One fine day, I decided to take a stroll around the BCR estates in the Kimironko suburb of Kigali and the sight of water tanks on almost all houses piqued my curiosity and took my mind back to one curious thought; why so many water tanks? Does this mean the supply of water is erratic, unreliable? And it got me puzzled, and so, I did a little digging, not in Kimironko, just in case you had gone that way, but here is what I found out.
Rwanda has abundant rainfall and water resources, totalling 5 billion cubic metres per year (177 billion cu ft/yr). Total water use was estimated at 150 million cubic meters per year (5.3 billion cu ft/yr) in 2000.
You do the math, what is clear is that we have a lot of water coming our way and plenty to spare, this then begs the question, why so many water tanks? Or are they just smart Rwandans storing water or a rainy day?
In the past, I have heard reasons like 'differences in pressure and coverage of the three main stations' and 'consumption of water increases during the dry seasons thus reducing the volume of supplied water'.The problem bigger than this, what this says is that the issue is systemic and that the full potential of Rwanda's hydrology has not been understood and that the existing infrastructure cannot cope with the increasing demand.
Unless we are able or in position to harness our full hydrological potential, we run the risk of having demand for water to outstrip supply, creating a desperate situation where the cost of water becomes ridiculous and increasing the cost of living in both urban and rural areas.
It will also place unrealistic demands of the existing but ageing water infrastructure eventually reaching levels of system collapse. This in turn will lead to unavailability of sufficient water for irrigation in the face of climate change and global warming, increased food insecurity, and reduced capacity of Rwanda's labour force to contribute to overall national productivity.
We need to think of ways to harness this potential and leverage it to boost irrigation and have all-year around water reliability; this will undoubtedly establish Rwanda as the food basket of Africa and increase our capacity to export fresh foods to a region, which often has spells of drought.
In addition to that, in light of the forecasts on potential conflict over water among the riparian states along the River Nile, and the fact that freshwater resources like Lake Victoria are being drained faster than they can recharge and the rainwater making forests are being felled to pave way for industrial and human expansion, we would have attained a position of self-reliance in so far as water supply is concerned and would also be in position to export water to water stressed states in the region.
Any investment in this infrastructure needs to be measured and scientific putting into account not only increasing domestic and industrial water demand, but also mapping existing and new sources of water, identifying and forecasting consumer trends.
What Rwanda needs is a solution, which can integrate the capture of the vast volumes of rain water that we have come to expect. A smart water grid offers the ability to support water demand and ensure water quality regardless of climate change and population growth. It is more than just supply; it integrates water mapping, water infrastructure, water quality monitoring, smart meters and smart irrigation.
It has a technology to it that collects and analyses data that supports decision-making and quality control. It manages community demand for water and small water supply systems. A smart grid further integrates various water sources or supply chains as well as desalination and purified recycled water.
So, all is not lost after all and maybe one day, we shall see the real beauty of the houses and Rwanda's skyline not blighted by the 'black' water tanks or having our sleep cycles dependent on the water schedules.