When our vehicle pulled to a stop alongside a hilltop water pump built by the Oromo Self Reliance Association (OSRA) with funding from Oxfam America, people began emerging from all around. The guard opened the gate surrounding the new pump and people continued to gather—about 40 of them, mostly men, as they are traditionally the family members tasked with greeting visitors. As to where they had come from, one could only guess. There was a single house next to the pump and the surrounding area was barren, rocky fields with only a couple other homes in sight.
Ato Teshome Belayneh, the chairman of the surrounding area, stood tall in his worn and dusty suit, a regular mode of dress for Ethiopians where even in the most rural areas it is considered important to be well-dressed. He explained that prior to the installation of this pump, which brings clean drinking water from almost 100 feet below the surface, the women of the village collected water from a small river, which he pointed out about 500 yards to the west in a steep ravine.
As the women filled the containers, they would cover the opening with cheesecloth to strain the worms and other small parasites from the water. Ato Teshome pointed out that there were many other dangerous things that the cloth failed to stop, but people here had little choice as this had previously been the only source of water. Stomach illnesses and diarrhea were rampant.
These once common illnesses have now decreased in Neftegna as the people have a clean source of water thanks to Oxfam America and our partner OSRA.
As Ato Teshome puts it, "this is a rebirth for us."
The new pump has been turned over to the Water Users' Committee, a group of seven people from Neftegna who OSRA has trained to manage the device. The community considers this new source of water so valuable that it has instituted strict measures to ensure the pump functions long into the future and that the water does not run low.
The pump is only available for operation for about five hours a day—once in the morning and again in the evening—as there is concern that using it during the heat of the day will cause damage. There is also an age limit placed on pump use: No one under 18 is allowed even to enter the fenced area.
As the people were explaining the restrictions they have put in place to keep their pump in good condition we witnessed the value that they put on this important community tool.
A member of our group stepped around to try the pump. As he was unaccustomed to using a pump like this he raised the handle quickly, meeting less resistance than he expected. As the handle reached its upper limit, it clanked loudly, metal hitting metal. The collective gasp from all 40 people almost completely blocked the reverberation. It was a minor issue, not causing any harm to the pump, but the gasp of alarm was a clear indicator that the users of this pump normally treat it with the same gentle care given a newborn baby.
In order to quell the fears of the water running low, the community has agreed to limit water usage to about 26 gallons per day per household. This is all the water a family of five to 10 people will use for the entire day to drink, cook, wash, and bathe. This is less than the amount of water people in the United States generally use to take a shower. An average American uses between 80 to 100 gallons a day according to U.S. Geological Survey, which means that a family of 5 uses about 500 gallons a day—almost 20 times the amount that a family in Neftegna uses.
While most Americans tend to take clean drinking water for granted, the people of Neftegna do not. Each household, 66 in total, contributes about 22 cents a month towards the upkeep of the pump.
The men that were still gathered as out visit drew to a close explained that people who live a two-hour walk away are coming to use the village pump, and while the people of Neftegna are willing to share what they have, they would much rather see the burden of their neighbors eased with the building of pumps in their respective villages.
Oxfam America has already funded the building of 10 pumps in Bacho, but clearly many more are needed.