|Schoolchildren in Equatorial Guinea filter rainwater before consumption.|
BANEY, Equatorial Guinea, 29 February 2008 – The sight of children fetching water at the nearest river with buckets on their heads is a common scene in Baney, a small town situated in the outskirts of Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea.
Running water is scarce in homes. That is why families must mobilize and organize their daily pilgrimage to a river named Ehola, which means ‘the protective spirit of the people’.
“God has not endowed our people with water,” said the director of the Papa Bacabo National School in Baney, referring to the river, which is completely dry most of the time. Adding to concerns over its quantity, the water is not of good quality, and the nearest source is far from having the minimal hygienic conditions for use without risks.
Water quality and child survival
This dramatic situation is prevalent in almost all of Equatorial Guinea; a country where less than half of the population has access to safe water, and one that has not yet developed a large-scale sanitation programme.
Around 2 children out of 10 here die before the age of five, often from diarrhoea, cholera or other diseases linked to poor water quality.
Water is the source of life and must be protected. This leitmotiv is gaining momentum on the world’s development agenda. It is of particular interest this year, which has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Sanitation.
Rainwater collection system
Since 2007, UNICEF and one of its private-sector partners, Exxon-Mobil EG, have been developing a rainwater collection system using gutters installed on the roofs of school buildings in Baney.
Once collected and filtered, the water can be used by children without endangering their lives. The whole system was conceived to allow the school to constantly have safe drinking water for children, even during the dry season.
Teachers are quite cognizant of the fact that safe water consumed by students throughout the day reduces morbidity and related absenteeism. Children are themselves active participants in the project, which provides a theme for discussions about the vital role of water.
Teachers are also working hand-in-hand with parents to sensitize them about hygiene, water and sanitation – so the project provides an educational environment with improved health, further contributing to a world fit for children.