By Alex Duval-Smith
LUANDA, Angola, 25 January 2012 – When Beatriz da Encarnação got her own tap, the ready access to clean water quickly improved the health of her sons, 8-year-old Filipi Capitango and 8-month-old Beomiro Pedro.
VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Suzanne Beukes reports on a piped water project improving health in Angola. Watch in RealPlayer
“The clean water has made a noticeable difference, especially when it comes to diarrhoea. Beomiro Pedro is much healthier than Filipi Capitango was at his age,” Ms. da Encarnação said.
Ms. da Encarnação was a beneficiary of the European Union–UNICEF Kaplango project, which has brought water to 2,000 homes in the Matala municipality, Huíla Province.
According to José Vital, who heads a community water committee serving 68 houses in the farming community of Alges, residents’ lives have changed radically.
“Rates of diarrhoea and cholera have fallen to next to nothing compared to when our cleanest water was in a river 5 km away,” he said. “Because the safe water was so far away, people would save themselves trouble and take unsafe water from nearby streams. That is how the illness was caused.”
Nine years after the end of a 27-year civil war, Angola is struggling to meet most of the Millennium Development Goals, including the goal of halving the proportion of people without access to safe water or sanitation.
Only half of Angolans have access to improved drinking water sources; in rural areas, this number falls to 38 per cent.
But the EU–UNICEF partnership's success in the Matala municipality has been promising, said Huíla Province Director of Energy and Water Abel da Costa.
“The support we have received from the EU and UNICEF has been of tremendous benefit and we hope it will continue," Mr. da Costa said.
A big reason for this success has been the participation of local residents.
"The Matala experience has shown us that giving the community ownership over water and sanitation ensures sustainability," Mr. da Costa continued. "Such is the level of knowledge in Matala now that open defecation is considered unacceptable. People are even asked to move away if they do not respect the hygiene of the area."
Still, Mr. da Costa concedes that increasing access to safe water grows harder as his department tries to reach even more people.
“We have a severe shortage of skilled workers. Not only does the province not have a single qualified water engineer, but we lack manpower at all levels, including plumbers and people to do maintenance.”
Back in Alges, the community remains enthusiastic about the piped water project they helped to install.
But the system is not perfect. Mr. Vital echoes Mr. da Costa's worries about the lack of resources and skilled manpower, but he says local water committee members have been vigilant about keeping the system running.
“Sometimes, to spare the pump, we limit its operating hours from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.," he said. "So far, we have never had any major breakdowns that could not be solved by members of the water committee.”
For Ms. da Encarnação, the project has created a world of opportunity.
When water became available in her home, she was able to start a new business – and brighten the lives of neighbourhood children at the same time.
“That is when I started making ice cream from baobab fruit," she said.
Her profits are used to buy food and clothes for her children. The community seems pleased with the development as well.
"I have a good turnover," Ms. da Encarnação said.