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Madagascar, August 2016: The blue gold rush

Water has always been a major issue in this arid part of Madagascar. In the deep south, less than one quarter of the population has regular access to drinking water.

© UNICEF Madagascar

Under a blazing sun, men, women and children are digging in the sand. Holes are scattered everywhere in what used to be a river, suggesting a kind of gold rush. And indeed, it is a rush for something more precious than gold: liquid blue gold! In the dried up Manambovo riverbed in Madagascar's southernmost Tsihombe district, people and cattle share the water, for drinking, showering, washing laundry and doing the dishes.

Water has always been a major issue in this arid part of Madagascar. In the deep south, less than one quarter of the population has regular access to drinking water. In districts like Tsihombe only two percent of the population has drinking water. And this year, El Nino has hit the southern regions badly. Water has become more and more scarce. Entire rivers, wells and water tanks are dry.

In July, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Kyung-Wha Kang visited Madagascar to witness first-hand the impact of the devastating drought and the emergency response from the international community. She met with communities in the South and realized the extent of the water issue:

« Water, which is hard to generate and harvest at the best of times in this arid region, is now critically short due to the drought. For example, driving to a project site along bumpy dirt roads, our convoy had to stop and wait for a farmer carting water home from a small muddy puddle in the middle of the road. The same puddle was also used by cattle and other livestock.

Then we had to drive through the puddle to get to our project site. The farmer and his family then used the water for drinking without any further treatment. That was one of most jarring experiences», said Ms. Kang.

In response to this situation, UNICEF, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, is taking action at all levels and across sectors to help communities cope with the inadequate water supply and expand the multiple uses of water. “With local communities and authorities, we set up groundwater extraction systems, using solar energy. These systems are managed by private operators in collaboration with local water point committees. The whole community, households, schools and health centers are regularly provided with safe drinking water. Families use the water for their household needs but also for their micro-irrigation activities, cattle watering and seeds production. UNICEF actions help people continue farming for their own consumption and for selling,” explains Silvia Gaya, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF Madagascar.

Imongy and the surrounding villages are examples of communities benefitting from UNICEF’s WASH actions. Leonard lives in the village of Antsakoamanga, in Tsihombe district. Every day, he walks 10km of bad road to gather water in the village of Imongy at the water point built by UNICEF. Every day, early in the morning, the water point in Imongy is crowded with men and women with their yellow jerry cans. And every day, Leonard fills the 200 liter barrel on his cart. He needs to bring this water back home for his big family.

Also among the people at the water point is Mrs Voromasy. With great patience she waits for her turn and talks with her friends. “I am very relieved and grateful to have this water point. It really helps us. Before, we had to walk much further to find water, which is muddy most of the time and not enough for our needs. Our children were suffering from diarrhea and missed school very often,” recalls Voromasy.

Access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation and hygiene, especially handwashing in homes, schools and health centers, help address the multiple deprivations of the Malagasy population by reducing mortality due to diarrhea, fighting against chronic malnutrition (which affects half of children under the age of five), keeping children in school and increasing productivity. These, in turn, contribute to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Poor access to water and sanitation costs Madagascar up to US$567 million per year. Yet, every US$1 invested in water supply and sanitation interventions could yield a return of US$3.20.

By 2019, UNICEF, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, aims to provide 500,000 people with access to safe drinking water through community-led and integrated models of water provision.

 

 
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