Villagers tap the rain to improve health and hygiene near quake-affected Yogyakarta
By Steve Nettleton
For World Water Week 2008, observed from 17 to 23 August, UNICEF is focusing on the impact of water and sanitation interventions on children. Here is one in a series of related stories.
TLOGAWATU, Indonesia, 18 August 2008 – On the eastern slopes of Mount Merapi, a sacred, active volcano on the island of Java, change is about to come with the next rainfall.
Men from all across the village of Tlogawatu are pouring concrete into a blue cylindrical mould behind the house of a villager named Paimo. The mysterious shape is a rainwater cistern. As it fills up during the wet season, this ‘catchment’ will provide Paimo’s family with a year-round source of water.
With support from UNICEF, most of the other houses in the village will also soon receive catchments.
‘Water every second of the day’
Down the road, another villager, Tutik, is expecting to begin using her new water system soon. Until now, she and her family have relied on an open tank, in which the water was often dirty and unusable.
Tlogawatu’s dry season, which can last half the year, leaves villagers’ wells and most local water sources dry, forcing Tutik and most of her neighbours to pay for water to be trucked up from Yogyakarta, in the valley below. Her catchment needs only a few final adjustments before it will go into service.
“We have more water in storage now, and it’s more hygienic and healthier for consumption,” said Tutik. “We can have water for showers and for washing. Without UNICEF’s water programme, we used to shower only once in two days and wash dishes once in three days. But now, we can have water every second of the day.”
Sanitation in quake zone
Building these catchments is part of a UNICEF effort to improve the water and sanitation situation in a region still recovering from a major earthquake in May 2006.
In cooperation with the non-governmental organization Yayasan Karya Mandiri Indonesia, UNICEF is helping to build more than 1,100 such catchments in three villages near Yogyakarta.
UNICEF is also working with the German organization Arche Nova to provide specially built latrines, primarily for children living with mental disabilities in low-income families. The organizations plan to construct 90 latrines, most of them in the hard-hit district of Bantul.
Hygiene education is crucial
In addition to new facilities, UNICEF is helping to teach residents in the region around Yogyakarta about the importance of hygiene. Farida Nurhanifah leads a hygiene-promotion class in the village of Tlogawatu. Just as important as providing infrastructure, she noted, is instructing villagers to understand how to stay healthy.
“The level of knowledge about hygiene in this village is still low,” said Ms. Nurhanifah. “Some people still defecate on the streets. In the training, I discuss the problem of open defecation and also how to cover their water storage. In the past, their water was left open without any sort of cover on it.”
With a new grasp of hygiene and a permanent source of water, villagers in the mountains above Yogyakarta can better care for their own community, with less need of help from the valley below.