Innovation Brings Water to a Community in The Gambia

by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager

Water is a big challenge in our region; so I find myself thinking a lot about World Water Day, commemorated each year on March 22. In Africa, people travel long distances and stand in long queues to get water. Sometimes the water runs out before those in line can fill their containers. They return home empty handed. A lot of time is wasted waiting to get water — time that could have been spent doing other things.

In some areas even if there is water, it’s unsafe for drinking or cooking. So I thought of sharing with you my visit to The Gambia, where I had the opportunity to see the water pyramid, operated by the Ding Ding Bantaba Child and Family Support Association, a ChildFund affiliate.

Water pyramid in The Gambia

Water is stored below ground before the pyramid is expanded.

Sibanor village is the capital of the Foni Bintang Karanai District in the Western Division. As the capital, it is also the commerce center for several satellite villages as well as many in the Cassamance region. Sibanor is rapidly increasing in size and now has a population of 4,000.

For years, Sibanor lacked clean and accessible water for human consumption. Most of the community’s wells produce brackish water not fit for drinking or preparing food. Nor is the water ideal for laundry, as it does not readily form lather with soap.

As the population has increased, so has the water problem. Because only three hand pumps were producing good-tasting water, residents of the newest settlements started traveling some distances to nearby villages to obtain water.

Water pyramid blown erect

The water pyramid is fully expanded.

Those living around the ChildFund-supported Early Childhood Development center fetched water from the covered hand pump well in the village. The rest shared the remaining two pumps resulting in long queues. Women lined up around these pumps as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 10 p.m., waiting for the overused wells to refill.

Water storage tanks

Water storage tanks

For years, community leaders tried different options to get clean water but without success. Some families resorted to using unsafe drinking water from locally dug and uncovered wells that had better taste. The main borehole was re-dug in 2001, but, unfortunately, it produced the same poor-quality water. The community endured 20 years with no improvement in the water supply. A radical shift in approach was needed.

In a bid to address the situation, Ding Ding Bantaba Child and Family Support Association, working with ChildFund and the Dutch organisation Aqua Aero Water System BV, succeeded in getting a water project proposal funded by the World Bank.

This grant has built a water pyramid, which consists of a borehole and a rainwater collection system that provides clean and sufficient water (up to 5,000 liters per day) to serve the entire population of Sibanor and surrounding villages.

This innovative water system also provides distilled water for hospital use and for battery refilling. Testing has proven the water to be the cleanest and safest drinking source in the country based on national and international standards.

Water packaging process

Community workers package water into packets.

ChildFund played a role in negotiating the grant project and provided on-site supervision as the water pyramid was constructed. We worked closely with community members to engage them in the project and involve them in carrying out the nontechnical aspects of construction.

Today, ChildFund continues to monitor the viability of the community-operated enterprise and ensure water-quality controls remain in place.

Numerous sponsored children and their families in Sibanor are now benefitting from clean water. It’s a victory to celebrate on World Water Day.

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