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Guinea-Bissau: ICRC restores running water to São Domingos

10-04-2008 Feature

The small town of São Domingos in northern Guinea-Bissau, a few kilometres from the Senegalese border, has lacked electricity since 1998, along with another, even more precious resource – running water. This is in spite of the fact that the Cacheu River runs alongside.

 

© ICRC 
 
A refurbished 10,000-litre tank supplies water to 10 tap stands and various other points throughout the town. 
    That February morning in 2008, the shouts of the women in the market and the general bustling activity made it easy to forget that São Domingos, on the border between Guinea-Bissau and Senegal, is located at the heart of a sensitive region that has been particularly badly affected by past conflicts.

At the request of the town authorities, the ICRC repaired and upgraded the town’s water-supply network. A refurbished 10,000-litre tank is now connected to a borehole powered by a generator. It supplies water to 10 tap stands and various other points throughout the town.

To make the system more self-sufficient and more environmentally friendly, the ICRC plans to replace the generator with solar panels. The town prefect has committed to forming a management association to ensure the system continues to function in the long term.

For the town’s 3,000 inhabitants, the absence of running water was much more than a simple loss; it also changed people's habits. The tap stands used to be a place where women congregated and exchanged news about their families, but they had been deserted for years. Now, access to clean running water, of a much better quality than that available from the village wells, will help eradicate certain skin infections and diarrhoeal diseases. During the 10 years the network was paralysed, humanitarian and private organizations had sunk wells from time to time, but this did not succeed in meeting the demand.

Representatives from the local authorities, the local Red Cross branch, NGOs and women’s groups all looked on as the first drops of water fell from the taps. Georgette was among those in the crowd. Born in São Domingos at the end of the 1950s, she had had to flee the country with her family during the first war of liberation to settle in Senegal. She later returned, only to have to go into exile once more during the 1998 conflict.

On her return to the town where she was born, this embroidery and dyeing teacher used to draw her water from the town wells. When the wells dried up in May, water was kept for weeks at a time in containers that gave it a brownish colour. Now that the network has been repaired, she can work in better conditions. " You have also brought us health! " she joyfully told the ICRC water and habitat delegate.