In a bid to alleviate the problem of perennial water scarcity among poor residents of rural Djibouti, aid donors, the government and a United Nations agency are backing a project to provide clean drinking water to an estimated 25,000 people.
Djibouti, a semi-desert state in the Horn of Africa, experiences frequent drought and most of its water supply is derived from ground water sources, which most poor rural communities have difficulty accessing.
The new project, to be completed in 2008, is funded by the European Union and implemented by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Djibouti's Ministry of Agriculture. It will boost the capacity of the country's 61 diesel-powered pumps, which break down frequently, with 25 new solar-power pumps, according to Ahmedou Ould Sidi, a water and sanitation specialist with UNICEF in Djibouti.
"The advantage of solar compared to thermal energy is that it is much cheaper and requires less maintenance," Omar Habib, UNICEF communication specialist.
Communities will be empowered to manage and maintain the water project, Habib said. "We want the people to participate and to appropriate these pumping stations. The government’s role in the long term should be as restricted as possible," he added.
The project is expected to benefit the inhabitants of 45 villages and their 40,000 heads of cattle.
"The water supply programme will help to improve the living conditions of many children and women and to the achievement of priority indicators in line with the Millennium Development Goal related to water and sanitation," Aloys Kamuragiye, UNICEF Representative in Djibouti, said in a statement.
According to UNICEF's global estimates, 1.5 million children die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
In June, a famine early warning agency reported that pastoralists in inland areas of Djibouti were finding it increasingly difficult to feed themselves as livestock conditions deteriorated because of the delayed onset of the March-May rains.
The March-May short rains in inland Djibouti began six weeks late, and the rainfall in mid-April was poor. The rains normally provide an important respite from the October to February dry season, especially in the northwest and southeast border pastoral livelihood zones, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said.
Because of the prolonged dry spell, pasture and water availability are below normal, livestock are showing extreme signs of distress and milk production has plummeted to below normal levels.