Comoros: Protecting the main water source of Grand Comore island from future volcanic eruptions

By Daniel Dickinson

GRAND COMORE, Comoros, 9 October 2006 - UNICEF has been working with more than 100 villages on the island of Grand Comore to ensure continued access to safe, clean water following yet another eruption of the notoriously active volcano, Mount Karthala.

Karthala's recent eruptions - two in the last year and a half - have polluted the island's fragile water source and left the island covered in debris.

Tahir, 14, still has a rasping cough from inhaling volcanic ash, as well as disturbing memories of the event.

"I was scared but my father told me not to worry. He told me to go to bed but I couldn't sleep. I stayed up until morning and saw how yellow the sun was. Then I saw the ash falling from the sky like sand," he said.

A long-term solution

Grand Comore has no significant rivers or streams so a large portion of the population depends on rainwater gathered in large cisterns or tanks. Following the eruptions, the residents' water became clogged with ash.

As a short-term solution, UNICEF trucked in millions of litres of fresh drinking water for more than 150,000 people.

But the main goal is to make sure the invaluable cisterns will be protected from future eruptions. More than 1,500 cisterns have already been covered, ensuring a lasting supply of clean, safe water.

"This cistern is covered with metal sheets provided by UNICEF. My neighbours are also coming here to fetch their drinking water," said local teacher, Ben Said.

Cleaner water, better health

The villagers' health has improved since the cisterns were covered. There are fewer cases of diarrhoea, especially amongst children. The number of malaria cases is also expected to drop, now that the water is protected from mosquitoes.

UNICEF is currently working to educate people about the importance of staying healthy by protecting their water sources.

UNICEF Assistant Operations Officer Bernadette Nyiratunga says villagers responded to the crisis by working closely with UNICEF and its partners, and doing what they could to help one another.

"The villagers helped in distributing all the materials and provided the labour. It makes us feel we did something that was really needed and which was really appreciated," Ms. Nyiratunga said.