Eritrea: villages in war-affected areas get clean water powered by the sun

30-06-2009 Feature

Working with the authorities and communities, the ICRC is harnessing the sun to provide safe water for Eritreans in remote parts of the region bordering Ethiopia. Michael Kifle of the ICRC’s Asmara office reports.


IDPS who have returned to the village of Mai Izghi (Debub Region) enjoy water from the solar water supply system constructed by the ICRC. 
  Water sources in these remote areas are usually located far from the villages. They dry up for part of the year and even when they are usable, they are often contaminated. The villagers, particularly women and children, walk for hours to reach shallow hand-dug wells or ponds that they share with animals. Fuel shortages and the low cost of running a solar power system prompted the ICRC’s green initiative. Solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity, which is used to pump water from a borehole deep in the ground into a reservoir. This then feeds a public tapstand.

Working with the Eritrean Water Resources Department, the ICRC has installed solar-powered water pumps and public tapstands in a number of villages in the Debub and Gash-Barka regions. Since 2004, the organization has built around 70 solar-powered water supply systems, serving returnees and resettled persons in the war-affected regions of Eritrea.

One of the villages that benefited from this project is Mai Izghi, which has a population of 400. The village lies in a mountainous area about 22 km north-east of the border town of Tsorona, the scene of some of the fiercest battles of the 1998-2000 w ar between Eritrea and Ethiopia. One elderly man said how happy he was that the villagers no longer had to walk for four hours to fetch water. " Sometimes, they even returned with empty containers, " he added. " We’re all relieved, especially our women and children, because they were directly affected by the scarcity of water. " Another of the village’s senior citizens added, " We used to prepare ourselves today for tomorrow's long queue. But thanks to the ICRC, we now have a reliable water system just five minutes walk away. " Or, to put it differently, " The women can fetch water and be back in the kitchen before the bread burns. I’m glad I lived to see this blessing. "

ICRC field teams give water and sanitation hygiene training in the villages where the ICRC has installed solar water supply systems. The training involves setting up a water committee to manage the system, providing basic hygiene education and teaching the basics of financial management, to ensure that the system carries on providing safe water into the future.

In villages where the nearest water point is particularly distant, the ICRC has provided donkeys and water bags to transport water to those most in need. This both increases the amount of water available in the household and saves time for other activities, such as education or working in the fields.

The ICRC is undertaking five other water projects in Debub, one in Gash Barka and one project in the Southern Red Sea region. Projects are currently underway in Meflech (Gash-Barka), Raebukra (Southern Red Sea) and Mihrad Chele (Debub).