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How solar-powered wells are transforming family life in Pakistan

Only 5% of people in Sindh province have access to clean water
Only 5% of people in Sindh province have access to clean water

As large parts of the UK remained submerged by water, it’s easy to forget that many communities suffer from never having enough.

In Pakistan, the desert district of Tharparkar in Sindh Province typically receives rain only a couple of times each month and average annual rainfall can be as low as 9mm. With drought common, many of the 1.4 million people who live in this region struggle to keep themselves and their livestock healthy. Only 5% of the population have access to a fresh water supply. Even in the district capital, Mithi, water is only delivered twice a month.

This means that for many families, much time is devoted to making endless trips to the nearest water source to collect supplies. This task normally falls on women and girls. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, one mother explained that she may spend up to three hours each day collecting enough water to meet the family’s needs.

New technologies

In the past, schemes were introduced by the government to install more wells in the region and to run reverse osmosis (RO) plants, which turn brackish sources into drinkable water. However, with poverty levels high in the region, many communities were unable to manage the ongoing costs of running these plants and diesel-operated wells.

Now, new technologies are bring hope to this impoverished region. One non-governmental association (NGO), Thardeep Rural Development Programme, is teaching around 1,000 villages how to purify water using traditional low-cost methods. This involves using bags of graded sand treated with silver to act as a filter and clay pots for water storage. The organisation has also installed rainwater collection tanks to serve nearly 16,000 households.

Wells of happiness

Another NGO, the Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy (AWARE), has been trialling solar-powered wells. Using solar pumps, water can be drawn from a long way down, avoiding contamination problems. Villagers pay for the water they consume with these metered pumps, but the costs are much lower than for diesel-powered wells.

One mother who used to have to walk over 40 minutes to fetch water said it had freed up so much time that her daughters were now able to go to school. Speaking about the dignity which the new water source provides her and her family, Sunniya Bibi told IRIN that as “water collectors, we are just like chattel”. Now, she says she can spend more time in her home and “take better care of my children”. For these families, the new wells really are a source of all-round happiness.

SOS Children has provided care to Pakistan's most vulnerable children for over three-and-a-half decades. Our first Children's Village opened in Lahore in 1977, and today, we offer a new family to children who have lost their own in eight locations across the country. Find out more about our work in Pakistan.