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Gambia: clean water supply brings life and thwarts cholera

© UNICEF/Gambia/2008/Grey-Johnson

Banjul, 28 October 2008 - Hawa Jallow is five years old.  Her round rosy cheeks bunch-up, exposing her tiny white teeth when she smiles and her eyes shine with life, signaling her happiness and enthusiasm.  She was not like this, before now.  Hawa had cholera and her eldest brother, Alieu died of cholera  in 2005.  Her three siblings, Mohamed, Sulayman and Isatou were also struck down by the deadly bacteria when it broke in Ebo town, a settlement in urban Gambia, swiftly taking 13 lives, affecting each and every compound in Hawa’s neighborhood. 

A settlement, which is occupied by the poorest of the urban poor.  A place where once the rainy season arrived, unleashed a deluge, flooding streets, and literally holding inhabitants hostage- no one able to go in or out of the area for days at a time.  It was also a settlement that once had no running water.  It had wells.  These wells flooded in 2005, and dirt and debris contaminated the only drinking source in Ebo town, and disaster struck.  In all, 459 people were affected and 13 died.  But many also survived, amongst them were, Mohamed, Sulayman, Isatou, and Hawa Jallow. 

Hawa’s mother, Mariama, had seen the neighborhood bury and mourn the death of children, and the elderly in those dark days three years ago.  She had also felt the burden of not having access to clean drinking water.  She used to walk for almost one kilometer daily, sometimes twice daily to fetch water, that her husband, could barely afford- they had a daily income of 95 cents, and spent almost five cents of that on only water- three buckets full daily. 

Today, three years after the Ebo town cholera outbreak, Maimuna is able to cook with clean water, because she has a stand pipe next door.  The two kilometer round trip is done no more, even though the  stand pipe is still there, but there are an extra 19 community stand taps  in Ebo town now.  And one of those 19 is only twenty meters away from her door step.  “I am able to cook food on time, so that the children can eat on time, and study and even play with their other friends without having to spend most of their day hungry,” Mariama said. 

Hawa and her brothers and sister  also bathe twice daily, and are sure that it is clean water that they are bathing with.  “It took a long time for the older ones, to be able to drink water without feeling scared,” Mariama said, “Now I cannot get them away from the tap.”   Hawa is now in nursery school, and her eldest brother is 16 and will soon graduate from senior secondary school, her sister, Isatou is 11 and she too is in school, and Alieu, Hawa’s eldest brother would have been 18 if he were alive.       

As the clouds gather and the humidity heightens over the once disheartened community, Baboucarr Jallow, Hawa’s father smiles with satisfaction, perhaps remembering all the pain of the past, yet hopeful for the precious gift of his children, his life and the future.  “There will be a lot of water this year, and we will all be safe,” he said.

by Jeggan Grey-Johnson      

UNICEF responded to the cholera out break in 2005, by giving ORS (Oral Re-hydration Solution) to the Department of State for Health to give to children infected with cholera, which is deadly and can kill within hours if not treated. In Ebo Town alone, UNICEF dispatched, through the health authorities over 4,000 packets of ORS, which helped save the lives of Hawa and her two brothers and sister, and many other children like them. Ebo Town had very little access to clean drinking water until last year, 2007; 7,000 liters of water had to be pumped into stand pipe system, in this settlement of 1,500 households to save lives. 

With UNICEF intervention and funding from generous donors like the Norway National Committee for UNICEF, Ebo town today has 19 stand pipes, bringing clean drinking water to the door steps of 1,500 households.  Other communities are less fortunate, and face the daily chores of traveling great distances to fetch water so that they can cook and bathe their children.  However, with the assistance of the Dutch National Committee, The Gambia received US $340,000, as part of the International Year of Sanitation (IYS) and to improve access to water and sanitation in hard to reach communities, like Ebo Town.



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