Things we all take for granted

When a delegation of senior managers from water utilities and contractors recently visited Mali, they were shocked by the limited facilities, but greatly impressed to observe first-hand how charity WaterAid helps the people to help themselves.

Landlocked MALI is the seventh largest country in Africa. Its main exports are gold, cotton and livestock, yet it is one of the poorest nations in the world.

Since gaining its independence from France nearly 50 years ago, the country has endured droughts, rebellions, a coup and 23 years of military dictatorship. For the past 16 years the country has had a civilian government.

The majority of Mali, which has a population of about 12.3 million people, lies in the Sahara. The dessert produces a hot, dust-laden haze common during dry seasons that leads to recurring droughts.

Mali water company EDM has plans for a new water treatment plant and distribution network to supply the 1.5 million people in Mali’s capital, Bamako.

The cost of the project is estimated at US$120M. However, funding has so far not been available.

WaterAid, the UK charity dedicated to providing safe domestic water, sanitation and hygiene education to the world’s poorest people, has been working in Mali for the past seven years.

Sharing knowledge

Lisa Martin, spokeswoman for WaterAid, explains: “Since we began our work in Mali in 2000, we have helped nearly 60,000 people gain access to water and sanitation. We have also worked with local people to provide them with the expertise to improve sanitation, and set up centres selling spare parts so local communities can repair their own water facilities.”

WaterAid’s delegation to Mali in January comprised Andrew Cowell, director of operations at MWH UK; Tony Collins, Black & Veatch’s UK managing director; Tim Slater, managing director of DHL Exel Supply Chain; Jo Stimpson, finance director at South East Water; and WaterAid’s business development manager, Fiona Blake.

The five-day visit included briefings with local and national government officials, including the director of EDM; visiting two rural villages, one which WaterAid is about to do work in, and one where it has done work to provide a well and pit latrines; and a visit to the commune in Bamako to see the work including a pump and latrine.

The trip also included a round-table discussion with ten partner organisations including World Vision, West Africa Water Initiative, USAID and Sight Savers International.

Commenting on his visit Andrew Cowell said: “This was a great opportunity to visit one of the countries where WaterAid is doing so much good work, and see how the money raised is spent in helping people gain access to clean water and sanitation – things we take for granted.”

Cowell continues: “It was certainly very informative but to see people living with the limited facilities that the people in Mali have is not really enjoyable. It makes one appreciate just what we take for granted every day. When one thinks that in Mali 67% of households have water supply and 21% sanitation it might seem an impossible task to provide water and sanitation to all. But, if we had taken that approach in the UK 150 years ago, where would we be today?”

He was “impressed” with the way that WaterAid acted as a catalyst to pull together many NGOs and government departments to work together in tackling the local problems. “As well as providing simple solutions for water supply, wells, and sanitation, latrines, it was noticeable that education about basic hygiene issues is also a vital part of the work undertaken.”

During the fact-finding mission, Jo Stimpson spent time visiting some of WaterAid’s water and sanitation projects in the villages of Simba West, Tienfala and Niamakoro near Bamako.

Sustainable future

She says: “It was inspirational to see how WaterAid works with communities, helping them to access and maintain a safer water supply and involving them at all stages of the process so they can sustain that themselves for the future.

“Sanitation development is also key to the success of these projects, and as it is the United Nations’ Year of Sanitation, it was fantastic to see WaterAid’s work and the commitment of the villagers to strive to achieve facilities that we all take for granted.”

At Niamkoro, the group met the village elder and members of its water and sanitation committee. WaterAid refurbished the community’s well, which was covered and a pump fitted. The local residents were trained to treat the water and maintain the pump.

A new funding system also saw improved latrines, with further funds expected to deliver additional facilities for the whole village.

This was in contrast to the village of Simba West, where the only means of water are traditional wells, with no treatment or cover to stop it being contaminated.

Local women, whose role it is to collect water for the family, use buckets suspended on rope to haul the heavy load of water to the surface, which is then used for drinking, washing and cooking.

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