Sri Lanka, Pallewela 22 June 2015 – A beehive of delightful little girls and boys dance to traditional drums welcoming the dawn of a fresh new beginning for the small village preschool of Pallewela. Their voices reach a joyful crescendo as they sing their favourite nursery rhymes in unison to the group of parents and […]
CREATING OUR OWN CHANNELS FOR CLEAN DRINKING WATER
Mannar, Sri Lanka, 24 July 2017 – “The new water system is a blessing. Our health depends on it,” says Naslia Nilan from the village of Periya Madhu in Mannar district. Her neighbour is somewhat more pragmatic: “People struggled and fought for this, it didn’t happen overnight.” The story of the community water supply scheme, does indeed, go back many years.
Thousand of people from the Mannar district, mostly from the Muslim community, were displaced to other areas of the country in 1990, in the thick of Sri Lanka’s violent civil conflict. With the end of the fighting in 2009, almost two decades later, the people from Periya Madhu gradually returned to their original settlements, only to get embroiled in a conflict of another sort – with water at the centre of it.
“We responded to a call for help from the National Water Supply and Drainage Board,” says Radhika Sivakumaran, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Officer, UNICEF. “The people of Periya Madhu were angry that water from the area was being channelled to other villages. But these villages had very little water and that too had high salinity levels.” Periya Madhu, located close to a natural water reservoir, did not have a serious shortage of water, but the water had high levels of calcium; although adequate for farming, it was not good enough to drink. People wanted a solution.
The Divisional Secretariat needed to find a quick but adequate solution.
“When we came back to our village after years of displacement, the wells were dilapidated and we rehabilitated them ourselves,” says community member Shahul Hameed. “But soon afterwards, with our water being diverted to other villages, we had two concerns: Why haven’t we got our own piped-water connection? Will our water level be reduced, our water source depleted? We were also worried that we may not have enough water for cultivation.”
The water from Periya Madhu was taken 10 km to other villages. The people began protesting intensely before talks with government officials began. Then they decided to form a committee to maintain the momentum of their negotiations.
“The water was channelled to villages that had a huge scarcity of water, where people had to travel miles for water during the drought. The people were thirsty for water,” notes Mr. Maanickavashaghar Sri Skkanthakumaar, the Divisional Secretary of Manthai West. “They weren’t concerned about the quality of water. They simply needed the water. They would drink the water without any treatment.” elaborates the Divisional Secretary “…And yes, the people of Periya Madhu have a point too and we listened to what they had to say. It was a relief to so many people in different ways when EU-SDDP decided to intervene.”
The solution came in the form of a water tank that not only stored but also filtered the high calcium content of the water before providing a drinkable pipe-borne supply to the community. The European Union Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP) financed the construction of this water tank, which currently benefits over 300 families. The water supply will soon be extended to benefit over 1,200 families.
The pipeline extensions to individual homes from the main pipeline was carried out by the households. “Yes, we did it ourselves,” says Isniya Siyan, a mother of two children, “We created our own channels for the clean drinking water. Metres were fixed, and we use the water carefully.” The District Secretariat, through EU-SDDP support, is covering the cost of connections for the poorest households.
“Because the wells we previously depended on were so deep, in some areas as deep as 50 feet, women drew water with much difficulty,” says M. Razeen, the president of the village committee. “Now that’s a thing of the past. The water comes to us, not the other way around.”
In seven districts in Sri Lanka, over 20,000 people have received access to safe drinking water and 6,400 people have access to improved sanitation facilities through EU-SDDP.
The European Union Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP) is a Euro 60 million partnership between the European Union, the Sri Lankan government, UNICEF and other UN agencies to create greater access to social infrastructure and services for vulnerable communities in the districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Mannar, Vavuniya and border villages in the districts of Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Monaragala.