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Wellspring of Progress

Somalia, April 14, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Hussein Noor Abdille/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Farhiyo used to walk as far as six kilometers a day for clean water — leaving little time for much else. Now, with a Mercy Corps reservoir in place, "I can comfortably search for a job, knowing my family has access to water." Photo: Hussein Noor Abdille/Mercy Corps

For the past seven years, Farhiyo Hussein, a 30-year-old mother of five, has lived in a camp in northern Somalia's Bossaso region. Like many IDP camps, hers lacked access to safe drinking water.

Because she could not afford the inflated prices charged by private water vendors, and to avoid the risks inherent in fetching water outside the camp – especially at night, when rapes and beatings are common – Farhiyo spent much of her day walking as far as six kilometers to collect free or cheap water. Getting water took so much time that she was unable to earn an income to feed her children.

Other households faced similarly cruel dilemmas. In those with elderly or disabled parents, children had to choose between going to school and procuring water for the family. Water, of course, came first.

Even families that did buy water from private vendors were at risk. "The water was not treated," explains Abass Hassan, the chairperson of the camp committee on water. "So cases of diarrhea were common in almost all families, including mine."

In 2008 Mercy Corps constructed a reservoir at the camp and filled it with safe drinking water. "Mercy Corps is the first and only organization to either construct a reservoir or supply water to this camp," notes Abass.

Today, with a clean, reliable water source close by, Farhiyo's world has opened up.

"Now, I don't have to worry about water," she says with a smile. "I can comfortably search for a job, knowing my family has access to water."

Since she no longer has to pay usurious fees, "we have enough money for other domestic needs. And thanks to the safe water, my children are finally looking healthy."

Most impressive for the long run, residents are proving their will to be self-sufficient. With the money saved, the community – on its own initiative – doubled capacity by constructing a second reservoir.