Women Secure Clean Water in Côte d’Ivoire to Save Community’s Health

Three Kids are drinking water from a dirty pound
Water from the marsh in Anyama caused outbreaks of bilharziasis among residents.
Photo by SUNY for USAID
Neighborhood organizes to solve water safety and shortage issue
“Practically every other child suffered from this illness because we all supply ourselves from the same source.”

January 2017—Kindo Aïssata, 42, has lived in Belleville, a small district in Côte d’Ivoire’s town of Anyama, for 15 years. Just like the rest of the district’s population of 13,000, she has faced water shortages the entire time she has lived there.

Aïssata and her children used to walk up to 30 kilometers every other day to get drinking water at the fountain located outside the perimeter of the city. As a result of having to collect water to drink and shower before going to school, all the children in the neighborhood were constantly tired and sick, and their academic performance suffered.

During the post-electoral crisis of 2011, things got worse when Aïssata and her children could no longer go to the fountain because of security issues. Ultimately, people in Belleville had no other option but to get water from the marsh. The distance to the marsh was shorter than the fountain, but the water was unclean and health problems soon appeared.

“My children and I had black spots and pimples that appeared on our bodies,” says Aïssata. “We suffered from indigestion regularly. I remember that two campaigns against bilharziasis [also known as schistosomiasis] were organized in my neighborhood and its peripheries. At that time, practically every other child suffered from this illness because we all supply ourselves from the same source. So rainwater was a blessing for us.”

That all changed in January 2016 after Aïssata, who is a member of an Anyama community group, took part in a USAID-supported workshop about how to improve the delivery of government services. During the session, participants learned about the role of advocacy and the responsibilities of locally elected officials to advocate for their communities. Aïssata shared what she had learned with members of her NGO, Vision Emergence, a women's economic empowerment group.​​​​​

In February, along with women from the community and members of the NGO, Aïssata met the local manager of the water distribution company. To make her case, she brought a sample of the water she had been drinking from the marsh. One by one, each woman testified about how the water had affected members of their families. Faced with the heartfelt presentation, the local distribution company manager committed to supplying the district with clean drinking water.

The following week, the National Office of Drinking Water, a government-run water distribution company,  began to supply the entire Belleville district with clean drinking water through daily water truck deliveries that filled up community members’ water tanks. Ever since, there have been no cases of bilharziasis.

For Aïssata, one-third of the household budget that was previously used to cope with health problems due to poor water quality is now being used for household savings. For the  Belleville community, the situation has greatly improved. While Belleville has found a solution, there is still a lack of clean drinking water in other rural districts outside of Anyama not serviced by the water distribution company.

The USAID Legislative Strengthening Program in Côte d’Ivoire began in December 2012 and will run through December 2017. The program has set up collaborative community groups, such as the one Aïssata belongs to, in 34 communities made up of local civil society actors, elected officials, and traditional chiefs to respond to community needs. The program provides technical support to enhance legislative skills, knowledge and ability within the National Assembly.


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