By Rosemary Nalisa and Tapiwa Gomo in Namibia
Tucked away in the semi-arid mountains of Kunene region, northern Namibia, is the Himba tribe, an ethnic nomadic and pastoral group. Their movement from one place to another is largely influenced by the availability of water for family use, but also equally important for their livestock.
In addition to public health concerns due to lack of water, providing education to children is a huge challenge as communities constantly relocate leaving schools unoccupied.
With financial support from the Swedish and Belgian-Flanders Red Cross societies, the Namibia Red Cross has begun a massive water and sanitation programme under the campaign, ‘Water is Life’.
“The Namibia Red Cross has over the years, managed to construct 300 water pumps and 50 wells, and has rehabilitated 25 springs giving the community access to safe drinking water,” says Mrs Kakarandua Mutambo, the Kunene regional manager for Namibia Red Cross. “We are also ensuring the protection of springs and water pumps in selected areas and communities.”
In an area where the responsibility for looking after the family, and carrying water lies with the women, this project has come at the right time.
Matjituavi Tjiposa, one of the women trained to repair hand pumps, says the community was grateful for the new boreholes. “Now we can drink clean and safe water, free of contamination. We just come with buckets and cans to fetch water from the pump, unlike in the past when we walked long distances to fetch water from the springs and still had to boil it,” she says.
Matjituavi also commended the Red Cross for empowering the community through its sanitation promotion programme. Communities are taught basic hygiene such as washing their hands regularly after using the toilet or before eating, sleeping under mosquito nets to protect against Malaria and keeping their environment clean.
“The project has eased the burden for many women. Apart from getting water closer, some of the diseases that used to trouble us have reduced. We can now settle in one place and send out children to school,” she says.
In the absence of reliable water sources, most children drop out of school to herd cattle. Some help their parents to dig deep wells along river banks to make sure that their cattle have water. Livestock constitutes their main form of wealth, meat and milk.
Kumauii Tjikotoke, a teacher at the Otjivero Combined School, welcomed the water project, especially drilling of boreholes at the school. She says that having a borehole has contributed to better attendance of classes than ever before. “In the past the children had to walk long distances to fetch water and would miss class in the process. Some also faced numerous health problems such as diarrhoea and skin diseases, which have since reduced as a result of the availability of water,” she says.
Mrs Mutambo, the Namibia Red Cross regional manager in Kunene, takes pride in knowing that their work has transformed the lives of the Himba people in many ways. “When the project started, I never thought that this water and sanitation project would have so much impact on the lives of many people in the area as there was a lot of resistance. But now I am pleased to see that its impact has extended to the promotion of education and improvement of learning environment for children. While there is still more work to be done to cater for other areas, the cooperation by the communities is just amazing.”