The multiplier effect: How simple repairs to a water pump brought life back to a drought-hit Somali community
By Mike Pflanz
WADAAMAGOO, Somaliland, 1 December 2011 – Ahmed Mohamud sat in the shade of a fig tree in a village by a dusty road and pointed first north, then south, then east, then west.
“From here,” said Mr Mohamud, from the Water Ministry, “there is no good water for at least 90km in any direction. To the south, it is something like 200km. People come here from so far for water.”
For six months, however, the diesel-driven water pump that sucks clean water up from the borehole at Wadaamagoo village was broken, stalled by burnt-out electrics and a struggle to procure spare parts.
Until it was fixed, with funds from the Government of Japan funnelled through UNICEF, this village of more than 3,000 people – and the thousands of others who trek in from the countryside for water – was on the verge of breaking apart.
“When the borehole is damaged, people are forced to buy water from trucks, and it is very costly. Those who cannot afford must leave their homes. Some who stay use dirty water and they fall sick.
“Only when the water pump was repaired, that’s when we were back to normal again.”
The work done on the machinery at Wadaamagoo was part of a series of fixes funded by Japan to three dozen similar boreholes in ten villages throughout central and southern Somaliland, benefiting almost 200,000 people.
Without the repairs, many of those people would have faced a desperate situation as drought began to sweep northern Somalia, said Hirse Awil, a herder watering his camels at shallow wells on Wadaamagoo’s outskirts.
“When that borehole was not functioning, it was also the start of the drought,” he said. “People were so thirsty then, the animals were so thirsty. I had to take the animals very far to find water.”
Children were among the worst affected, said Ali Arab Mohamed, head-teacher of the local Goosarad Primary School.
“Children’s enrolment in schools was significantly affected when the community’s water source was not working,” he said.
“Their families had to buy water, which meant there was less money for food, and the children are not eating well, which affects their concentration.
“There are children who had to go far to find water for the family, and that meant they come late to school, or do not attend at all. Sometimes they are forced to use cooking water for drinking, and they fall sick.”
At the village health post, managed by Abdi Jama for the last 18 years, the numbers of admissions at the time when the borehole was silent were far higher than today.
“At that time, poorest people have no choice but to drink water from dirty sources,” Mr Jama said.
“There is a direct impact especially on children’s health, and on hygiene generally. We are teaching people to wash their hands, to clean their utensils, to keep their latrines clean, but how can you do that when there is no clean water?”
On a recent morning, as heavy clouds signalled the long-awaited onset of the rains, Wadaamagoo was a village transformed.
Families who were forced to leave the village and migrate to unfamiliar towns far away have returned. Classes are full again, business is growing at the market, and goats and camels crowd water troughs.
At the borehole compound ringed by thorn bushes to keep wild animals away, Hussein Godsarad carried out routine maintenance of the four-cylinder British-built generator running the pump. Women queued nearby to fill plastic jerrycans.
Hoses connected the well to a water truck’s oversized tank, filling it for a fee that will earn the village income and take clean water to communities far from Wadaamagoo.
The parts that were needed to make the water flow again here cost less than US$10,000, estimated Mr Mohamud, the man from the water ministry.
“For that, we saved lives,” he said. “At that time, people were close to dying, I even heard that at least two children died here because of lack of water.
“Now that the borehole is fixed, you can see everyone is so satisfied and happy.”
The repairs were carried out as part of the Government of Japan’s funding for providing better social services across all regions of Somalia.
Beyond the infrastructure repairs, programmes include building, repairing and supplying schools, providing and storing medicines, and constructing and maintaining latrines and other clean water systems.
An hour’s drive east of Wadaamagoo, women lined up at a new stand of taps that had just opened in the town of Yagoori, also erected with funding from the Government of Japan.
Until the pipes were laid and the supply connected, it was a long walk to the nearest shallow wells to find water, which was often dirty, said Luul Dalmar, a mother with four children who runs a small business in the town.
“Now the water is right in front of my house,” she said, as she filled her 20-litre plastic container.
“That means I have the opportunity to collect water very early in the morning, and go to open my shop earlier, and I can earn more income for my children. I am so happy about this, it has changed things a lot for us.”