Appeal: WaterAid helps Lake Victoria banana beer taste, and sell, better

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The Independent Online

A recipe for brewing banana beer. Buy four bunches of bananas for 2,000 Ugandan shillings (60 pence), leave them to ripen for seven days and then smoke them over an open fire. Mix in some grass and squeeze out the juice. Add some sorghum (a form of grain) to the juice, dilute with water and leave to ferment for four days. Sieve, and sell the 20 litres to neighbours for 5,000 shillings. Use the money to pay for food, school fees, and more bananas.

A recipe for brewing banana beer. Buy four bunches of bananas for 2,000 Ugandan shillings (60 pence), leave them to ripen for seven days and then smoke them over an open fire. Mix in some grass and squeeze out the juice. Add some sorghum (a form of grain) to the juice, dilute with water and leave to ferment for four days. Sieve, and sell the 20 litres to neighbours for 5,000 shillings. Use the money to pay for food, school fees, and more bananas.

Rosemary Lwoga, 35, has brewed NTonto, local banana beer, with this recipe on Bussi Island on Lake Victoria for years. She used to send her children to a local, mosquito-infested swamp to collect water for her to cook, clean, drink and brew with. When the swamp dried up in the dry season, she lost her family's drinking water, and source of income.

WaterAid, a charity set up by Britain's privatised water companies in 1983, has set itself a mission to help people in developing countries gain access to a reliable supply of clean water. It digs wells, installs pumps and lobbies for governments to help their citizens.

On Bussi Island, it has merely dug a borehole and installed a pump. "My customers don't care how the beer tastes, as long as it has alcohol, but they do buy more now the pump is here," said Mrs Lwoga. "With the pump, I know I can always get water to make beer if there are customers who want to buy. And I can tell that this water is clean and fresh, and is good for us all to drink."

Bussi Island is not easy to reach. Visitors have to drive down a dirt track to the lake shore, and then clamber into a rotting wooden canoe and row through a narrow canal overgrown with reeds. More than 30,000 people live on this island, most of them grow pineapples.

Local authorities tend to neglect the islands in Lake Victoria, not least because officials are reluctant to clamber into ancient canoes to get there. As a result, the people live without basic resources, such as clean water and passable roads.

WaterAid decided to provide an example of how conditions for remote communities could be improved. It was not easy. WaterAid staff had to load pumps, motors, digging equipment, and even motorbikes on to canoes and paddle them to the island. The local community helped dig the waterhole and take turns to keep it clean. In return, they get unlimited access to the water. The system gives local communities a sense of ownership and responsibility for their new water supplies.

WaterAid tries to ensure people don't have to walk more than 1.5km to get to clean water. This modest goal frees women and children from the backbreaking job of collecting and heaving water several kilometres back home. Everywhere the charity operates, it gives advice on hygiene, on how to store and clean clothes and dishes, and how to build environmentally sensitive latrines that make fertiliser - a precious commodity for impoverished farmers.

"We can do all sorts of projects to help the poor in Uganda, but unless they have clean water and good sanitation, everything else is pointless," said John Odolon at WaterAid Uganda. "It is the government's responsibility to provide clean water but we can make suggestions, and improve conditions to show how it should be done." Since it began operating, WaterAid has provided clean water to more than eight million people. In Uganda, a million have benefited from clean water and better sanitation.

The effects spread into every aspect of life. People catch malaria less frequently and, as they fall sick less often, so they spend less on medical care. With clean water, children are healthier, so they concentrate better at school.

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