Through a UNICEF-supported project, Aceh villagers finally get safe water
By Ivy Susanti
MERIE SATU, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, 4 June 2008 – For decades past, the residents of Merie Satu village could only dream of one day having access to safe water. There was no water source in their community, located in the rural, conflict-affected district of Bener Meriah in the heart of Aceh province.
Every time the villagers needed water for drinking or washing, they had to walk to a small river about 1.5 km away – always running the risk of being attacked by troops or rebels. Each house is also equipped with a reservoir that can store water for up to three months during the rainy season.
The villagers had submitted requests to local authorities for construction of water and sanitation facilities, but nothing was ever built – until March of this year.
Promoting better hygiene
Conflict-affected areas became accessible after the signing of the peace agreement between the Indonesian Government and the Aceh separatist movement. At that point, UNICEF began supporting the Aceh provincial authorities in building toilets and water facilities, and promoting better hygiene practices in local communities.
Fourteen villages in two districts, Bener Meriah and Aceh Tengah, were chosen to participate in this project. Merie Satu was one of them. It is divided into four sub-villages with a total population of 581.
First, a water source needed to be identified. With the help of the community, UNICEF and its implementing partner Project Concern International (PCI) found a spring nearby that produced fresh, clean water. From the spring, the water could be fed directly into the community via a gravity-based pipe system.
UNICEF agreed to provide pipes, construction materials and other equipment that was not available in the area. The agency also signed on to promote hygiene, teaching villagers about the importance of washing their hands regularly and using the toilets properly.
Meanwhile, community members raised money to buy additional needed materials, as well as bottled water and snacks for the workers. All of them were men and women from the village who volunteered their time to help install the water system and build the sanitation facilities, without receiving salary or any other financial subsidy from UNICEF or PCI.
“When UNICEF-PCI team came here to assess the site and told us it was possible to get clean water, we did not believe them,” said the Merie Satu village head, Baharuddin. “Many people have bet that this village will never get clean water till the end the world.”
Strongly motivated to silence the sceptics, the villagers began laying down the pipes and building the toilets in early March. They tasted cold spring water in the village for the first time on 30 March.
Before this project, there were 71 toilets for 145 houses in Merie Satu. That number has more than doubled to 134 toilets in the houses and the school. The village council is now planning to apply a tariff for water usage in order to finance maintenance of the pipes and facilities.
The villagers, who earn their living from planting coffee and chilli, are happy about the possible economic benefits of the new water and sanitation system.
“Now that we have a permanent water source, we can plant vegetable seeds around the year, thus ensuring a stable income,” said the village secretary, Suhada. “We also hope that in the future we can learn to purify water and sell it as drinking water.”