Friday, March 9, 2012

Alleviating the drudgery of accessing clean water and sanitation for rural communities



The rehabilitated hand- pump is the only source of clean water at Janung Kunda village, serving 68 compounds inhabited by nearly 2000 people/Pic/MSJoof
Majority of The Gambia’s rural communities undergo backbreaking efforts to access, if available, ‘safe drinking water’, with women bearing the brunt of it, while sanitary standards remain a record low as shown by recent statistics.

Three years after the United Nations General Assembly declared 2008 as the “International Year of Sanitation, the national coverage for improved sanitation in The Gambia remains at 67 percent as of 2011, dropping as low as 31 percent in some regions.

The UNGA declaration was made in recognition of the impact of sanitation on public health, poverty reduction, economic and social development and the environment. Apparently, the statistics could be found disturbing while experts believe time is running out for the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of 2015.

One organisation working against this social problem is Saint Joseph’s Family Farm (SJFF), a civil society organisation under the Catholic Development Office (CaDO) based at Bwiam, Foni Kansala District, West Coast Region, about 69 kilometers from The  Gambia’s capital, Banjul.

The local agency implemented a one-year “water and sanitation project” in 20 refugee-host predominantly poor farming communities along the border stretch of the West Coast, thanks to funding from European Union-Non-State Actors Strengthening Programme (NSA-SP) in The Gambia.

“The primary objective of the project is to contribute to improved access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities for increased living standards of the beneficiaries,” the agency’s officials said during a conducted tour of EU-funded projects under the NSASP (November 14-18, 2011).

The local agency, established in 1988, is one of 13 civil society organisations that received grants from the EU under the NSA-SP in mid 2010. SJFF improved basic social services of local infrastructure in 20 refugee-host communities in the form of maintenance and rehabilitation to cover “10 Mark II Hand Pumps” and “10 Pit latrines.”

“We intend to reduce by 80 per cent people queuing for two hours only to fill one 20litre container,” Mr. Yankuba Manneh, the project coordinator said. “This will allow women to gain more time for other important activities, leading to increased production and their productive involvement in the development process.”  

The agency said its “water and sanitary project” is also meant to reduce health hazards related to communicable diseases arising from unhygienic sanitary conditions, train local pump technicians, and water and sanitation management committees to ensure proper maintenance of the infrastructures.  “They will be provided with tool kits too,” Mr. Manneh added.

Overstretched
Close to seven thousand Cassamance refugees are living mainly in the West Coast Region (WCR), sharing with their hosts the limited resources and as well the poor infrastructure. As a result, water points and sanitary facilities are overstretched.

Benefits
Though the project has helped raise the profile and visibility of the agency, and build its credibility, the benefits it brought with it to the refugee-host communities in the WCR according to the beneficiaries, are remarkable.  

New pit-latrine at Dimbaya Village/Pic/MSJoof


For the people of Dimbaya village, the new toilet (sanitary) facility built by SJFF is not only a boost to their living standards and that of the refugees coming into the country; it is also a boost in morale.

Dimbaya, situated 8 kilometers south of Brikama, the administrative capital of the WCR and a few kilometers from the troubled-Southern Senegalese region of Cassamance, is the main entry point into The Gambia for refugees fleeing the conflict launched by separatists rebels more than three decades ago.

“We use to direct the refugees to the old pit latrine [made up of rusty corrugated iron sheets] and we use to feel shy about it because it was not in good shape,” Chief Inspector Ebrima B. Jobateh, Station Officer at Dimbaya Immigration post explains. “Now we are very happy to present to the refugees the new toilet (made up of concrete, cement bricks and an iron sheet roof).”

Even wherein a well-constructed pit latrine seemed not enough to address the hygienic conditions needed by the refugees and their host families at Dimbaya, the village’s Development Committee (VDC) Secretary General, Modou Lamin Nyassi, described the initiative as a “blessing in the heart”. A sign of happiness manifested on his face given the emphasis on his expression.

“We have requested for SJFF to help construct more toilets for us, the new toilet is good but it is not sufficient, we want more toilets to meet the sanitary demands of our community,” Mr Jarju added.


Jenung Kunda
However, the project could not have been of benefit more than it has been to the village of Jenung Kunda, where women use to trek more than one kilometer to access water for their household needs and livelihood.
The villagers abandoned an old local well; the only source of water supply upon the directive of the Alkalo, Jokong Malang Jatta, after his 17-year old son (Momodou Jatta) plunged into it and died, in May 2011. He was fetching water from the well at the time, an activity that remains a daily domestic routine at the village.

The rehabilitated hand- pump is the only source of clean water at the village, serving 68 compounds inhabited by nearly 2000 people.

‘The newly rehabilitated hand-pump has reduced a great burden on us, especially the women. It has made easy our domestic work despite all the troubles we have gone through,” said Mr Njoba Bah, a member of the Jenung Kunda VDC.


Rehabilitated hand-pump at Sitanunku village/Pic/MSJoof
Sitanunku
But for a village that was on the verge of migrating when they pangs of having to go several months without water and the burden of trekking a few kilometers to access water to fulfill their domestic chores, the benefits of having a hand pump at Sitanunku Village are enormous.

Sitanunku village is situated east of Bwiam close to the troubled Cassamance region of South Senegal, a small farming community of less than 60 people including men, women and children.   

“There was a time the youth of the village want us to transfer to another place where we will have access to water. We experienced many difficulties in getting water at the time. If this project was not brought here by SJFF then all of us would have deserted this village by now, honest to God,” Alkalo (village head), Mr Lamin Nyassi said.

“I personally considered moving out of this village. If you see people are living in a particular community, is because there is water, but a village where there is no water then life becomes difficult,” added an ageing Mr Saikou Nyassi, the former Alkalo. “The hand-pump has made easy access to safe drinking water and is of great benefit to the whole village.”

As Mrs Aramatoulie Nyassi explains, prior to the rehabilitation of the pump, they use to fetch water from Gelanfarr village, more than two kilometers from Sitanunku, where they are forced to queue for hours. “We used oxcarts to transport water from the neighboring villages, where we will have to queue for many hours,” Mrs Nyassi said.

Need to step-up access to water and sanitation
The stories of these communities represent the troubles rural communities are facing in The Gambia amid an increasing poverty rate and a declining agricultural production, the predominant occupation in rural-Gambia. Thus, revealing an urgent need for the Government and civil-society organisations to step-up efforts in providing access to clean water and sanitation.

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