“Water makes us beautiful”
With the construction of a new water point, life in a village in central Mali has been transformed.
DIALANGOU, Mali – A sizeable crowd has gathered near the school in Dialangou village, and for a very good reason: water is flowing out of a brand-new pump.
Clean water is a rare resource in these parts. Here in the Mopti region of Mali, the weather has become extreme, with droughts alternating with flooding at increasing frequency. Rains are irregular, leading to poor harvests, rising food prices and food insecurity. When floods occur, roads are washed out and villages are cut off entirely from larger towns and the social services they offer.
But climate change isn’t the only issue faced by families here. A sharp increase in attacks and violence in the region over the past two years has fueled a displacement crisis: more than 75,000 people, the majority of whom are children, are now internally displaced in Mopti.
While nearly 80 per cent of people in Mali now have access to clean drinking water, it is a different story in hard-to-reach rural areas, including the tiny hamlet of Dialangou. Flooding can destroy water supplies, leave behind contaminated water and make it particularly difficult to bring in construction equipment to build new infrastructure.
“We sometimes missed school lessons, or even entire school days, when the pump was broken”
In addition, in areas affected by the conflict, internal displacement can limit families' access to drinking water, while also putting additional strain on the water supplies of host communities. Before the construction of the new pump, Dialangou’s water supply consisted of three boreholes equipped with human-powered pumps, but the quantity of water wasn’t nearly enough for its constantly growing population, and the old pumps were far from the village.
The result was that villagers often resorted to fetching stagnant, unclean water at a nearby pond, leading to the spread of water-borne illnesses like diarrhoea among children in the village.
Other villagers walked up to 45 minutes to get to the nearest pump, which in the case of girls in particular hampered their education.
Fatoumata Lobbo Bocoum, a 13-year-old student, remembers how she would wait patiently next to the faraway pump for water to arrive, at times at the expense of her school day. "We sometimes missed school lessons, or even entire school days, when the pump was broken."
The installation of the pump near her school has transformed her life. "Water makes us so happy! We even have a borehole at school,” she says. Laughing, she adds: “Water makes us beautiful!”
Her neighbour Fanta Diarra, is just as joyous. "We've stopped going to get water at the pond,” she says. “The water from the pump is of much better quality. No matter what, it always comes out clean and clear!"
UNICEF’s vision doesn’t stop at building water points. The construction of the water point at Dialangou was coupled with the promotion of handwashing with soap, guidance on maintaining and managing water points, building separate latrines for girls and boys in the school and distributing hygiene kits. Through this complete package, both host families and displaced families benefit from clean water, improved hygiene and health. In addition, water-related chores for women and girls are reduced, which helps girls’ education.
“We have separate latrines for girls and boys,” Fatoumata explains. “But we also have hand washing kits, soap and so much more!"
With the support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of Sweden, UNICEF has just built 174 new water points in the Mopti region, many of them in hard-to-reach, flood prone areas, as part of the Sanitation and Water for All Initiative for 2019-2022.
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Energy and Water, the Ministry of the Environment, Sanitation and Sustainable Development and the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs to improve equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing on the most vulnerable girls and boys. In 2019, UNICEF and partners provided clean drinking water to more than 74,000 people in the Mopti region.