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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Lack of safe water a struggle for families of Kosovo

© UNICEF video
Children and families in rural areas of Kosovo struggle to find sources of safe water.

By Peter George

OBRI, 13 July 2009 – Every day, Shukrije Xhemajli, wonders if the water her children drink will make them sick. It’s a fear that never leaves her.

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Already, one of Ms. Xhemajli’s two sons has narrowly avoided death from meningitis, which he almost certainly contracted from the water he drinks from the family well.

Like much of the rural population of Kosovo, Ms. Xhemajli has no running water and relies on a well in her yard for all her family’s needs. There is an older well further down the slope from her house, but she is so certain that its water is unhealthy, she does not use it even for the family cow.

“What can I say?” she asks. “To have more safe drinking water would have been much better. For everyone, not only for my family, but in general. And to have it in sufficient amounts – not like now: drop by drop.”

Coping with shortages

A kilometre up the road lives the Demaku family, an extended family of 22 people. The father, Hazir, sits beside a family well. The water level is low, despite the lushness of the spring pastures that surround the compound.

“You can cope with a lot of shortages,” he says. “But it’s difficult to live with a shortage of water. If you come here in a month’s time, you will see the difference and the water from the well will disappear.”

Mr. Demaku's family has only one option when the water runs out. His sons fire up the family tractor and drive five km towing a trailer loaded with empty plastic barrels to a reliable spring. The young men spend part of a morning at least twice a week filling the barrels and then carting them home – just like many other families who live in the surrounding area.

© UNICEF video
This UNICEF-supported school in Obri has safe, running water.

What UNICEF is doing

UNICEF is concerned for the thousands of children who live in rural areas with no access to safe water.
“Sixty per cent of schools do not have access to safe drinking water,” says UNICEF Kosovo’s acting Head of Office, Tania Goldner. “What does this mean for children? This means their health is impacted, their growth and their development is impacted.”

Obri’s school, which was built with UNICEF funds, has running water. Here, the children are taught the basics of hygiene and careful water usage every day.

In the pre-school section, teacher Shehide Demaj trickles water from a two-litre plastic bottle over the hands of her children before they sit down to eat the lunch their mothers have packed for them. But Ms. Demaj notes that no matter how much care they take, the problem of questionable water supplies remains severe.

“There are different diseases as a result of contaminated water: intestinal infections, stomach pains, skin diseases and other types of disease,” she says.”

Safe water as a right

The village representative to the local municipality, Ilir Demaku, says there have been promises that water will come to Obri, but he has no idea when. He has been told it will be soon, but he also says he has been told that on many previous occasions, and nothing has happened yet.

“We all know this is an area with real problems with water resources,” observes Mr. Demaku. “It’s a very antiquated system, which consists of drawing water from the wells, and it isn’t completely clean and disinfected in appropriate ways.”

Safe water should be the right of the children of Obri under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which marks its 20th anniversary this year. But until the authorities manage to bring a supply to the village and its region, illnesses associated with unclean water will continue to be endemic and the long journey to the spring will remain a necessity of life.




UNICEF’s Peter George reports on the need to secure safe water for children and families in Kosovo.
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