The young women stand at the pump two at a time and powerfully press the foot pedal right to the ground. The pipe gurgles and water shoots out and splatters into the bucket. The well attendant waits under the shade of a mango tree. He is responsible for keeping the site clean and tidy and also records the number of buckets filled and accepts contributions for the well fund.
At temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius, the pumping process is hot work, but much less exhausting than before, when there was no well in the village. Nevertheless, especially in rural areas, gaining access to the precious water is an effort for many people. And this is despite the country’s name, which suggests otherwise: in the language of the indigenous Buduma people “Chad” means “big water”. Indeed, two thousand years ago Lake Chad in the east of the country was once the same size as Germany. The lake has shrunk by almost 95 per cent due to the pressure from the population, desert formation and climate change. Today, the lake is 2 metres deep on average and about the size of Berlin. Even from space it is obvious that Chad has a water problem!
Wells in a good state of repair
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UN children’s relief organisation UNICEF rank Chad sixth worldwide among all the nations that urgently need access to drinking water. Only about four per cent of the rural population have clean water to drink. It is frequently contaminated and people get sick with diarrhoea, cholera or other diseases caused by an impure water supply. SWISSAID therefore supports grassroots organisations that are making progress with the construction and operation of new wells. For instance, in the village of Gaïlorum:
In September 2012, the workers here drilled a 92-metre-deep well and installed a pump to bring the water to the surface. The village meeting elected a committee, which charges about 5 centimes for 20 litres of water, to guarantee the long-term operation of the well and hold reserves for repairs. The committee comprises a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, three auditors and three other members. The criteria for electing the candidates were integrity, honesty and the inclusion of an appropriate quota of women. Before the local workers could begin drilling the shaft, the village community had to open a well account and pay the first instalment of approximately 260 Swiss francs to the maintenance fund. This ensured that the local people accepted responsibility for their well.
Cheaper, cleaner, closer – almost too good to be true
One year later during an inspection on site it is obvious that the well is in a good state of repair: the people are paying their contributions as agreed and even take their shoes off when they collect water. In particular, for women and girls the everyday routine has become much easier since the well was constructed. Previously, they had to get up early in the morning and walk three kilometres to draw dirty water for the family from a well which was only 60 metres deep, and carry it home. After half a day the buckets were empty, so the hard toil had to start all over again. If lots of women were waiting at the well, the trip to fetch water could easily take 2 to 3 hours. It’s almost too good to be true: the water in the village well is not only closer and of better quality, but also costs just half the amount of the dirty water.
The women use the time they have saved to cultivate their gardens and rear goats and sheep. This means more food, fewer diseases and more income for hundreds of women, men and children.