In Chad, clean and sustainable water and sanitation systems keep families safe from disease
UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on a programme that is giving poor Chadian families clean, fresh water.
N'DJAMENA, Chad, 17 February 2012 – While N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, bakes in the midday heat, Aisha Adoum uses the harsh sun to dry tomatoes, ochre and berries for the market. It is the dry season here, with dust coating everything. Children find relief playing in the low and polluted lakes and rivers, alongside carpet washers.
Clean water is in high demand, but poor neighbourhoods, called quartiers, on N’Djamena’s outskirts don’t benefit from the city’s utilities grid. Instead, they rely on shallow wells or, if they can afford it, water vendors. Even then, there is no guarantee that the water is clean. Last year, over 17,000 people contracted cholera in Chad, with thousands of cases in the capital alone.
Ms. Adoum and her family live in Dar Salam, a poor quartier on the edge of N'djamena. She used to use much of her income to buy one or two jerry cans of water a week. It was all she could afford, but it still wasn't enough for her family.
“It was so expensive,” she said, “that we couldn't buy enough water for everything, so we would just buy one or two jerry cans for drinking and cooking. But for the other things, like washing, we would use dirty water, and there was a lot of disease and a lot of diarrhoea in the children.”
A rare opportunity
Last year, UNICEF, in partnership with the Secours Islamique France, started building clean water delivery systems in the poor communities around N'djamena. The wells are 60 metres deep – far deeper and, thus, far cleaner than the open or hand-pumped wells commonly used here. Solar panels fuel the pumps, which suck up and deliver the water to an elevated tank, which in turn feeds two water points.
Ms. Adoum and her family live right across the road from one of the water points. It's changed their lives.
“Before, it was so expensive to buy water,” she said, smiling. “But now, since this was installed, my daughter, my grandchildren and I go to collect water whenever we want. It’s so much better for us.”
In Habbena quartier, UNICEF and Secours Islamique France struggled to find a site for the water system, so the chief of the quartier, Abbakaka Tidjani, contributed part of his own homestead for the project.
“As chief of this quartier, I know how important water is here,” he said. “People are always struggling for water, so I gave up my own land for this system. If we had lost this opportunity, it would not have come again.”
There are now seven such water points in poor quartiers around N'Djamena, managed by the communities in which they've been built. While the water is free for individual households, water vendors pay a minimum amount, which is then used for service, maintenance and chlorination. The water vendors themselves don't have to travel as far to source water and can now provide a cleaner, healthier product.
Clean water is life
Mohammed Mohammezen Duma is the chairman of the water committee in the Dar Salam quartier, where Ms. Adoum lives. He says the access to clean water has meant a far healthier neighbourhood.
“People in this quartier keep telling us stories about how they always used to get diarrhoea and how they used to get cholera, but since this was installed, there hasn't been one case of cholera here,” Mr. Duma said.
Along with the water systems, UNICEF and Secours Islamique France have also built public latrines in areas like markets and schools, part of efforts to reduce open defecation, a practice that contributes to the spread of diseases like cholera. Like the water systems, the latrines are managed by the community. People pay a small fee to use the facilities, and the money is used for maintenance and the purchase of soap.
Access to safe drinking water and sanitation services in Chad is among the lowest in the world, a major factor in the country’s recurrent outbreaks of diseases like polio, meningitis and cholera. It is only through the delivery of quality sanitation services and, most importantly, clean water that Chad can hope to overcome this vicious cycle of disease.
“If you talk about life, you talk about water,” explained Mr. Duma, “ but not just water: clean water. And now we have clean water.”