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In a Malian village, a simple wish for clean water


For a remote village in central Mali, the prospect of a new borehole means more than just a shorter walk to water – it also means better health and new possibilities for the whole community.

© UNICEF Mali/2015
Samba Tembely, 10, collects water from a cave near her village of Kama Sareme, in Mali’s central highlands. The cave is a 2 km walk from the village, the water often unsafe for drinking, and the jerrycans heavy to carry back.

MOPTI, Mali, 10 September 2015 – It is a daunting sight. A dozen adults, some of whom Samba Tembely has never seen before, are seated in the chief's yard.

“Tell them your favourite activity,” says Siggi, the 10-year-old's mother.

Samba speaks up: “I like collecting water in the cave with my friends.”

It seems to be the wrong answer, because the adults burst out laughing.

Samba wishes she could just vanish.

Among the visitors is Abdoulaye Najim, the local head of the Malian state water board. He is here, along with UNICEF, to assess the water needs for Kama Sareme, with a view to the village being included among the next 10 locations for a borehole.

Najim addresses the petrified 10-year-old: “If you did not have to walk two kilometres to the cave and carry back heavy buckets of water, you would have more time to do your homework, wouldn't you?”

Samba looks back at him, puzzled: “But I don't like doing homework,” she protests.

Walking to the cave

Kama Sareme, on a limestone elevation in central Mali known as the Bandiagara escarpment, is less than an hour's drive from the nearest tarmac road but it is among the least developed of villages in one of the world's poorest countries. The area is home to the Dogon, an ethnic group with distinctive religious and cultural traditions.

© UNICEF Mali/2015
Siggi Tembely and her daughter Samba sift and clean dried wild grapes with which Siggi makes juice. The water for the juice comes from the cave where Samba collects it.

The spirited 10-year-old is among 560 adults and children in this remote village with no electricity and no reliable source of clean water. The nearest school and health centre are six kilometres away.

“Our main income is from shallots,” says village chief Yalemo Djiguiba, 59. “Other Dogon villages manage to grow shallots year round, thanks to damming the river and using well water. We have access to a spring, in a cave, but it sometimes dries up.”

Samba and her friends take the visitors to the cave, a 15-minute walk from the village, across a massive bare rock landscape dotted with only tiny shoots of green from a few wild grape trees. It's hot and windy. Dust gets in everyone's eyes.

Until the village converted to Islam five years ago, everyone in Kama Sareme was animist, and only the bravest went to collect water at the cave. It was believed a genie lived inside. But no one believes those stories any more, says Samba.

She slides out of her flip-flops, grabs a green jerrycan and plunges into the darkness created by the rocks. Siggi, 40, is unhappy that her daughter has to come here to collect water.

“It is far, the water is heavy to carry and the traffic in and out of the cave is such that the rocks become wet. I am always afraid Samba is going to slip and fall in,” she says.

Chief Yalemo Djiguiba points out that animal excrement can easily contaminate the water. “The goats and cattle walk around above and in the vicinity of the entrance to the cave,” he says. “Everyone has to take off their shoes before going into the cave, but that does not prevent contamination when dirty jerrycans are dipped in the well.”

© UNICEF Mali/2015
Village mason Dogolu Djiguiba cuts rocks for a house he is building. He will then render it with mud plaster made with the same water that provides most of the village's drinking water.

Village mason Dogolu Djiguiba, 48, arrives bearing a yellow plastic container. He is building a house from rocks and banco, a type of plaster made from mud.

“We use the same water for humans, bricks and our animals. What I want is what the whole village wants. If we have water, we will live in peace. We will no longer have blood in our urine,” he says, describing one of the symptoms of bilharzia, an infection caused by parasitic worms.

Community development

Farmer Kai Djiguiba, 48, says the long distance to the cave and to a canyon where he draws water for his livestock is slowing the village's development. “If we had safe water in the village, we would save a lot of time. It would also allow some of the women, perhaps, to start juice-making businesses.”

UNICEF Mali WASH officer Soma Konaré confirms that the arrival of a clean and reliable source of water in a village often has a wide range of secondary benefits.

“We never just sink a hole, fit a pump and leave,” he says. “We help the villagers to organize themselves to maintain the pump and keep the area clean. Crucially, we will also be able to help them improve their hygiene conditions and their state of health. This is turn has an impact on the education of children and the global development of these communities.”

In UNICEF's campaign, backed by Volvic, Japanese consumers who support the “1litre for 10litres” drive will contribute to the rehabilitation of 28 manual pump sites and the sinking of 10 new boreholes. Four Malian communities will also benefit from water distribution networks.

Samba has been listening to the adults' conversations. She gets it now. She asks to speak: “Some of my friends get sick sometimes. At home we do not drink the water from the cave. First we add bleach. It does not taste nice.”



UNICEF Photography: #WaterIs a family affair


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