Provision of safe water improves quality of life for the residents of Berbera
By Iman Morooka
22 March 2009, Berbera, North-west Somalia ('Somaliland') - Until recently, the coastal town of Berbera, north-west Somalia (‘Somaliland’), suffered from insufficient and poor quality of water delivered through its run-down water system.
Berbera’s original water supply system goes back to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century when this gravity induced system used the Dubar Spring, at the foot of the mountains, as its natural source. The spring water flowed to collection wells and then to water points through asbestos-cast iron pipes.
From the early 1980s, to respond to increased demand for water, improvements to the existing system were made by various international organizations. This included the addition of a set of boreholes with better water yield, to supply the bulk of the town’s water needs.
However the capacity of the existing system had decreased drastically due to lack of maintenance and poor management, and rusting of the well screens and pipes. Furthermore, clogging of the old pipes with incrustation of sediments had caused a serious decrease in the water supply and cracks in the networks during times of low flow allowed surrounding contaminants to pollute the water.
“I almost left town because the quality of water was very bad and I was afraid for my health, as well as my children’s. There used to be many cases of diarrhoea and people with kidney problems in Berbera,” says Fatma Ali, a resident of Berbera and mother of eight, holding up a piece of the old rusty and cracked pipe that used to deliver water to people in Berbera. “I used to advise people to boil water before using it to avoid getting sick”.
In July 2008, in response to these needs and with funding from the European Union, UNICEF started working with the community in Berbera to rehabilitate and expand the existing system and fundamentally improve its operation and management.
The project consists of two main components. The physical component has improved the water system through rehabilitation, cleaning and protection of the Dubar Spring source and existing boreholes, replacement of the blocked sections of the old transmission pipes as well as installation of a new supply pipe, and construction of three kiosks where displaced people living in Jalamaaye IDP settlement in Berbera can access water.
The other component is the improvement of the water system management through establishing a Public-Private Partnership that involves all stakeholders - the community, the water authority and the private sector - to ensure a more sustainable delivery of services.
“This project’s comprehensive approach that addresses the entire set of problems that plagued the water system is what makes it sustainable” said Zaid Jurji, Chief of the Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Progamme in UNICEF Somalia. “The enthusiasm and ownership of all stakeholders towards this initiative is remarkable. The community has taken part in conducting the social survey and in labor intensive work such as excavating pipe channels and removing old pipes, while the national and local authorities have assumed leadership and promoted the adoption of the Public-Private Partnership approach.” added Jurji.
The Public-Private Partnership approach compensates for the lack of institutional capacity within Somalia’s public sector, by promoting the increased involvement of the private sector in providing water supply services. Through this approach, the different and complementary roles of government and private sector are strengthened, with UNICEF as facilitator to the process. The interests of the community are moreover safeguarded through their representation in the seven-member Water Management Board established under the project.
Fatma Ali is one of the members serving in the Board. “I am very proud to be part of this project and I consider it one of the largest and most important ones in this area.” said Fatma. “Thanks to clean water, I feel safe to be living in Berbera”.
Through this project, safe water provided to the 12,000 residents of Berbera, including the displaced population, has increased by 30 per cent.
UNICEF and the European Union pioneered the Public-Private Partnership approach in Somalia in 1997. Since then, several other key donors to the sector, including USAID and the Danish Government, have also come on board to support this initiative, and currently, there are ten such projects being implemented across the three zones of the country.