Democratizing rainwater harvesting for refugee communities worldwide

Photo of Joshua
6 10

Written by

Additional categories (optional)

  • Environment

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Refugee camps are some of the world's most forgotten areas in the world. Without access to basic infrastructure and water supply networks, families living in such informal settlements must rely on inadequate means of meeting their daily water collection challenges. Through our research and pilot studies we found that such camps simply lack the funding and infrastructure to keep pace with the ever growing water needs of the widening population

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our solution comes in the form of a proprietary portable rainwater harvesting system. Rainwater is the cleanest source of naturally occurring water, and by allowing families to collect it right from their own roof, we maintain a clean source of water right at their doorstep. The unit consists of two soft body gutters that run alongside the edges of a building, supported by an adjustable drawcord system that allows the unit to support its own weight without being physically attached to the building. This means it can be set up on any structure with a slanted roof, including tents and less stable temporary structures. The LivingWaters system brings with it multiple key benefits. First of all, it requires no special knowledge to set up and maintain. The entire unit can be set up in under 20 minutes, just toss one side over the roof and adjust the support ropes to fit. Maintenance is just as simple, simply remove leaves and twigs from the mesh cover and dousing and scrubbing out the unit occasionally. One endearing benefit is the inexpensive portability of the device, meaning that it is perfect for communities prone to displacement and can save charities time and money.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

The idea for LivingWaters came about after I had done exhaustive research into conditions within refugee camps through a project I led with a team of Plant Science PhD students at my school. After the project failed due to a lack of interest I used that experience to create the first prototypes and design the brand that would later become LivingWaters Systems. Both myself and Joseph Bajor (my teammate and engineering lead attached to this application) have a long history of devoting ourselves to initiatives geared toward social impact. Apart from his involvement as LivingWaters' Chief Engineer, he founded his own social venture Nutrivide, a Clinton Global Initiative University startup that distributes nutrients to infants via a first-to-world nutrient pacifier.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Our impact is two-fold. Not only does a family of refugees receive a renewable source of clean water right at their doorsteps but the organizations providing their usual water supply is able to save an immense part of their annual budget if they were to leverage our units. We are able to deliver water to refugees at a fraction of the cost of existing large-scale water solutions. Currently the UN reports a capex of 80-130 dollars to provide a refugee clean water via traditional methods. This represents a significant capital expenditure, which is why water infrastructure in many of the world’s largest refugee camps is lacking or non-existent. LivingWaters offers a product which can provide a family’s drinking and cooking water needs for one tenth the cost.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Our proprietary portable rainwater harvesting product is the first ever product to be outfitted over the rooves of both relief tents, the most commonly deployed shelters in refugee crisis situations, as well as basic permanent housing options. That said our entire system weighs less than three pounds and can be folded into a backpack or briefcase, a lightweight design ideal for disaster relief scenarios which require immediate, cheap, durable, and easy to transport systems.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Recently we piloted our unit in a series of villages in Rajasthan India, one of the world's most water stressed areas and conducted extensive customer interviews with NGOs and those residing in the local area. Based on extensive engagements with over 200 people spread across 7 villages, we were able to conclude that: Water is a scarce resource in the region we surveyed. Existing sources of water are either unable to meet the needs of the people or too contaminated to warrant prolonged use. As a result, there was a clear demand within the local community for an alternative that would cut down the time, effort and/or health risks. To test the viability of our product we presented them with the prospect of buying our rainwater harvesting unit for 30 USD (2000 INR). 98% of our respondents said that not only was the price point justified, but that such a system would benefit their lives.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We are working to raise funds and partner with organizations within the refugee camp of Maicao in Northern Colombia, which is currently home to approximately 30,000 refugees fleeing unrest and displacement in Venezuela to run a comprehensive field pilot of 50 LivingWaters units for 50 families within the tent city recently established there.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Project Plan & Strategy

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations over $10k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email
  • Word of mouth
View more

Team (2)

Joshua's profile
J's profile

Role added on team:

"Our engineering lead Joseph Bajor (featured in all videos attached to this application)"

View more

Attachments (2)

Trifold Poster (1).png

A trifold infographic showing the essence of our solution

LivingWaters Brochure (9-12-19).pdf

A promotional booklet detailing the problem and the essence of the product and our vision.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Carson McBain

I am in awe. So much thought and research has gone into this, plus you have talked with people 'on the ground' to hear their perspectives and test out your product there. My feedback though I'm no expert in this area would be to invest heavily in cultivating strong partnerships with more organizations that can get your foot in the door to even more countries and regions. Also, a question - what is your marketing strategy for reaching & convincing relief orgs that they should purchase these? Best of luck to your team - I believe that your global impact will grow exponentially!

Photo of Joshua

Hi Carson thanks for the comment and well wishes! Right now we are planning out a series of pilot projects of our product in the next year. These will be helpful not only in cementing our partnerships with relief organizations but also giving us the necessary data and use cases that will be essential in future rollouts of our units.

View all comments