Clean Water Lightens Women's Load

Feature | 31 May 2009

A new water supply system saves women from arduous labor-giving them more time and freedom

Deep in the hills of southern Nias, an hour's trek from the nearest country road, lies the village of Onohondro. For centuries, the task of carrying buckets of water from well to home has fallen on the shoulders of the village's women.

Herminwati Hondro and other women in the village would make a daily 1 kilometer round trip journey on foot, over steep, craggy terrain, and could only carry a limited amount of water to their homes.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and 2005 Nias earthquake devastated water and sanitation in the area, though provision of these services was below the national average even before the disasters. Only about 1 in 10 people in Aceh, and 1 in 4 in North Sumatra, had piped water. Most people relied on dug wells, hand pumps, septic tanks, and pit latrines.

"Between drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing dishes, there wasn't much water to go around, so household sanitation was quite poor," says Rizal Matondang of ADB's Earthquake and Tsunami Emergency Support Project in Nias and Aceh.

The ADB project is helping rehabilitate and rebuild areas struck by the earthquake and tsunami, which swept debris and seawater up to 5 kilometers inland, crushing and damaging buildings, roads, bridges, water and electricity systems, as well as virtually all other types of infrastructure.

Part of the ADB project supports the repair of rural water and sanitation facilities in villages such as Ms. Hondro's. She and her neighbors, who used to spend hours hauling water, now only have to step outside their door for a clean, safe supply.

Before the new water system, poor sanitation caused numerous cases of skin disease and frequent bouts of diarrhea

"I'm so happy the water is closer to my home. It's made things much easier. Plus, before, the water wasn't always clean. This water is better."

ADB has provided more than $20 million for the construction and rehabilitation of water and sanitation services in 400 villages in Nias and Aceh. As part of this, six clean water taps for the 300 families residing in Onohondro have been built.

Before the new water and sanitation system, poor sanitation caused numerous cases of skin disease and frequent bouts of diarrhea-one of the leading killers of young children in Indonesia and other parts of the developing world.

"The children used to get diarrhea a lot," says Ms. Hondro. "I see a difference now."

Community Participation

The ADB-supported clean water program- carried out in cooperation with Indonesia's reconstruction and rehabilitation agency, Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi (BRR)- has also provided communities with better sanitation facilities and support for hygiene promotion.

For new facilities, communities themselves decided on the type of technology to be used, and planned and implemented the activity with the assistance of community facilitators. About 150 villages and 80,000 people in the affected districts were expected to benefit.

"We spent a lot of time speaking with community members from the very beginning of the project to get them directly involved," says ADB's Matondang. "Now families have much healthier lifestyles, and the health of children is improving."

The revolution in the village, brought about by just six water taps, is real. No longer worried about their children's health, and with the village on its way to recovery from the 2005 earthquake, the women of Onohondro are living better.