Friday, February 5, 2016

Life would be easy if we had water in our village

Carmelita de Jesus carries 15-20 litres of water up a hill 4 times a day – backbreaking work.
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Dmonemnasi
One late Friday morning I met Carmelita de Jesus, a woman in her fifties  running down a hill carrying three empty jerry cans. “Why are you running?” I asked. She quickly replied: “I need to go to the spring to fetch water for cooking - my children will be arriving soon from school.”

I immediately asked her if I could join to see where she collected the water. She nodded in agreement but then came a gentle warning. “You can, but be careful, the trail is steep and difficult,” she said with a slightly mischievous smile.

It took 10 minutes to reach the spring at the end of a steep and rocky path that had been beaten by the steps of many others over the years. Once we arrived, we met other women – and only women – collecting water and washing clothes.
Carmelita lives with her husband and six children in one of the most remote mountain villages in Timor Leste, Mapeop aldeias in Bobonaro district. For most people, the village is only accessible by foot or on horseback. In dry season, four-wheel drive vehicles can reach with some difficulty, and it takes about two hours from the nearest town on a good day.

Once she filled three jerry cans with water, I followed her back home. It was a difficult 20 minutes climbing back up the steep hill in the dry heat. On arrival, whilst gasping for air, I asked Carmelita how she felt: “I feel really tired,” she replied. But for her this was normal she told me. 

Carmelita makes three to four trips to fetch water every day, sometimes carrying 15-20 litres of water at a time. Tough work indeed I thought, as I wiped the sweat from by brow after the arduous walk back.

When asked if anyone else from the family helps with fetching water, Carmelita shook her head. “Only sometimes,” she said. “All my children go to school and my husband is busy with his work. The children help sometimes after returning from school.”

“What happens to me and my husband when I get older? Who will fetch water for us?” she asks, reflecting on how difficult it is to fetch water every day. While we were talking, Afonso Moniz da Costa, Carmelita’s husband, arrived.
Carmelita carries three jerry cans full of water
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Dmonemnasi

I asked Carmelita and Afonso whether they have approached the government or any other agencies to help build a water system in their village. They told me that they had but everyone told them it is too difficult to get water to their village - there is no nearby water source and water will have to be pumped from the spring one kilometre down the hill. 
But they, like many in the village, are willing to contribute. “I am ready to offer food if someone comes to help us build a water system and also contribute with labour to install a water system,” Afonso said enthusiastically. “I’m ready to pay monthly fees for water.”
Slowly a small crowd was gathering around us, mainly mothers who also make the arduous journey to collect water on a daily basis. On hearing Alfonso, many of them started to tell me that they too were willing to contribute.
Community led approaches to water supply and sanitation can bring long lasting benefits to remote villages that are often difficult to reach and require more complex systems to carry water to their villages due to distance and terrain. For the community to support their own water system, all they would need is the initial capital to install the system and the training to support repair and maintenance.

With community members showing willingness to contribute one dollar each per month to help maintain a water pump system and pay water bills, I saw the commitment to build a sustainable water supply system.

Villagers discuss the possibility of self-financing and maintaining a water supply.
With a small initial investment and training, remote villages like this could have a regular water supply.
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Rbhusal
“I don’t want me or my family to get sick – that’s also why we built a toilet recently to help keep ourselves clean,” Carmelita said. “But, we need help to build a water system. If we get that help, my dream of having running water in the village can be fulfilled.”

It’s a simple dream, and a possible dream. There are many Carmelitas and Mapeop villages in the remote mountains of Timor-Leste that are unable to easily access water, and therefore miss out on a basic human right. With a little support, the village can take control of their own destiny and bring water to their doorsteps.

By Ramesh Bhusal, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, UNICEF Timor-Leste

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