designed specifically to increase the capacity of locally-managed and operated organizations, thereby empowering local knowledge to sustain the results of USAID-funded initiatives after grant completion. As part of this initiative, our local implementing partner is fortifying its internal controls and management processes, and developing its human resources so that it can independently execute and achieve results on similar activities.
In the end, we are not only helping Crimea increase water security, we are also improving the ability of local NGOs to use their own skills and resources to continue to develop this critical region of Ukraine.