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Water provides new freedom for displaced women

Somalia, August 2, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Safia Mohamud/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Faay fetches water from water taps Mercy Corps installed near her makeshift shelter in Siliga, an overcrowded displacement camp in Mogadishu. Photo: Safia Mohamud/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Farhiya Abdullahi/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Kids in Siliga camp. Photo: Farhiya Abdullahi/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Farhiya Abdullahi/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Dofo used to walk for 2 1/2 hours for drinking water. Now her water source is just a few steps away from her tent in the Sigila displacement camp, thanks to new taps installed by Mercy Corps. Photo: Farhiya Abdullahi/Mercy Corps

Dofo Said Hussein has been living in Siliga Amerikaanka displacement camp for the past nine months with her eight children. On a regular day, Dofo leaves her children alone in the vast camp to trek 1.5 miles to the nearest water supply in Banadir. There she purchases three jerry cans full of 20 liters of water for about 10 U.S. cents each.

Dofo was among the lucky few that could afford to buy three jerry cans, which she struggled to bring back to camp. Two of them were strategically strapped to her head with a cloth while she rolled another on the ground all the way back.

This was the norm for the women of Siliga, in Mogadishu. Dofo and her next-door neighbors Saida Adan, Madina Adan, and Hiba Abdi Hussein laughed almost in disbelief at what they endured immediately after their arrival here. They used to wait for up to 5 hours only to come back with one jerry can of water — if they were lucky.

"We went through so much to get water, and we couldn’t even get enough to bath our children,” remembers Dofo.

Conflict and the ongoing hunger crisis through the Horn of Africa has forced many families from southern Somalia to leave their villages and settle in insecure camps like Siliga, where water is scarce for newcomers. They still need to drink, cook and wash, but cannot afford the exorbitant prices for the small supply.

Faay, another of Dofo’s neighbors, escaped with her eight children from fighting between militants and the transitional government. When she first arrived at the camp, she would walk two-and-a-half hours to access water from a private vendor, which she could barely afford — and which often gave her children diarrhea.

For the past year, Mercy Corps has been working to provide safe drinking water to the most vulnerable households in Siliga. New taps now bring water to within steps of their makeshift shelters, and fresh supplies are trucked in everyday.

“Not only do we now have clean water to drink and cook with, we actually have more time to take care of our kids and perform other household chores,” says Dofo. “We are not worried about leaving our children behind all alone in the camp anymore. This water is like freedom to us!”

We may take for granted our endless water supply, but in the IDP camps of Mogadishu, access to water is the greatest source of pleasure. These simple moments of freedom and security can be rare in camps where many displaced families live in unpredictable and deplorable conditions.

For Mercy Corps, making sure that families like Dofo’s and Faay’s not only have access to clean water — enough to allow them the basic liberty to drink, wash and bath their children — but to provide access to water that provides them with a semblance of security is indeed investing in the protection and future of the displaced people in Mogadishu.