Water of Life

May 17 2018 | by

FOR MOST of us access to clean drinkable water is simply a fact. When we need it, we just go to the kitchen sink and there it is. It is never far away. In sub-Saharan Africa, where UNICEF researchers found that 3 million children and 14 million women collect water each day, the average distance walked simply to collect water is the length of two football pitches. And it’s not just the distance, but the weight to be carried home: a typical container full of water can weigh up to 20 kilos. This daily trek causes musculoskeletal damage, soft tissue damage, and early onset arthritis. Water-borne diseases are a constant health hazard. It has been estimated that 20 million hours each day are spent on collecting water: children are often removed from school, in particular girls, and women are unable to earn extra income because of the time and energy it takes to collect the water. Additionally, women and girls face a higher risk of sexual abuse, with children often out late at night or early in the mornings.


Source of life


In February 2017 Bishop Jan Ozga of the Diocese of Doumé-Abong'Mbang in Cameroon wrote to Saint Anthony’s Charities to request financial assistance to realise a project entitled Water, Source of Life and Joy, designed to remove this daily burden. Doumé is a very poor small town in a rural area where the people live from agriculture. It is in the heart of the tropical forest.

“Cameroon is a very vast beautiful country with natural riches, lots of vegetation, forests, and in the subsoil, gold and precious stones,” he wrote. “There are three regions: the very developed west, the north with the savannah and the greatest concentration of Muslims, while the east, where we are, is the most populated and underdeveloped region. The region has many problems: there are daily problems with transport, water and the electricity supply. Here, every day, every morning and evening, the children and mothers of the neighbourhood have to walk 900 metres to a water source, descending 70 metres on the journey, and returning with pots and containers holding 20 to 30 litres of water on their heads. Many of the old and sick have to pay for a motorbike-taxi to transport their water, content not to have to do this task themselves. Our goal is to install a water distribution centre at the nursery school. This will promote the development and dignity of children, and allow them to study and play without taking three hours a day to collect water. It will make every day life easier, reduce poverty and help to avoid diseases associated with insanitary conditions. It is a dream for the population of Doumé!”


Two instalments


The cost of the project to realise this dream was nearly €36,000 with funds already committed from other charitable bodies and a local contribution of nearly €3,000. The sum requested from Saint Anthony’s Charities was €20,000.

The first instalment of €10,000 was received in March 2017 and work began on excavating the ground, laying pipes and connecting to the power grid. “The source of water for the population of Doumé lay some 900 metres away from the homes and neighbourhoods where the water was required,” says Bishop Ozga, “so pipes were required to transport the water using newly installed pumps to a large collection tank.” The electrical installation was performed and paid for by the state. During this first phase, the distribution centre was partially constructed, but there were also some problems: “Heavy rain during the rainy season was protracted,” says the Bishop, “and many times everything was submerged in water which delayed everything.”

The second instalment was received in September 2017, and work continued. “The distribution building is divided into two parts,” explains Bishop Ozga. “One part where the population accesses the water, and the other which contains the control system and allows for the presence of a technician to monitor the supply taps.” There were some delays in this second phase too: “The electronic devices required for the distribution system arrived from Europe, but the delivery times were quite long. Technicians for the installation also had to come from the capital or from Bertoua, and sometimes we had to wait weeks for their arrival. This resulted in slow progress.” In spite of the delays, the project concluded on 4 January 2018 with an inauguration benediction being held two days later. “The whole population was waiting for the official opening,” says the Bishop.


Great success


The new distribution centre provides each person with an individually coded card allowing them to choose how many litres of water to take, for which they are charged 400 CFA (Central African Francs), the equivalent of about €0.60 for 1,000 litres. “This charge will allow us to pay for the electricity, maintenance and repair of the system, and pay the guards who will control the distribution of water,” the Bishop explains. The distributor allows up to 10 people to draw water simultaneously. With the removal of the arduous task of water collection, students have more time to study, women are able to do more productive tasks, and old people no longer have to pay for transportation. “We expect that at least 2,000 people will come every day, coming from 5 neighbourhoods,” says the Bishop. “I am convinced that this project will have great success over the coming years.”


Enormous gratitude


After project completion, a letter was received from three representatives of the beneficiaries: “Dear readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, you have solved a big problem for us with the construction of this multi-functional water point providing drinking water to our inhabitants. This problem existed for many long years, and through this letter, we express to you our deep gratitude. This achievement is very important as our residents will no longer be prone to many diseases.

“The greatest consequence of not having good water, was bad development of our children and consequent poor progression at school. Even the teachers were often absent because they needed treatment. Small children and adults alike had many health difficulties with diseases such as dysentery and typhoid. We often say that ‘water is life’ and it is true that people who do not drink good water cannot develop well.

“Your generosity and your sense of humanity are well established: you take into consideration the cries for help of those in need. We have nothing to give you in return, but we entrust you to the Lord, who knows how to reward men, because what you do for His people, you also do for Him. So we remain in prayer with you, so that God will fill you with his graces while protecting you and yours from harm in the world, because you play such an important role here on Earth.”

“We thank Saint Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger for the support you have given us, which has allowed us to complete this urgent project,” concludes Bishop Ozga. “Together with the whole population, I also thank you with deep respect, and send my greetings and blessing.”

Updated on May 17 2018