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Providing a safe accessible drinking water supply for the villagers of Sankandi in Gambia

Jan 2013
Gambia
1000 people reached

Gambia, a West African republic, is the smallest country in Africa. It occupies a narrow finger of land, situated around the Gambia River, surrounded to the north, east and south by its neighbour Senegal. To the west it has an Atlantic Ocean coastline of approximately 60km on which its capital, Banjul, is located.

Only around 65% of the country’s population has access to safe drinking water. In some rural areas this figure is much lower, and this issue is being addressed by the Gambian government, aid agencies and a host of NGOs. Borealis and Borouge, under the umbrella of their Water for the World initiative, supported the Nyatouta Foundation in providing a safe, local drinking water source for the 1000 residents of Sankandi, a remote village in the Gambian interior.

As a small country, there are many infrastructural demands on Gambia’s limited financial resources and therefore funds available to tackle the provision of drinking water across all its communities are largely consumed by its few major urban centres1. Because of this the government welcomes outside assistance in developing solutions2, particularly in respect to the widely spread rural villages in which more than 60% of Gambians live and whose principal livelihood is derived from subsistence agriculture.

Much help is being provided to address the need for the wider availability of safe drinking water by the country’s own National Water and Electricity Company, government project partnerships such as with the African Development Bank, international agencies and a number of independent foreign charities. However, their work is in the main focused in the coastal areas with relatively large populations3. The Nyatouta Foundation, a charitable Dutch organisation with a history of working with small communities deep inland, is one of the exceptions.

Immediate response to need

Nyatouta, which translates to ‘We shall carry on’, collects money and materials for projects such as schools and medical facilities in the Gambian interior. The drinking water problem afflicting the village of Sankandi, which is 300km from the coast and close to where Nyatouta was already engaged in a project, was brought to its attention by one of its own local volunteers who was himself from the village.

A well that had previously served the 1000 inhabitants of Sankandi had long since been contaminated. All the water needed by the villagers for drinking, cooking and washing had to be transported from another village almost an hour’s journey away by donkey cart or, more often, carried on the heads of girls and women from Sankandi. The lack of water in Sankandi was more than an inconvenience – it was hindering development of the village, keeping children away from school and contributing to the potential for health issues.

Research was conducted into how similar problems were being solved successfully elsewhere in The Gambia to determine how best to accomplish the project. The solution decided upon was to bore a well above which, on columns and a platform, two large water tanks to provide a reservoir would be installed. As the village had no electricity to power the water pump, solar panels were to be used to generate the necessary energy.

Partners with a common cause

In seeking assistance to provide help for the people of Sankandi, Nyatouta found a contact with Borealis within its own ranks. The link was made through a Borealis employee who, together with his wife, has for some years spent his vacations undertaking voluntary work for Nyatouta in The Gambia.

He had been present in April, 2011 when Sankandi village elders explained their water problem and upon returning to Belgium, where he lives and works, brought the matter to the attention of the company’s ‘Water for the World’ programme manager.

A meeting between Borealis and Nyatouta took place in December, 2011 at which cooperation was agreed. Work on the Sankandi well, in the centre of the village, began in January, 2012. The work was assigned to an experienced Gambian well drilling company that undertook responsibility for all construction work. Moreover, where possible villagers were involved in the work, thereby giving them a stake in the project. This local ownership is important because when completed the well has to be maintained by the village over the long term.

Although completely successful, boring the well turned out to be a much bigger job than originally anticipated, as it had to be sunk to a depth of 42 meters. The well, water reservoir tanks and their supporting structure, stand pipes, the pump and the solar energy panels were installed and the project commissioned on March 10 just 49 days after work began, and within one year of Nyatouta and Borealis learning of Sankandi’s need.

A shorter walk to water

At the commissioning ceremony attended by all inhabitants and representatives of Nyatouta and Borealis, village elders thanked the partners for their important contribution to breathing new life into Sankandi. After which Nyatouta offered each Sankandi household a new jerrycan to make the now very short walk to collect water even easier. Many took the opportunity to make use of them and try out the system straightaway.