Canberra charity ensures clean Abundant Water for Timorese communities

Genevieve Jacobs 16 July 2019

Manuel (FOKUPERS), Simao (Abundant Water), Rita (Abundant Water vendor), Imaculada (FOKUPERS), Azina (FOKUPERS), Alarico (member of Liquica business group) and Alfonso (Abundant Water vendor), celebrating the pilot project success in Timor-Leste. Photo: Supplied.

Canberra’s little charity that could, Abundant Water, has implemented a pilot project in Timor-Leste that’s now giving people in communities near Dili, Liquica and Atuaro access to reliable clean water. And funds raised here in Canberra by local Rotary Clubs are helping to make that possible.

Founded by Canberran and Australian Government Youth Ambassador Sunny Forsyth in 2008, Abundant Water is dedicated to providing fresh, accessible water to communities in developing countries in a sustainable fashion without the need for expensive, complex infrastructure. Beginning in Laos, the charity also has grassroots projects in Nepal. It is overseen by a Canberra-based board of directors.

The basic model is to train local potters and vendors to manufacture and sell clay-pottery water filters. The locally based social business model is sustainable and ensures that communities have a supply of clean water into the future.

Last year Abundant Water received a DFAT Friendship Grant to begin work in Timor-Leste with local partners. Access to reliable and clean water is an ongoing challenge in Timor-Leste, where inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure mean that more than one in four people still lack access to safe water supplies.

The DFAT Friendship Grant is part of a programme that leverages Australian NGOs’ work in the Indo-Pacific region, incorporating them as part of the Australian aid programme. As part of the grant process, Abundant Water spent 18 months investigating resources and identifying the best local partners for the programme.

They found that problems in Timor-Leste were similar to those Abundant Water was already familiar with in Laos: high levels of water contamination, inaccessible filtration technologies and inefficient purification methods.

Together these can have a profound impact on vulnerable communities, saddling them with social, environmental and health burdens.

But households using filters save time, money, improve health outcomes and limit deforestation of local habitats because there’s less woodcutting to boil the water. The Timor-Leste project targeted two municipalities and is working with eight local vendors on training sessions, hardware supply, sales and marketing development and creating networks.

186 filters have been distributed to vendors, schools and via the Abundant Water local partner organisation, FOKUPERS, a local foundation that works on Timorese social justice and empowerment projects. In addition to the benefits for schools and households, Abundant Water says that vendors have begun to see financial returns on initial filter purchases and use those to start creating an ongoing distribution plan.

Timor-Leste ambassador Abel Guterres said last year that the project is vitally important. “Potable water is an essential element if you want kids to be healthy because tropical countries have a lot of waterborne diseases. If you don’t get the purification working, you need to boil water and you need firewood for that.

“If you can use modern technology instead and you can do it cheaply then it’s fantastic, because it saves the environment, as well as providing clean water, healthy for babies and toddlers. Because the community owns it, they take responsibility for how it works.”

Partners for the Timor project include Rotary Australia World Community Service (RAWCS) and the Rotary Club of Dili Lafaek. Abundant Water will also complete filter installations in five schools across Dili and Liquica using funding from Canberra Rotary Clubs.

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