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The lonely water point

By Susan Davis, Executive Director, Improve International

July 2012 – Ethiopia’s rainy season was a terrible time to visit the Dankaka kebele*. Three of the five trucks in our caravan got stuck in the mud after we left the main road on the first attempt to visit the village.  So we skipped it and went on to two days of meetings.  I really wanted to see some water systems in this area, so before we headed back to Addis Ababa, I convinced a colleague to take a small group of us there.  This time we parked on the side of the road, and walked through the mud to the village, trying not to step on the freshly plowed and seeded fields.  Off to the left I noticed another handpump, right in the middle of a field.  I wondered why a new water point had been installed when they had one not too far away.

lonely handpumpIn the village, some community members joined us at the recently installed shallow well and handpump.  After we asked a few questions about it, I asked about the lonely handpump in the field.

“That other pump is not working,” they said. “It’s a government project.  We were using that pump but it broke 4 months ago.  The government came to check it in March, and said we needed a new pump. The problem is that not only the pump but the borehole collapsed.  It was a very old pump.  We don’t have enough funds to fix it.  We continue saving now,” they hurried to add, “so we have enough to maintain this new handpump.  The other well was 40-50 years old; the pump is 5-6 years old.”

This didn’t clear up much, especially about time frames and responsibilities, and possibly some information was lost in translation.  Confused about the other well in the field – who built it, and what happened to it – we wandered over to see if we could figure out what happened.  The photos below show what it looked like.

collapsed well EthiopiaIMG_5746

The concrete cap was broken open – perhaps by the government folks to figure out whether the well casing had collapsed. Inscribed in the concrete on what was left of the well cap was “Engage Now Foundation. In loving memory of Paula Ann Giles” (see photo).  Curiouser and curiouser. It was not just a government project, then.

Back at the hotel, I did a bit of internet research. An obituary showed that Ms. Giles died in September 2010, which implies that the at least part of the water point was installed more recently than 4-5 years ago as the community mentioned earlier. It must have been a “rehabilitation” (fix-up) of a broken handpump. This is a common practice in the water development world.

I looked into Engage Now Foundation and found an organization called Engage Now Africa. Their website shows: “In early 2002 Lynette and Bob Gay and a couple of friends met to discuss how they could help alleviate the suffering of poverty.  While visiting a site in Ethiopia, they realized Ethiopia was a country in desperate need of immediate assistance.  It was at that time Engage Now was organized and has become the organization it is today.  Engage Now Africa is pleased to be partnered with Forever Young to carry out our mission to help alleviate the suffering of those in need.”

engage now foundationSo then I looked up the Forever Young Foundation:

“Founded in 1993 by NFL Hall of Famer and Super Bowl MVP Steve Young, the Forever Young Foundation is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization that serves children facing significant physical, emotional, and financial challenges.” Bob Gay (one of the founders of Engage Now Africa) is on the board of this foundation.

I thought, the organization that built this and the people who gave money for the water point would be interested to know what happened to this water system, and maybe they could provide some clarity on this intriguing story.  So I sent the email below, letting them know the water point was broken and attaching the photos you see above.  I even offered to connect them with the development organization that is now working with the village.

email to engage nowAnd what happened? I got no response.  And I don’t know whether the lonely water point got another rehabilitation, or continues to sit ignored in the middle of a muddy field.

In one respect, this water point isn’t lonely: lots of others fail. The Dankaka villagers lucked out and got a new water system within a few months of the other one breaking down again. But where did they get their water in the interim?  The story of this one lonely water point illustrates the need for unique identifiers on water points and ongoing monitoring so that governments and development organizations can fully understand what happened and how to avoid it in the future.

I feel bad for the donors who gave money to build / rehabilitate this water point in memory of Ms. Giles.  They probably assume that it is still providing vital water services. But I feel worse for the villagers of Dankaka and many others around the world who have to return to terrible water sources when their “improved” water system breaks down.


*About a two-hour drive south of Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia) in Ada’a woreda (district).

Filed under: Community visits Tagged: #international, #sustainability, #water, accountability, donors, Ethiopia, government, rehabilitations

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