Solar power brings water to rural communities in Somalia

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By Swangin Bismarck

LASA-DACAWO, Somaliland, 5 March 2013 - Ten year old Fatima Ismael Saleh and her family used to be constantly on the move in search of water for themselves and their livestock. But thanks to a new solar powered water system installed in the village, the family can stay in one place and Fatima can complete her schooling.

Fatima’s family is among the 10,000 residents of Lasa-dacawo village in Somaliland, North Western Somalia, who have benefitted from the water supply made possible by funding from the Government of Japan.

Enclosed in a barbed wire fence, ten solar panels of 150 Watts each installed on high ground power a submersible pump which lifts underground water into a storage tank with a capacity of 25,000 litres. Some seven kilometres of pipeline takes the water to a school, a health centre and five kiosks consisting of a sheltered tap stand where ppeople can collect water in containers.

“This water system has eased the stress particularly on women who used to spend most of their time in search of water, which is now available to all”, said Haaxi Abdi Omar, a female community leader who is leading efforts to maintain and sustain the water system.

Before the water system was installed, the people here had no any other regular water source other than the seasonal rivers which were dry most of the year. During this time, another water pump located about 30 kilometres away would be the only alternative or water trucked to the village and sold at the cost of US$ 1 per 20 litre jerry can. Most people couldn’t afford it.

The students at Lasa-dacawo Primary School now have sufficient supply of clean drinking water. Containers filled with water for washing hands after using the toilets are put in front of the separate toilets for boys, girls and teachers.

The Head Teacher, Ismael Idley says the water supply has made a tremendous change. “It’s not possible to compare. We had nothing before. The students and the teachers are all happy.”

Ahmed Muse, Head Nurse at Lasa-dacawo Health Centre, says the running water is a major improvement. “A health centre can’t run without water. We need water to keep our equipment clean and for the patients,” he said.

Before that, the health centre used to buy water from truckers but it was not always sufficient and was often contaminated.

He added that the number of people with diarrhoea coming to the health centre has fallen since January, and attributes the improvement to the water supply.

The village Headman Muse Ali Yasin said the installation of the water system has meant families no longer have to move in search of water to find pasture for their livestock.

“Even relations have improved with our neighbouring villages that come to fetch water from here,” said Mr Ali.

The participation of the Community is crucial for the success of the water system as they will be responsible for managing it and ensuring the sustainability of the water supply.

UNICEF currently supports the operations and maintenance of the system but in the long run, the community is expected to take responsibility for minor repairs.

Ms Abdi, a member of the Village Water Committee, says their role is to make sure the water kiosk area is kept clean and that water collection is done in an orderly manner.

She says they now plan to start collecting fees from households to raise funds for them to fix any break downs in the future.

“Women play a key role in the collection and safeguarding of the water for domestic use and that is why we are part of the planning, management and decision making about water”, said Ms. Abdi. “We are volunteers motivated by the importance of water to our lives,” she added.

The Water Committee also informs the relevant authorities in case of a major break down that the community can’t afford to fix. The main challenge for the use of solar energy as a new technology in Somalia is the lack of skilled personnel to service the system and repair it if there is a major breakdown. .

Currently the system is maintained by an attendant employed by the community to protect the solar panels and keep their surfaces clean to receive the sun rays and yield maximum power.

The project is one of several funded by the Government of Japan to enhance access to adequate safe drinking water and improve hygiene and sanitation for rural communities in Somalia. Another 40,000 people have benefited through four other similar projects using an integrated approach to bring water and sanitation facilities to a health centre, school and community.