The TUNGNAM (Rainwater Catchment) Project

The NEED

The 1980s have been declared the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade by the United Nation, in recognition of the fact that access to safe water is a basic necessity of life denied to many millions around the world.

In Thailand it has been estimated that only about 10% of the rural population has access to an adequate supply of truly safe drinking water. Water borne diseases, the second most common cause of death of children in Thailand, take a grim toll in lives and human potential, fueling a relentless cycle of illness under productivity and poverty. In the Northeast, Thailand’s poorest, most populous and driest region, the problem is particularly acute.
Most of the water supply options available in the region are inadequate, undependable and unsafe: creeks and village ponds dry up during the dry season, the hand pumps at deep tube wells malfunction, the water in hand-dug shallow wells is dangerously impure.
Rainwater is the villager’ best source of drinking water. Typically, though a household’s stored supply is exhausted soon after the rainy season ends and the people resort to polluted wells and village ponds, or push handcarts as far as 5 kilometers to find even marginally safe water. Rainwater storage tanks which provide clean water for an entire household year-round are badly needed.

THE RESPONSE

The population and Community Development Association’s TUNGNAM PROJECT address the urgent need. “TUNGNAM” means water tank in Tai, and the Tungnam Project is one which organizes, trains, and gives loans to Northeastern villagers to build large rainwater catchment tanks.

Several things are important about the TUNGNAM PROJECT:

1. The bamboo-reinforced concrete tanks represent the introduction of an appropriate technology whose construction, maintenance and financing are all villagers’ responsibilities.
2. The tanks are built by villagers themselves, organized in communal bands. Self-reliance is fostered and community resources – human, material, financial – are mobilized.
3. The health and sanitation education and construction training that are part and parcel of tungnam ownership ensure that knowledge and expertise remain in the village after PDA has gone.
4. Village pay back into a revolving fund the cost of the raw materials needed for each tank. Repayment is made in small monthly installments. There have been no default on tungnam loan thus far, testimony not only to the great value that the people place on clean water, but also to the effectiveness of their working relationship with PDA, whose development philosophy stresses mutual trust and maximum participation.

Since it began 1981, over five thousand tungnam have been built. The program is extremely popular, with villagers’ demand for the tank far exceeding the funds available to build them. It is PDA’s goal to secure funds to build 100,000 tanks during the Water Decade. Through the revolving fund mechanism, however, the money for 100,000 tanks makes it possible to build another 600,000 tanks. Ultimately, safe water will be available for 5,000,000 people with profound impact on their lives and health.