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Eritrea: War-torn village gets clean water

19-09-2003 News Release 03/111

Some 1,000 residents and 1,200 internally displaced persons living in the war-torn village of Endembastifanos no longer need to walk for five hours to fetch drinking water. Now they can get safe water from two public fountains that the ICRC has built in their village.

Endembastifanos is situated about 15 kilometres northwest of the border town of Tsorona, where some of the fiercest battles of the 1998-2000 war between Eritrea and Ethiopia took place. At the time, inhabitants of the border villages fled their homes in large numbers and found temporary shelter in a camp for displaced persons. Owing to the threat of landmines, many of these people are still unable to return to their villages – among them the 1,200 displaced persons who have resettled in Endembastifanos.

The arrival of the displaced people doubled the population of this small town, making it a real challenge to provide everyone with clean water. Already in pre-war times, water had been scarce. During the rainy season, from July to August, unsafe water was drawn from a few open water holes in the nearby riverbed. During the dry season, women and children had to walk for hours to fill their water containers. In July 2002, at the request of the authorities, the ICRC therefore carried out a hydrogeological survey, together with technicians from the government water board.

In October 2002, the ICRC began to set up a new water-supply system. To bring water to the village, engineers drilled a borehole some 800 metres away. A pump and a pipeline were installed to carry the water to a 32-cubic-metre reservoir perched on a nearby hill, which feeds the two public fountains. The project, which now supplies enough water to meet the population's needs, was completed last May. It was handed over to the local authorities on 19 September in the presence of the governor of the country's southern zone.

To ensure the project's viability, a local water-board committee was set up to manage the system. The ICRC has also trained a number of local pump and fountain operators. To fund their salaries, users are asked to pay a small fee. The regional administration covers general running costs, such as diesel fuel and lubricants for the generator.

Clean drinking water is a precious commodity in Eritrea. Since the opening of its delegation in 1998, the ICRC has endeavoured to provide safe water for both internally displaced persons and residents living in the areas most hard-hit by the war – those in and close to the temporary security zone, a buffer zone along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border. A variety of other water-supply systems have been completed or are currently under way, for instance in Bishuka (Gash-Barka) and Adi Quala (Debub). ICRC technicians have also repaired dozens of broken hand pumps in areas close to the border.


 Further information: Marçal Izard, ICRC Asmara, tel. ++2911 18 11 64 or 18 11 30