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Safe water improves quality of life for families in Berbera, Somalia

© UNICEF Somalia/2009/Ysenburg
Fatma Ali, a resident of Berbera and member of the town’s Water Management Board, holds a piece of the rusty iron pipe that was replaced by a new one through a UNICEF-supported water project.

By Iman Morooka

World Water Day, observed on 22 March, raises global awareness of the critical importance of safe water and sanitation in developing countries. Here is the story of one UNICEF-supported water project.

BERBERA, Somalia, 23 March 2009 – Until recently, the coastal town of Berbera, north-west Somalia, suffered from insufficient and poor quality of water delivered through its rundown water-supply system.

Berbera’s original water supply dates 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.

“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,” said 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 the town.

“There used to be many cases of diarrhoea and people with kidney problems in Berbera,” she added. “I used to advise people to boil water before using it to avoid getting sick.”

Rehabilitating the water system
To respond to increased demand for water beginning in the early 1980s, 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.

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.

A comprehensive approach
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 the Jalamaaye settlement in Berbera can get water.

The other component is the improvement of water system management through a public-private partnership that involves all stakeholders – the community, the water authority and the private sector – to ensure more sustainable delivery of services.

Public-private partnership
“This project’s comprehensive approach, that addresses the entire set of problems that plagued the water system, is what makes it sustainable,” said UNICEF Somalia Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Zaid Jurji.

© UNICEF Somalia/2009/Ysenburg
One of the rehabilitated Dubar spring water collection wells, protected by a new roof and fences that prevent animals, logs and other large objects from contaminating the well.

“The enthusiasm and ownership of all stakeholders towards this initiative is remarkable. The community has taken part in conducting the social survey and in labour-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.”

Through this approach, the different and complementary roles of government and private sector are strengthened, with UNICEF as facilitator to the process.

‘Thanks to clean water, I feel safe’
Fatma Ali is one of the members serving on the Water Management 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,” she said. “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, including USAID and the Danish Government, have also come on board to support this initiative. Today, there are 10 such projects being implemented across the three zones of the country.



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