Monday, February 05, 2007

Not enough wells

Leah and I have been busy to say the least. We don't have access to electricity at our post, and Internet time is precious, so I've been spending my time online elsewhere besides on the blog. Below is a description of only a portion of our work here. It would be too difficult to explain it all.

The community of Tourou is composed of 16 villages and is situated in the Mandara Mountains, in the Extreme-North province of Cameroon. It’s inhabitants, the Hdi and Maffa, have lived in the mountains for centuries, ever since the Fulbé ethnic group chased them there from the plains of Nigeria and Cameroon. Today they continue to farm the steep hillsides, planting millet and beans. Water has been difficult to come by in this stunning landscape, where a handful of lucky tourists visit during the dry season. A medium-sized dam project conducted by a Canadian NGO in the early 1980s has turned out to be a relative disaster. This was the era of big projects. The organization was supposed to supply a portion of Tourou with irrigation and running water. Today, all the irrigation equipment remains in disrepair except for the dam. Once the pump-house broke, the people of Tourou had no desire to fix the monstrosity for lack of funds and support for the project.

That was then…

In the fall of 2005, the community formed a group called the Association of Volunteers Intervening in the Conservation of Soil and Water through Wells, Check Dams and Reforestation (AVISE). The idea of the group was to take charge of Tourou’s own development and train people how to create modern hand-dug wells. Through the support of former Peace Corps Volunteer Eric Pohlman, the group received a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for technical training on how to dig wells themselves. Each arrondissement leader chose someone from their community to attend the training. Today those people are the members of AVISE and resources to anyone in their community who wants to dig a well. Several wells have been built with the technical assistance of AVISE members. Some community wells have been funded by a handful of donors in the United States and a couple private individuals living in Tourou who use them specifically for their own use.

Specific Problem to be Addressed:

This project addresses several water-related problems in the villages of Tourou:

1. The highest ranking need of a community needs assessment conducted by Peace Corps Volunteer Eric Pohlman in April 2005 was “more water sources.” The water problem in Tourou is foremost on everyone’s mind and is starkly obvious especially in the dry season. Acute water shortages during the dry season in Tourou-centre create lines of up to 60 people long at the only reliable water source during the dry season. Preliminary community assessments for 2007 suggest that water quantity is still priority number one; followed closely by water quality. There is even a growing knowledge within the community as how to take care of and safely use a well, so as to minimize contamination and ensure the quality of the water. One woman recently explained through a translator that she notices a marked decrease in the quantity of severe diarrhea cases her family came down with when she began fetching water from an AVISE well last year. Before that, the closest accessible water source was a reservoir presumably infected with schistosomatis and other water borne diseases. Over the next two years, my wife Leah and I hope to conduct presentations explaining water sanitation. In the process, we’ll be working with and training the volunteer members of AVISE and leaders from a newly formed team of health of presenters. In addition, the development of a ceramic water filter by a team of engineers from the University of Virginia is near completion. We’re planning on having the filter ready for mass production by May of this year.

2. Distant wells overly burden the female population who are entirely responsible for the transport of water to the home. During the dry season, lines of over 60 people can be seen at one of the village’s forages. Women during the end of the dry season (April-May) have to walk between 5-10km.

3. There is only a minimal opportunity for dry-season gardens and tree nurseries with so few reliable water sources.

4. With no dry-season gardens and few tree nurseries, the nutritional content of the diet in Tourou is poor and the possibility of reforestation is unlikely. As an volunteer of agroforestry, all efforts to teach any agroforestry technique is considerably hampered.

Signs Suggesting Long-Term Sustainability of Projects:

AVISE was trained by a highly reputable, local NGO called GOIB. The goals of GOIB are to give communities the technical knowledge to find water and dig for it themselves without outside assistance from foreign aid missions. An expensive bore well sunk to 20-50m might be a dependable source. However, it requires inputs of technical support and from engineers heavy equipment that the community has no idea how to operate. What’s more, the price is nearly five times as expensive. The approach of AVISE is participatory to ensure long-term sustainability.

On average one well costs 556,000FCFA – 770,000FCFA (or ~$1116-$1546). The community always organizes to fund between 40-45% of this tab however, by donating labor, sand, gravel and well digging equipment. Buying cement and rebar to make the cassion rings that frame the interior of the well is prohibitively costly. This brings the cost from outside funding down to roughly between $614 and $928. This total includes unforeseen costs.

After a well is dug and equipped to ensure good water quality, a management committee is set up for each well, so families can have equitable access.

Currently, AVISE and I are in the middle of determining which communities are more deserving of new wells. Some factors that may determine priority are (1) water quality of surrounding wells, (2) the geographical distance and the type of terrain women must walk to find water, (3) which wells dry-up in March and April and (4) the enthusiasm/organization of the community (e.g. has the quartier [neighborhood] already started far in advance of others?)

The growing population is currently stretching its water sources to the maximum.

To compete with this trend it is imperative to at least keep up with that growing population, but even better to make it easier for dry-season gardens and tree nurseries to exist.

Right now we are organizing to raise funding in the US from private individuals, while I contact funding agencies who work in Cameroon. We're just too late to receive funding for this year. Over time, our goals are to connect Tourou with donors so they can continue to receive financing when Peace Corps leaves.

If you're interested in donating, please leave us a message on our blog.


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