Fellow Since 2001
This profile was prepared when Ako Amadi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
Ako Amadi is addressing the perennial problem of acute water shortages during the dry season in Nigeria by developing a cost effective and simple rainwater harvesting system for use in poor rural and semi-urban communities.
The New Idea
Ako's idea begins with the conviction, borne of extensive experience and education, that an adequate water supply is fundamental to any country's development. Without water there can be no successful and sustainable social, economic, or environmental initiatives. Available water, then, should be the greatest priority of all development efforts. Ako is convinced that the acute water shortages which plague poor communities during Nigeria's dry season are unnecessary. Through an organization he founded, Ako is revolutionizing the rural water supply system by harvesting water during the wet season for use during the dry season. His water collection and storage tank system, which includes the use of water hyacinths and lilies for microfiltration, ensures water supplies adequate for both domestic use and economic development. The idea behind the system is simple and requires only basic technology. Most of the required labor is provided directly by the community, thereby making Ako's program an inexpensive yet highly effective community water supply system. This idea is new because it is the first time rainwater has been harvested on a large scale anywhere in Nigeria. In typical rainwater harvesting, families use buckets and pans to collect water, and the supply is exhausted even before the rains are over. There is no adequate system by which local people can collectively store rainwater over a long period of time. Most significantly, in the process of helping communities secure water, Ako is addressing an array of critical social, economic, and environmental issues. With minor alterations, Ako's water-harvesting system can also benefit the more arid northern regions of Nigeria, as well as other places where lack of adequate water causes severe obstacles to the health and well-being of local people.
The scarcity of clean water has emerged in recent years as one of the critical problems facing Nigeria, even while the percentage of citizens with some access to a clean water supply has reached an all-time high (60 percent, by some estimates). A major problem is the distance people, particularly women and children, have to travel to fetch water for domestic use. For example, the closest sources of water for the almost 2,500 inhabitants of Umuocham are the Imo River, which is ten kilometers away, and the headquarters of the local government area (LGA) water pump, at a distance of eight kilometers. Traditionally, the villagers have channelled rainwater into dugout pits, the most primitive form of the water-well. Water is then drawn with the aid of buckets lowered by ropes. In the house, sediments are allowed to settle in earthenware pitchers for days before the water is used. With no form of filtration in this process, human illness and even death from bacterial infection are common. Securing clean water through the LGA is prohibitively expensive for most families. Annual water fees for families of six can approach the annual earnings of many peasant families.Efforts by the government, big donor programs, and other development initiatives have not been successful in eliminating clean water scarcity because they have been primarily concerned with the exploitation of river systems and development of ground waters by means of wells and bore holes. These projects are expensive and therefore limited to wealthier communities. Furthermore, in recent years, river water levels are down, and both surface and ground waters which feed the rivers are becoming more polluted. Hence, these initiatives leave major problems unsolved.If the issue of water shortage is not adequately addressed, severe water-related problems such as those witnessed recently in the Sahel are likely to occur in Nigeria. Most immediately, waterborne diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, and river blindness, which were on the decline, are again rising due to higher levels of water pollution.
Ako's overall objective is to help communities design and implement environmental initiatives which are ecologically sound and which are suited to the needs of poor rural and semi-rural communities. His organization is currently involved in environmental projects ranging from Indian bamboo cultivation in the southeast to the control of desert encroachment in the north. Since lack of adequate water supplies is a constant and critical problem in all this projects, Ako has most recently concentrated on designing a system that dramatically improves the water supply of the thirteen communities in which he works. His first step was to conduct a feasibility study. The result of this study led him to design a water provision and conservation system that closely matched local needs. Ako's next step was to get the community interested in the idea and willing to participate. He held several meetings with the community leaders, who, though initially hesitant, eventually became convinced of the project's potential, and agreed to support the effort. To strengthen their commitment, Ako set up a local governing committee, which included local leaders, to manage and monitor the system after Ako has moved on to other communities. The project is thus designed to be managed by local communities.For harvesting the wet season's rainwater, a network of cement lined gutters is constructed. The gutters slope and empty into an open cement cistern in which water hyacinths and lilies are planted on a gravel bed for microfiltration. Over this, bamboo or metal sheets channel collected water into a closed tank, while excess drainage runs into the cistern. Separate taps are attached to each cistern for the water supplies for agricultural and domestic purposes, respectively. The system is designed to be village property and open to everyone without a fee. In addition to providing a safe domestic public water source and water for agriculture and commercial use, the initiative simultaneously provides a training program for young people in the field of water resource management. Ako plans to spread his idea by implementing it in all thirteen communities in which he presently works. He has already received a substantial Ford grant for his water project pilot and several other projects his organization is involved in, and he is confident that with the success of this pilot, he will be able to get funding to spread the idea. Currently, Ako works full-time on the water project, for now relying on his staff to handle his other initiatives.
Ako has over twenty years of work experience in conservation. After earning a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in marine science from a German university, he began his working life in 1980 as a research fellow in the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research. He joined the Nigerian Conservation Fund four years later, rising to the post of Executive Director in 1997. A year later, he gave up the position to set up his own organization, in which he serves as the Executive Director.He is a member of various committees of national and international organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund of Africa and Madagascar, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. His work has taken him to almost every continent, where he has been able to further develop and share his ideas. His current efforts reflect his long-held dream of designing and implementing sustainable and economical conservation initiatives in African communities. His interest in water harvesting grew from his realization that all attempts to improve the health of ecosystems, including the health and well-being of human beings, had the absolute requirement of safe, adequate water.