On a good day for Nyakim Tek Jing, 28, getting water was just a two hour round trip walk to a hand pump. But that often broke down and she had to resort to untreated and often unsanitary surface water.
Now, thanks to a joint project of UNICEF and partners like KfW, Jing enjoys the miracle of running water piped right into her home in Turpham in the remote Ethiopian state of Gambella — something very few Ethiopians in rural areas have access to.
Started in 2014, the Itang water project serves not only the local community but the vast numbers of refugees that have poured into the area from neighboring war-torn South Sudan.
In partnership with the Gambella Regional Water Bureau, the Itang scheme has given 230,000 people access to safe and reliable water.
“I know when the water will come, I collect when I want and I get enough water,” said Jing, describing how she often had to struggle with others when getting water. “I don’t need to walk for long distances to collect water and as a woman it will increase my productivity.
To ensure sustainability of the Itang water system, the daily operation is run by the utility on a self-sustaining business model. UNICEF with the financial support from KfW under phase III is currently working on improving the utility through capacity building, upgrading the system to meet the additional water demands and finding alternative power sources to reduce the operation costs.
The project has certainly changed the life of Nyamal Reath Lam, 23, who came to the camp from South Sudan in 2015. She said when she arrived, water, which was supplied by trucks, was a real problem. Often the trucks broke down and then there would be scarcity.
“Water is everything for me,” she said, noting how it had made a huge difference in the lives of her children
“When the children wake up in the morning, they get water for shower and wash their face before they go to school — I am able to cook using the water,” she said, adding that her children were doing better in school because they no longer worried about getting enough water.
Her children are also washing their hands more frequently and not getting sick like they used to in South Sudan, where they only used surface water.
“I know a lot of diseases which we used to suffer from that I have never heard of since I came to the refugee camp in Gambella,” she said.
The Itang water scheme is one of projects that proves that hosting refugees has a positive impact to the host communities, now receiving a water service level that is much better than the average services in the rural areas of Ethiopia.
The utility model for integrated water project serving both refugees and host community is the first of its kind around the world and represents a change in paradigm that will soon be replicated.
“Now I know the difference between clean and dirty water,” said Lam.