VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
A village that once had no water
October 28, 2011 by Makeda Yasenlul
|The villagers of Buri Lange could not stop praising the IRC. The were some of the friendliest people I have ever had the honor of meeting. They begged me to have coffee with them, I asked for a picture instead... Photo: Befekadu Kebede/The IRC|
A post from Makeda Yasenlul, the International Rescue Committee's communications assistant in Ethiopia.
I recently toured several IRC-implemented water projects in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) of southern Ethiopia. The IRC has been working in SNNPR since 2005, conducting emergency sanitation and hygiene projects for people affected by drought, flooding and water-borne disease.
I visited many sites, but one in particular stood out: Buri Lange, a small village 40 kilometers from the nearest town, Hosana.
When we started our journey from Hosana, the gravel road was okay, but it gradually became worse. Even Befekadu, our seasoned driver, was feeling challenged as the road grew steeper and bumpier by the minute. Eventually there was no discernible route suitable for cars; we were literally traveling on jagged rocks. I felt powerless, hanging on for dear life and praying as the car swayed and lurched uphill.
The road to Buri Lange is the roughest and most remote I have ever traveled, Lions prowl the rocky terrain surrounding the village. (Photo: Makeda Yasenlul/IRC)
Finally, we could see Buri Lange. Luckily for us, we found the head of the water committee as soon as we reached the village. His name is Tagese, a farmer, married with five children.
Once the IRC establishes a water system, we hand it over to the community to manage. Water committees are democratically selected by local residents, then trained by the IRC in operation, maintenance and repair, as well as financial management, accountability and community feedback. The committee collects a small fee from each household every month to cover current and future expenses.
Before the IRC arrived in Buri Lange, villagers used to get water from a river three hours away. Women, who traditionally fetch water, had to walk over difficult steep terrain with heavy plastic water containers on their backs. It was not uncommon for them to suffer severe back injuries and miscarriages.
”And that was not even the biggest problem,” recalls Tagese. “We lost so many of our beloved children to water-borne diseases. And as if that was not enough, the area has a high population of lions and hyenas, and many people were attacked by these animals.”
The IRC laid 16 kilometers of pipeline to a reservoir with a 75 cubic-meter capacity (nearly 20,000 gallons). The trench for the pipelines was dug by villagers. They also carried construction materials to the site on their backs and on donkeys because the road was unsuitable for large trucks.
The IRC's water system is the first in Buri Lange. Here, Tagese, the head of the village water committee, checks that everything is in order. (Photo: Makeda Yasenlul/IRC)
Today, approximately 5,000 people get clean water from the Buri Lange project and another 13,000 benefit from the system. “The IRC asked us what we wanted before they started doing any work,” says Tagese. “I have never seen anyone else do that. After we explained that the water situation was so dire, they accepted our suggestion and built fifteen water points.’’
The gratitude and happiness expressed to me by the people of Buri Lange was humbling. I was embarrassed by all the praise and admiration. They had never seen me before, but because I was wearing an IRC T-shirt, I was immediately recognized as part of the group that responded to their needs.
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