It’s Sunday afternoon and just now, as I sat down to write about our water problem here at the Children’s Home, there was a knock at our door. Richelle, Titay and I live in a small apartment arranged in the middle of the children’s home. On one side of our apartment are 4 girls’ dormitory-style rooms, on the other side, 4 boys’ dormitory-style rooms. The knock was from Dawit, a 12-year old boy who lives here at the home. He was holding a small plastic bottle and asking for a little water to drink.
In the past month, these knocks have come often. Today we happened to still have a few gallons of water in our personal water storage barrel. I took Dawit’s plastic bottle and filled it. Many times in the last month, however, when we have gotten this knock on the door, we’ve had to respond that, just like the rest of the compound, we are out of water. Even today when I gave Dawit the filled bottle of water, I motioned with my finger to my lips that he should keep quiet and not spread the news. We simply don’t have enough water in our apartment today to give some to each child who wants it. The family has all had some GI issues lately because of water, so we’ve been forced to protect the small amount of clean-drinking water we have. Today, like many days lately, the children living here at the home will have to await the arrival of the “donkey water,” water carried by donkey in yellow jerry-cans, which we pay for on days when there is no other water. One can never be sure of the quality of the “donkey water” and we’ve had a higher rate of children with stomach sickness lately as a result.
There are 60 children, ages 4 – 18, who live at the Children’s Home. Richelle, Titay and I have lived here for just over 6 months. Ever since we’ve been here (and for over a year before we got here), water has been a daily struggle for life on our compound. The home compound has one hand-pump shallow well (18 meters deep) and two water storage tanks connected to the town water line. When the Children’s Home was first opened, these water sources were sufficient. However, in the past five years, not only has the number of children at the home increased, but the population of the town has grown significantly and the town water system just cannot keep up with the water demand. As a result, the home is scheduled to only receive water from the town line on Mondays and Thursdays. In the past couple of months, because of the dry season and low water levels, there have been many weeks when we have not received any water from the town at all, or when we do, it’s only for a few hours and with such low pressure that we can’t fill our storage tanks. Because of low water levels, many of the water department well pumps have broken down from sucking silt at the bottom of the well. This has further compounded the water scarcity in Soddo.
In the past 6 months, the Children’s Home has had running water (either from the town line, or from water stored in our tanks) 2 days per week at best. For the remaining 5 days per week, we have been reliant on the hand-pump well. Our hand-pump well is a hand-dug, 18 meter deep well. It does not come anywhere near hitting an actual aquifer. It relies on replenishment from water just below the surface. The quality of the water from the well has always been a concern. Because it is a shallow well, because Soddo has no proper sewage system, and because our compound is downhill from a garbage-dumping site, we’ve always had concerns about the water quality in our hand-pump well. Despite quality concerns, up until November, the hand-pump well served us reasonably by at least supplying water. It was a pain to pump and carry every gallon of water needed for cooking, drinking, bathing, washing clothes, cleaning, and flushing toilets, but at least water was available. Then, as we headed into the driest times in December, the hand-pump well began to fail us. At first, we could get water from the well in the mornings, before it would run dry by noon, but by the first of January, it was nearly dry all the time, and breaking weekly because of the wear-and-tear of trying to pump water out of a dry well.
So for the past month or so, for at least 5 days per week, the entire function of the CCC Children’s Home has relied on water carried in by donkey. Because of the difficulty and the cost of paying for “donkey water,” there are many water needs that must be greatly rationed: drinking water is rationed, kids go days without full, proper bathing, toilets can’t be flushed, and clothes and bedding are washed less frequently. The results have been as one might expect: filthy clothes, dirty kids, stinking bathrooms, more lice, more fungus, and more illness.
If you were to ask the town water department about this issue, they would reply that they’re aware of the struggle and they’re currently working on improving the town water system (and that their tired of hearing from me). This is true. We’ve been to the water department dozens of times to petition for more water. The reality is that more water just doesn’t currently exist in Soddo. The water department does have a company currently surveying for water on the outside of town, but even the department says that it could be a couple of years before any more water is drilled, piped and pumped into town (which probably means more like 3- 5 years).
There is a potential solution. Soddo is sitting on lots of good, consistent water. There is a mission hospital in town (Soddo Christian Hospital), for example, that runs its entire hospital compound on one well. Unfortunately, because Soddo is on highland terrain, that good, consistent water is 150 meters or more below the surface. The cost to drill and case that one well for the hospital was in the range of $20 thousand (USD). When the whole thing was said and done (surveying, drilling, casing, installing pump, piping), the price tag on one well was in the range of $35 thousand. That’s nearly half the entire annual budget for the Children’s Home, which is already on stretched resources because of the challenges to raise funds in the U.S. during tough economic times.
Two members of the Aerie Africa Board of Directors, the U.S. non-profit that funds and oversees the Children’s Home (see www.aerieafrica.org), recently spent a couple of weeks here at the Children’s Home. After seeing first-hand the problems caused by the complete lack of water, they decided we need to try to pursue a deep-well solution. Of course, that is easier said then done; $35-40 thousand is a significant amount of money to raise over and above the regular fund-raising just to keep this home functioning. At this point, we just recently brought a hydrologist down from Addis Ababa to complete an on-site survey and write up a
hydrologist report. We are expecting the completed report within the next 2 – 3 weeks. Once we have this report, we can begin collecting bids from drilling companies on the drilling and casing stage (which could run in the range of $20 thousand, depending on how deep we have to go to secure good, consistent water). After drilling and casing the well, we’d need to buy and install a pump, set up the “3-phase” power source, and do all the necessary piping. All of this is, of course, dependent on raising the necessary funds.
Once we have the hydrologist report and can make some more educated estimates on total costs, we’ll be starting a concerted effort to raise funds for this project. We’ll be sure to update on the blog with some more details at that point. For now, if you want more information about our water needs, if you know any organizations interested in funding clean-water projects, or if you have a desire to help with this project, please feel free to email us (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).