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Sri Lanka: communities mobilized to construct wells in Batticaloa

08-12-2005 Feature

Knowing the importance of having access to clean water immediately after a disaster strikes, the ICRC swiftly mobilized its water and sanitation teams to establish water supplies and sanitation facilities in camps and hospitals in the northeast after the tsunami hit Sri Lanka.

This effort, in close coordination with the National Water Supply and Drainage Board and other aid agencies, ensured that the survivors were quickly provided with sufficient quantity of clean water and an outbreak of waterborne diseases was averted. 

   
  ©ICRC/S. Olafsdottir    
 
  After the villagers finish the excavation work, skilled masons move in to build a proper well.    
     

The ICRC teams rep aired and constructed water and sanitation systems in welfare centres and transit camps throughout the eastern districts, as well as ensuring that medical and electrical systems in hospitals in the region were functioning. The teams also set out to clean wells that were engulfed by the deadly wave and were contaminated by debris and salt water. The cleaning of some 3000 wells in the Vanni, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara has been completed to date.
 
At the same time, the ICRC has continued to construct and repair wells for vulnerable inland-communities in the North and the East, in accordance to its targets set out for the year 2005. The water and sanitation programme is well underway, although there were some delays in constructions during the first half of the year due to the tsunami related operations.
 
Katinamutthu Navaramaney of Thihilivaddai division in Batticaloa district welcomes the communal well that was built in front of her house.
 
" This has really improved my life. Before I had to walk 2 km to fetch water, and it is very difficult for a woman to carry the buckets all this way, " Katinamutthu says. " Now I just have to step out to get all the water I need. "
 
As a token of her gratitude, this mother of seven has agreed to be the caretaker of the well, which means that she cleans the area around it every morning and evening to ensure that she and her neighbours always have access to clean and fresh water. She is also very proud of the quality of the well – even during the dry season it provided sufficient water for some 40 families.
 
" The water level remains the same, even during the times when most of the families come to get their water, " she says. " And the water is much better than what we used to have, it was often too salty from the other well and many suffered from stomach pains. We do not have that problem anymore. "

   
  ©ICRC/S. Olafsdottir    
 
  Katinamutthu Navaramaney is the caretaker of the communal well. She cleans the surroundings twice a day.    
     

The ICRC has constructed 12 new open shallow wells in five villages in the Thihilivaddai division - benefiting more than 540 families. The water team has also rehabilitated 13 existing wells that had been neglected and repaired 42 tube-wells.
 
Before the ICRC's intervention in these villages, communities were using unprotected sources of water such as gullies, irrigation channels and traditional unprotected hand-dug wells. These water sources are prone to all sorts of contamination, which contribute to the outbreak of water born diseases.
 
" The key to our efforts is to involve the communities themselves in the construction and maintenance of the wells. If they have the ownership of their own water source, they will take car e of it and make sure that it will not get run down again, " explains John Katoto, water engineer at the ICRC Batticaloa sub-delegation.
 
Before starting the construction, Katoto ensures that he has the consent of the owner of the land where the well will be located to allow all his neighbours free access to water. The families then work on the excavation themselves.

" Sometimes it is difficult to mobilize them in the beginning, but once we strike water the participation tends to increase, " he says and smiles.
 
A team of masons then moves in to finalize the work. When the construction of the wells is finished, a special caretaker is appointed and made responsible for keeping the surroundings clean. Afterwards the water and sanitation teams conduct hygiene promotion sessions with the population. The wells are also constructed in a manner to minimize contamination of the water table.
 
" Traditionally people here like open shallow wells better than hand pumps, so we took that into consideration while designing them, " Katoto says. " People like to wash by the well, so we laid out an apron around it so that people are forced to step back once they have drawn the water. That way we prevent dirty water from going back into the well. "
 
The water team has also assisted authorities to protect the main water source in Batticaloa after the tsunami, by fencing off three major wells in Kallady that provide 600 cubic metres a day, and supply 90,000 people in town with water - many of whom have been displaced by the tsunami. They also repaired the water and sanitation facilities at the hospitals in Kallar, Pallaminatu and Munmunai.