Running drinking water available at every corner and closed toilets with flushes, connected to a sewerage system: What people in Switzerland take for granted is at best hearsay for many people in Mozambique. More than half the population does not have access to clean drinking water, and only 20% has access to adequate sanitation (as at: 2017). The consequences of this are frequently cholera and diarrhoeal diseases caused by contaminated water. In addition, women must – since providing for the family is one of their traditional tasks – walk for several hours a day to the next water point. This takes up valuable time which could be used for more productive activities – such as part-time work to raise the family income.
To improve this situation, in 2012 the SDC launched a ten-year project in Niassa Province, one of the poorest regions of the country. The province is three times larger than Switzerland and has a population of about 1.2 million. The project, which is being carried out in cooperation with provincial and district authorities and comprises a bundle of measures at three levels, will benefit approximately half a million people:
Supply: The responsible authorities are assisted in improving water and sanitation infrastructure.
Demand: The people learn to articulate their needs regarding water supply and sanitation to the responsible authorities and can effectively demand action in this respect.
Policy: The practical knowledge gained through the inclusion of citizens in the authorities’ planning and decision-making processes is reflected in policy at the provincial and national levels.
New handpumps and improved latrines
Specifically, during the first phase of the project (2012–17) over 200 water points were renovated or newly built. In many cases, simple handpumps were installed that are capable of providing 25 litres of water a day for up to 300 people (see photo). In addition, in many places traditional latrines – open trenches without covers or doors – were replaced with better facilities with covers, a roof and doors. The new facilities help reduce water contamination in the neighbourhood. Other advantages include improved hygiene and better protection against harassment, especially for girls and women – but also protection against other threats such as attacks by hyenas.
The impact of the project on the daily lives of the local people is described in the report of a villager from Malangalanga: «Before, the lake was used by the residents of my village as the common toilet at the same time as our children used it to bathe and collect drinking water. As a result, people were constantly suffering from diarrhoea and other such illnesses. They frequently had to go to hospital. Together with other villagers, I founded an action group and we went from house to house to explain the importance of latrines to the residents. Thanks to the support of the authorities, we were able to equip every house with a latrine within six months. Since then the problem of diarrhoea has disappeared.»
To ensure that the new or renovated infrastructures remain in working order over the long term, local tradespeople have been trained within the framework of the project in the construction and maintenance of these facilities. In addition, cooperatives for tradespeople have been launched to take care of maintenance for the local authorities at seven different places. In this way their members are able to have another source of income – which in the poor northern part of Mozambique is a welcome bonus.
Focus on advisory services
Another focal point of the project is advisory services. Advisory services assist the authorities responsible for water supplies and sanitation at provincial and district levels in planning, setting priorities for, and budgeting their activities. In this context too, people received training in articulating and asserting their needs towards the authorities. Within the framework of this project, ‘water and sanitation committees’ made up of local people were set up at the municipal and district levels. The members were given special training in making their needs heard by the authorities and where to file a complaint if their needs were not attended to.
Lastly, the experiences gained from the project are expected to feed into policy formulation at the provincial and national levels. Currently, for example, country-wide standards regarding the number of water-supply and sanitation facilities are being developed in healthcare stations that will serve as a basis for planning the next steps to take.
Still much to do in spite of encouraging results
Encouraging results were achieved in the first phase of the project. For instance, the share of people with access to safe drinking water in the districts concerned increased from 26% to 45%. The share of people with access to suitable sanitary facilities increased in the same period from 9% to 45%. These figures also show, however, that there is still a lot that can be done to improve the lives of poor people in northern Mozambique in the long term.